FUNCHAL, Portugal â€” Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.
That will likely be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands when the local airport is renamed after the local star.
Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side plays Sweden in the city in a friendly.
It will be the first time Ronaldo plays with the national team in the city where he grew up. Funchal also features a Ronaldo statue, a museum about him, and a hotel complex named after him.
“This game is a great tribute to the people of Madeira, they deserve it,” Ronaldo said on the Portuguese Football Federation website.
Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport, displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.
A sign with the player’s image was already being added to the facade of the airport, which until Tuesday was called the Madeira International Airport.
The name change at the airport, known as one of the windiest in the world, attracted a lot of attention locally, with some politicians opposing it and saying that the footballer’s name should be added to a stadium or another sporting venue. Some said the Madeira regional government didn’t have the legal right to make the name change without consulting the main government.
“Sometimes, national gratitude has short memory, but Madeira doesn’t,” Miguel Albuquerque, the president of the Madeira government, said when the name change was announced last year. He added that the tribute was fair considering Ronaldo’s services to his homeland.
Ronaldo is regarded as a promoter of Madeira, which is considered one of the world’s top travel destinations.
A couple of years ago, he used his social media accounts to ask fans to vote for Madeira in a contest organized by the travel industry. The islands southwest of Portugal are known for their incredible landscapes, and their wine is known worldwide.
The islands are about 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the African coast, and some 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) from the European continent.
Ronaldo grew up in Funchal sharing a room with his older brother and two older sisters before moving to the mainland to join the youth squads of Sporting Lisbon. From there he made it to Manchester United and eventually to Real Madrid, becoming one of the world’s biggest soccer stars. He received his fourth world player of the year award this year.
Last year, vandals painted Lionel Messi’s name and jersey number on Ronaldo’s statue after Messi received the world player prize.
The statue was unveiled in 2014 in the presence of Ronaldo and his close relatives. His family is also expected to attend the airport ceremony on Wednesday.
The Associated Press