Will the bottom fall out of the Cristiano Ronaldo market?

With a new range of underwear out this week, the Real Madrid forward is transcending football – but is he too much of an individual to vend it like Beckham?

He is the highest-paid footballer on earth, so it was inevitable that Cristiano Ronaldo would eventually enter the world of fashion. Today he did so in spectacular fashion by exposing his skimpy pants to the world’s media in the historic centre of Madrid.

Thankfully the Real Madrid and Portugal forward was fully dressed as he pulled off the covers from a 19m-tall image of himself at the Palacio de Cibeles. The poster, which hung off the side of the historic building, showed him wearing nothing but a pair of tight trunks and signalled his take on the latest must-have product for every footballer looking to create a global brand – their own range of underwear.

The night before, Ronaldo had scored a hat-trick in his team’s victory over Sevilla, but the launch of his CR7 underwear range has made waves off the pitch and drawn comparisons with David Beckham’s brand empire.

The range goes on sale on Friday from £10 to £25 a pair and has led to suggestions that, with Beckham’s retirement, Ronaldo has his sights firmly set on becoming the world’s most valuable football brand. Revenue from the collection will sit alongside his £15m salary from Real Madrid as well as endorsement deals from Nike, Emporio Armani, Castrol and KFC that contribute to his reported £27m-a-year income.

The CR7 collection also includes socks, but none of these was visible as Ronaldo told reporters in Madrid that design and fashion were his “passions” and that he was “proud” of the collection, which is a result of a collaboration with the New York-based designer Richard Chai and the Danish textile firm JBS.

Ronaldo is following a path first trodden by David Beckham, who has used the power of his personal brand to amass a £200m fortune, selling or endorsing everything from watches and cars to underwear for H&M and his own fragrance.

Mark Borkowski, the publicist and media commentator, said footballers know they need to be quick to make their fortune: “Every footballer knows that there is a sell-by date tattooed on their rump,” he said. “The machine around Ronaldo isn’t as sleek or well-oiled as Beckham’s operation, but that doesn’t mean to say he can’t be a high-end-fashion achiever.”

According to research conducted by Simon Chadwick, a professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University, Ronaldo has many of the qualities required to make a strong sports-player brand: “The research we’ve done shows you need to play for a big team, be successful  and, just like film stars, be physically attractive, if you hope to follow Beckham’s path to becoming more than just a player.”

However, Ronaldo does have some challenges to overcome in pursuing a global brand for himself, Professor Chadwick added. “Unlike, say, Beckham, he has a reputation as being individualistic and quite selfish, which for a lot of sponsors and people isn’t a great brand proposition. There’s also a feeling that his management has a reputation for simply taking the money, rather than necessarily fashioning a brand, and that Ronaldo is just a famous footballer trying to make even more money.”

Mr Borkowski agreed that Ronaldo is “quite aloof” but pointed out that Beckham started out as an “oik” and was the “most-loathed human being on earth” after the 1998 World Cup, when he was sent off against Argentina. Despite this, he went on to forge his own hugely successful brand.

Earlier this week, Ronaldo suffered an embarrassing mishap while using social media to promote a CR7 competition. In a hastily removed tweet, he wrote: “Thank you all for participating in the CR7 Boys Underwear Competition – it’s been a real pleasure to see all of your photos.”

He also hit the headlines last  month after his sarcastic reply to  comments made by the president of Fifa, Sepp Blatter, at an Oxford Union event. Mr Blatter mocked him for racking up “more expenses for the hairdresser” than rival Barcelona player Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo’s response came on his Facebook page: “This video shows clearly the respect and consideration that Fifa has for me, for my club and my country. Much is explained now. I wish Mr Blatter health and a long life, with the certainty that he will continue to witness, as he deserves, the successes of his favourite teams and players.”

Net gains: CR7 scores

2006

Nike £10.8m for four years. Ronaldo’s first major deal.

Coca-Cola Fee unknown. Reportedly one of his most lucrative deals early in  his career.

2009

Castrol £8.2m for two years. Ronaldo became a brand ambassador for the oil company.

2010

Emporio Armani £1m. Replaced David Beckham as the firm’s underwear model.

Nike £20.2m. Boosted his earnings with a deal to promote football boots.

2011

Castrol £5.5m. Renewed his deal with Castrol for a further two years.

Konami Fee unknown. Became the face of popular video game Pro Evolution Soccer.

2013

Jacob & Co Fee unknown. Became the face of the watch company.

Herbalife Fee unknown. Became a global ambassador for the nutrition company.

KFC Fee unknown. Starred in adverts for the fast-food company in Saudi Arabia.

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