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Welcome to cafe Miranda, Cristiano Ronaldo's refuge in Madrid

POZUELO DE ALARCON, Spain -- The morning regulars at Cafeteria Miranda rolled through the door: construction workers, a crew of painters and a guy in an ill-fitting suit. They ordered coffee with milk, served hot in short glasses, and some ate toast with thin-sliced tomatoes. Two guys drank beer with their breakfast of cheese bread. These weren't the fancy people who own houses around the corner in Madrid's richest gated community, La Finca, an oasis of heavily watered lawns and swimming pools, where today's rival stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale live less than a mile apart.

This suburb west of Madrid is about to be the football capital of the world.

"Tomorrow is the day," said one of the painters, who is from Ghana and has a sister in Philadelphia.

"We'll win," the owner, Fernando, said.

This bar is Ronaldo country. Fernando, who has been here for 18 years, is from the north of Portugal. He has Portuguese scarves hanging on the wall, and there's a signed national team jersey, in which Ronaldo called him a friend in the inscription. Fernando took out his phone and showed off a few pictures.

"The Golden Boot was here," he said proudly, nodding at a photo.

Ronaldo's mom comes in and hangs out for a few hours nearly every day, this place a little bit of home for her. Another regular asked about her on Tuesday, and Fernando said she was in France. Sometimes, Ronaldo comes in and orders the roast chicken or the cod, cooked like he ate them as a boy. There's a room downstairs, used mostly for storage from the looks of it, where he and his friends can sit at a round table and eat without being bothered, near crates of tomatoes and oranges, next to a foosball table. There's a back door Ronaldo uses, so he can come and go quietly, without being seen.

Miranda is a refuge.

Fernando brews Portuguese coffee, Delta brand, and he has canned sardines for sale. There's Portuguese beer on tap. Behind the bar is the liquor he makes at home. If Bale has a similar place, somewhere he can go and feel protected, nobody I talked to near La Finca knows it.

Fernando has never seen Bale in his place.

They've also never seen him at the Starbucks in the nearby business park, or in the Basque restaurant Urrechu, in a nearby run-down shopping mall, where the Atletico Madrid players go all the time. Ronaldo used to go there, too, until Spanish reporters started camping out. Now sometimes he has the place cater meals for flights on his private plane. Urrechu is a classically Spanish, masculine room, with hams hanging by the bar, near plates of sardines and chorizo. It's dark, with a heavy wooden-door opening into the mall. This is a strange place to see celebrities, because everything else in the mall feels pulled from the 1980s, including the bucking horse that kids can ride for a few coins.

In Madrid, Ronaldo is most often seen as the global superstar who hides behind his accomplishments and image.

Microsoft and Accenture have offices nearby. There's a British school where the children of the rich and famous go, including Ronaldo's son. It's impossible to gain access to La Finca without an invitation from a resident. The whole area feels a little like "The Truman Show," with identical streets lined with pine trees, and where even the guard shacks were designed by a modern architect. Maybe that's why Ronaldo and his mom like Miranda so much, with an owner who speaks Portuguese to them, in a cafe that could be on a street on Madeira, the island they both left to follow a dream.

The cafe stayed busy all morning, and the customers pumped coins into the two slot machines on the wall. Fernando tossed sugar packets onto coasters and a woman in the kitchen prepared food for the coming lunch rush. A community has sprung up around the place, where painters and football stars alike find something they need.

With Ronaldo, it's rare to catch a glimpse of anything that feels even close to an actual person. That version of himself remains hidden by ego and insecurity, by the crowing and boasting, and the money and the fame -- but in Miranda, ordering grilled chicken from Portugal or hearing a familiar accent behind the bar, he isn't a global icon or a swaggering athlete.

He's just a guy who misses his home.

A senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine, Wright Thompson is a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi.


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