This week, the football world lost one if it’s finest ever players.
The Brazilian striker Ronaldo hung up his boots after finally succumbing to years of injury problems that blighted much of his sparkling career.
It was a sorry end to a journey that started and finished in Ronaldo’s homeland, sandwiching stops at top level footballing outposts like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and both Milan clubs.
In his prime, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima was one of, if not the most feared attacker in the game.
Instantly recognisable with his shaven head and buck teeth, Ronaldo possessed a blistering turn of pace and a frightening eye for goal.
His nickname, O Fenômeno (The Phenomenon) was the clearest indicator of his standing in the game, such was the awe he inspired in those who watched him.
Ronaldo’s career began at Cruzeiro in his homeland, where he scored 12 goals in 14 appearances. He was taken to the 1994 World Cup but was an unused member of Brazil’s winning squad. Despite not getting on the pitch, Ronaldo was already stirring excitement among football followers the world over.
PSV Eindhoven of Holland secured Ronaldo’s signature that summer, and the hitman repaid them with thirty goals in his debut season. The following year his progress was blighted by a knee injury that would sadly become a customary part of Ronaldo’s career. Despite the problems though, he still scored 12 times in 13 games.
His scintillating goalscoring record alerted the attentions of Europe’s elite clubs, and Barcelona, managed by Sir Bobby Robson, secured his signature. Ronaldo played for only one season at the Nou Camp, but left an indelible mark on the club. He scored a sensational 47 goals in 49 appearances, firing the Catalan side to two domestic cup titles and also scoring the winner in the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup final.
Aged just 20 years old, Ronaldo became the youngest winner of FIFA’s World Player of the Year award after his breathtaking season.
Despite his form for Barca, Ronaldo was soon on the move again after Italian side Inter bought out the remainder of his contract.
Ronaldo’s form followed him to the San Siro where he scored 59 goals in 99 games, scoring in Inter’s UEFA Cup final win in 1998. However, a ruptured tendon in his knee meant he made only a handful of appearances between 2000 and 2002, with several comebacks stalled by recurrences of the injury.
Despite his fitness struggles, Real Madrid broke the transfer record to sign Ronaldo and take him back to Spain. Two goals on his debut only reinforced the excitement of the Madrid supporters, as Ronaldo’s goals helped them to the La Liga title.
One of his finest performances in a Madrid came in England as they knocked Manchester United out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage. Ronaldo scored a sensational hat trick, and was given a standing ovation by the United fans when he was substituted late on.
It was a lethal display of finishing that reminded everyone just what this incredible striker was capable of. But later that season, Ronaldo was again injured and Madrid contrived to end the season without silverware, despite looking hot favourites for a treble. It was no coincidence that Madrid’s form nose-dived during Ronaldo’s absence.
After Madrid signed Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo found it hard to force his way back into the team following more injury problems and weight issues that seemed to worsen as his career wound down.
He eventually ended up back at the San Siro, this time with Milan, though his time with the Rossoneri took a familiar path; injuries restricting him to just 20 appearances, in which he scored 9 goals.
He ruptured knee ligaments in his left knee during a match with Livorno, and left the field in tears on a stretcher. Concerned supporters believed that Ronaldo had played his last ever game.
He did recover though, and elected to sign for Corinthians of Brazil to see out the rest of his playing days, helping the club to the league title in his first season. After they were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores this season, Ronaldo announced his decision to retire, finally admitting defeat against the injury battles that had littered his career.
“”It’s very hard to leave something that made me so happy. Mentally I wanted to continue but I have to acknowledge that I lost to my body,” he said.
Even though Ronaldo’s career was halted countless times by injuries, he still goes down in history as one of the greatest players ever; and one of only two men to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award three times, the other being his one-time Madrid team-mate Zinedine Zidane.
One of the barometers of a players’ success these days is whether or not they can perform on the world stage; often great players are accused of not being able to cut it on the biggest stage of all.
But Ronaldo confirmed his status as a world class player with his performances for the Brazil national team, scoring 62 goals in 97 games for the Selecao.
Ronaldo is also the highest scoring player at World Cups after his double against Japan in 2006 took him above Gurd Muller in the all-time scoring charts.
He added a further strike against Ghana to take his tally in World Cup matches to 15, a sensational record by anybody’s standards.
Despite all the health problems, Ronaldo was undoubtedly a superb striker whose magic moments should be savoured.
It is a disservice to him these days that people refer to him as “real Ronaldo”, or “Brazilian Ronaldo”, or “Originaldo” to distinguish him from his Portuguese namesake Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo was a unique player, and deserves a unique moniker.
Long live O Fenômeno.