Posted by: Pete Robertson | July 14, 2011

Ronaldo – A Legend of the Game

When you consider the worlds greatest ever footballers the usual suspects will spring to mind. Pele. Maradona. Best. Cruyff. Another name needs to be added to this list. Ronaldo.

On Tuesday of this week Ronaldo announced his retirement from football, and with it we have seen the completion of one of the most talked about careers, from one of the worlds top strikers.

Starting his career in Brazil with Cruzeiro, Ronaldo burst onto the world stage netting 12 times in just 14 appearances and earning a place in the winning 1994 Brazil World Cup squad. Despite being an unused substitute throughout the tournament, it is here that the forwards career took its biggest turn. Speaking to Romario, the Brazilian star of the World Cup, Ronaldo was convinced to leave Brazil and seek a career in Europe, which he did, joining Dutch side PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 1994.

Ronaldo’s eye for goal soon became clear, and he maintained the incredible scoring record he established in Brazil. In his first season he was top scorer in the Eredivise with 30 goals from just 33 games, as well as helping them to victory in the Dutch Cup. His second year in Holland though is perhaps his most important. Ronaldo scored 12 times in 13 games, but crucially first suffered the knee injury that will plague his career, and the striker didn’t play for the side again, moving to Barcelona in 1996.

It was Sir Bobby Robson who signed the Brazilian for a then world record $19.5 million. Many saw this as a risk, with Ronaldo still relatively inexperienced against the high quality opposition he would find in La Liga. Ronaldo blossomed at the Catalan giants under Robson, amassing 47 goals in 49 appearances, including 8 in just 5 games in the Copa Del Rey, which Barcelona won that year, with the player himself being named FIFA World Player of the Year in 1996. Ronaldo credited much of his growth to his manager Robson, stating, ”as a trainer without doubt he is one of the greatest in the world. He was like a father to me. Bobby Robson helped me to be consistent and helped me a lot with my career.”

“He was like a father to me”. Ronaldo and Sir Bobby Robson with the Copa del Rey.

However, Robson was removed from his managerial duties at Barcelona, prompting Ronaldo to leave the club, joining Inter Milan in 1997 for £19 million. Here he progressed as a leading player, helping the Nerazzurri to victory in the UEFA Cup, as well as captaining the side in the latter stages of his first season. Such was his success that he won FIFA World Player of the Year for the second time in 1997, and was now widely regarded as one of the very best strikers around.

But it was not just in Europe that Ronaldo was being noticed. He was now a key member of Brazil’s national squad, and showed the world just how much he had developed during the 1998 World Cup in France. Scoring 4 goals in the tournament and Brazil’s main threat as they reached the final, controversy struck as he was suspiciously left out of the starting 11 to face France in the final. Then just an hour before kick off, the Brazilian was back in the team, with no explanation given. He looked a shell of the player that was on show in the rest of the tournament, going off injured after a collision with French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez. Reports afterwards suggested that Ronaldo had a convulsive fit the night before the game, prompting his removal from the team.

Much of his Inter career was disrupted with his recurring knee injury, but Ronaldo hit full fitness in time for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Here the forward showed he was back to his very best, scoring in every game but one and winning the Golden Boot with 8 goals, leading Brazil to a 2-0 win against Germany in the final. Many saw this as revenge for Ronaldo’s struggles in 1998, and he was rewarded for his performances in the tournament with a third World Player of the Year award in 2002.

Following his World Cup success, Ronaldo became a Galactico at Real Madrid who paid €39 million for the striker. Among a team including the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul, Ronaldo smashed all shirt sales and was arguably Real’s greatest acquisition in their Galactico era. The team won the league in 2003, Ronaldo scoring 23 goals, and looked on for the treble in 2004 until an injury to the leading goalscorer sparked a drop in form in all competitions. Ronaldo famously scored a superb hat-trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 2003 Champions League, and received a standing ovation from all corners of the ground.

Ronaldo struggled with his weight and fitness though and under Fabio Capello was replaced at Madrid by Ruud Van Nistelrooy. This didn’t prevent him going to Germany with Brazil for the 2006 World Cup however. Here, despite the holders only reaching the quarter-finals, Ronaldo netted three times and in doing so became the leading goalscorer in World Cup history.

Ronaldo on his way to World Cup glory in 2002.

After a brief, injury riddled time at Italian giants AC Milan, where a further injury to his knee threatened his career, Ronaldo moved back to Brazil with Corinthians, where his goalscoring remained as constant as ever with 12 goals from just 20 appearances.

Upon his retirement, Ronaldo claimed that he still had a passion for the game, but that his body could no longer keep up. “Mentally I wanted to continue but I have to acknowledge that I lost to my body”, he stated.

While many will remember Ronaldo for his caricature teeth, crescent moon hair at the 2002 World Cup,  weight and injury problems, the one thing he must be remembered for is his goals. With 352 career goals from 517 games, and 62 from 97 for Brazil, he is undoubtedly one of the top goalscorers the world ever has seen. Who knows how many more he could have bagged if it wasn’t for his injuries?

When questioned on his weight by his manager at Real Madrid, Ronaldo told him “just give me the ball and I will do the rest.” He was always true to his word. Is he in the same league as the likes of Pele, Maradona, Best and Cruyff? Yes, Ronaldo is a true legend of the game.

Comments welcome…

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