The assassin who made you smile as he ruled the world and scored goals for fun
Ronaldo wasn’t always Brazilian Ronaldo. He was by the time I saw him play.
He was the wrong side of chunky that night in Sao Paulo. He was still brutal in the penalty area, a truly wonderful finisher with either foot. Nobody disputes that. But he wasn’t ageing gracefully. Nobody ever thought he would.
The evening of March 31, 2009 was peculiar. Early in the second half, having already scored for Corinthians, he took the ball just inside the Ituano half and over by the left touchline.
The greatest prize of all: Ronaldo lifted the World Cup after top scoring in Japan and South Korea in 2002
Peak: Ronaldo scored twice for Brazil in the 2-0 World Cup final win over Germany in Yokohama
Heat maps weren’t so commonly used then, but that ‘inside-left’ spot was always his, the launchpad to thousands of runs and dozens of his 414 goals.
When he took possession in that spot that night, he shuffled a couple of steps to his left and knocked the ball down the line and past the right back. The home crowd started laughing. Ronaldo couldn’t keep up with the defender. He was only 32 but time was just about up.
One of the great players of his generation scored 20 goals in 28 starts that season, his first since leaving AC Milan. But the move home, like it was for Ronaldinho a year later, was the semi-retirement it always looked like being.
Glamour game: Ronaldo with his girlfriend Paula Morais at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich last December
Best of the best: Ronaldo was named FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 2002 after his World Cup heroics
Brilliant when he wanted to be, a figure of fun and a magnet to calamity when he wasn’t brilliant. With Ronaldo, it always looked like going that way.
There were the transvestites, the police, that seizure at the World Cup, the gained weight and the gaudy programme that followed him recently as he tried to shed it.
Farce and brilliance. It was the theme of a career. Those and injuries. But what brilliance.
Statistics, in the words of Fatih Terim, are ‘like miniskirts because they don’t show you everything’.
Explosive: Ronaldo’s stepovers and turn of pace helped him get the better of the world’s greatest defenders
But his numbers tell a great story, even without the details. There were 414 goals in 616 games, the three times he was voted the world’s best player and the record haul of 15 World Cup goals.
He has also won the World Cup once as a player and another time, in 1994, as an unused substitute.
All against the backdrop of two torn cruciate ligaments in his right knee – the second came seven minutes into his comeback from the first – and a rupture to ligaments in his left while he was at Milan.
The levels he reached striking excellence before those injuries have rarely been touched. He was the marketable face of Nike, possibly the most devastating Brazilian player since Pele. He lacked some of Romario’s flair, but he had his pace and an incredible ability to accelerate past the last man and goalkeeper.
His finishing, when he chose to pull the trigger instead of rounding keepers, was immense. He scored 44 in 47 for Cruzeiro, 54 in 57 for PSV and moved to Bobby Robson’s Barcelona in 1996.
It takes two: Juventus pair Edgar Davids (left) and Marc Juliano double up to try and stop Inter Milan star Ronaldo during a Serie A clash in 1998. Ronaldo scored 49 goals for the Italian giants
Silver lining: Ronaldo scored the third goal as Inter Milan beat Lazio 3-0 in the final of the 1998 UEFA Cup
Before he became known as Il Fenomeno in Italy, he staggered the football world with one goal against SD Compostela on October 11, 1996. He took possession in his own half, again on the left, dodged a cynical tackle with a drag back, accelerated towards goal, went past two more defenders and finished. The footage – it’s all over YouTube – shows Robson holding his head in disbelief.
The clip was later used in a Nike advert, with a voiceover asking: ‘Imagine you asked God to be the best player in the world, and he listened to you.’
Spanish newspaper AS ran a headline that read: Pele returns.
That year he was voted World Soccer Player of the Year, aged 20 – the youngest ever. He went to Inter Milan and won the World Player of the Year in 1997.
Dream team: The late Sir Bobby Robson had Ronaldo in his ranks while he was Barcelona boss
Delivered: Ronaldo and Robson celebrate winning the European Cup Winners’ Cup with Barcelona in 1997
The 1998 World Cup was supposed to be the crowning glory and he matched some of the hype. But his seizure on the eve of the final, the mystery of him being left out of the side on medical grounds and then reinstated with minutes to spare, was a saga that rumbled on in and out of court for years.
Was it all Nike’s doing? What really went on? It became a scandal.
In the aftermath, Ronaldo was ravaged by injuries. He rarely played for three years. At the end of his comeback season, 2001-02, he went to the World Cup and scored eight goals. He cried while hugging the trophy.
Two World Cups separated by misery but a mission accomplished. And all with a ridiculous hair cut. Brilliance and farce.
Action replay: Ronaldo watches footage of his goal against Morocco at the 1998 World Cup in the team hotel
Blonde ambition: Ronaldo’s girlfriend at time, Susana Werner, was a big hit off the pitch during France 98
Poster boy: Ronaldo also appeared in television commercials for American sports giant Nike
His actions in the Far East got him another World Player of the Year gong and a move to Real Madrid. He did well and last year Marca voted him into the club’s greatest foreign XI.
But he was stocky. The acceleration that killed defences wasn’t quite the same. Fabio Capello called him fat in training. But the records show 104 goals in four and a half seasons. That is pretty special when set against other players who don’t share his name.
Thereafter, he partied a bit more. Steve McManaman alluded to it in his enjoyable book about life at Madrid.
Not to be: Team-mate Bebeto consoles Ronaldo after a disappointing end to the 1998 World Cup final
The one they all want: Ronaldo, pictured in the Olympic Stadium before the first leg of the Italian Cup final against Lazio in 2000, was always the centre of attention when he was at the peak of his powers
Worship: A Brazilian man signs his name to a carpet honouring Ronaldo on General Cesar Costa street – where the superstar was born – in Rio de Janeiro after the 2002 World Cup. Residents of the street produced the carpet as a tribute to their hero and hundreds of locals put their name to it
Along the way, there have been those three transvestites and the money they allegedly tried to extort from him. His model girlfriend – one of many – left him over that. He named a son Ronald, reportedly after Ronald McDonald, and after his fourth child said it was time to ‘close the factory’. It was a reference to his vasectomy.
Always colourful, always playful. He has reportedly been working for a marketing agency in London, while also being a figurehead for the Brazil World Cup.
Romario has spoken out about the country’s social issues, but Ronaldo has steered clear of most the controversial topics.
Romario, in retaliation, recently referenced the transvestite incident.
That is Ronaldo’s lot. He deals with it. He has been laughed at a fair bit in recent years. But what a magnificent player. An assassin who made you smile.
All smiles: Ronaldo and international team-mate Ronaldinho training ahead of the 2006 World Cup
Legend to legend: Pele greets Ronaldo after his two-goal display in the 2002 World Cup final
How it ended: Ronaldo hung up his boots after a spell with Corinthians in his homeland
Source : Daily Mail