From goofy teenager to mercurial double World Cup winner, his career has been an astonishing journey. For all the undeniable glory, countless trophies (and women/transvestites), there has also been the controversy of 1998, the horrific injury setbacks and personal problems. Ronaldo’s glittering career has finally come to an end.
When the 34-year-old Brazilian finally announced his decision to retire due to injuries at a news conference in Sao Paulo, some felt that his club Corinthians’ shock elimination in the Copa Libertadores (the South American equivalent of the Champions League) against provincial Colombian side Deportes Tolima merely hastened his departure from the game. Those who have closely followed his career will know that his personal battle against injury was one which he could not keep fighting. Ronaldo himself tearfully admitted that it was a struggle which he could no longer win. His time in football was up, but it will certainly not be forgotten in a hurry.
Perhaps it was fitting that he ended his career where it began all those years ago. After a move to his boyhood club Flamengo failed to materialise, he signed for newly promoted Corinthians in 2009 with the sole hope of winning the Copa Libertadores before he retired. It was a mark of a player who played the game to win. Money was never a motivation for Ronaldo; he genuinely wanted to continue doing what he enjoyed doing best: scoring goals and playing football. Some will say, at his peak, he simply was the best. He won FIFA World Player of the year (an award voted for by players) a record 3 times which showed the admiration and respect his fellow pros had for him. The only other player to achieve this was Zinedine Zidane.
There is no doubting that Ronaldo will be remembered as one of the most naturally gifted strikers of our generation. His blistering dribbling speed with the ball and powerful runs made him an impossible player to stop once in full flow. Indeed with his first professional club Cruzeiro, he scored a memorable solo effort against Boca Juniors when he dribbled past the entire defence. It was to be the first of many defences to receive similar treatment.
As his career has progressed, he has gradually evolved from the skinny elusive runner which burst onto the scene as a 17 year old into the powerful skilful forward fans grew to love. However, the stress on his body which the physical changes have brought over the years probably explains the amount of injuries he has had to endure.
One thing has always remained despite his weight fluctuations: his scarily precise finishing. His ability to beat a man, keep his head still and calmly pass a ball past the keeper was one of his hallmarks. The Lionel Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s of today’s generation have exceptional goals to games ratios but the original Ronaldo’s goal record stands up to any in World football. His tally of 12 goals in 14 appearances for Cruzeiro earned him a move to Europe, where he scored 42 goals in 46 for PSV Eindhoven. A big money move to Barcelona followed, as did the goals, as he plundered a tremendous 34 in 37 and became the youngest ever winner of FIFA’s World Player of the Year, an award he retained the following year. Not bad for a 20 year old.A period in his career which perhaps perfectly summed up the contrast between the injury lows and the euphoric highs was the 2002 World Cup. Brazil had struggled during World Cup qualification and had only limped into the tournament. There was already serious doubt about Ronaldo’s fitness and ability to play before the tournament began, as a shattering knee injury suffered with Inter Milan had threatened to rule him out. However defying public opinion, Scolari kept faith with him and he went on to repay the favour finishing top scorer with 8 goals, scoring the two winning goals in the final against Germany. It was Ronaldo’s dramatic act of redemption after the bizarre and mysterious circumstances surrounding the 1998 World Cup final.
It was at the 2006 World Cup in Germany where he finally became the all time top scorer at World Cup finals, an astonishing record considering he did not play at the 1994 World Cup and only considered half fit in 2002 and 2006. Further proof that despite his fitness concerns, Ronaldo always had the ability to influence games at the highest level.
The goal against Ghana which sealed the record was a wonderful moment for Ronaldo as he nonchalantly strolled through, completely fooled the goal keeper with an effortless double stepover, then rolled the ball into an empty net. Class personified.
As with most great players, there is often a stain on their CVs. Despite all his success, Ronaldo never managed to win the Champions League, although fans in England will always remember his stunning hat trick at Old Trafford against Manchester United to knock them out in the quarter final and the standing ovation he received from the home faithful. They knew they were witnessing something special from a special player.
Whether he is remembered as a ‘over weight playboy’ or record breaking World Cup winner, there can be no doubt that Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima’s story is truly one of football’s most fascinating.