It’s not often that in this increasingly short-term and superficial game, anything really tugs at the heart strings, but yesterday the greatest striker of our generation announced his retirement from the game after suffering a similar injury to that which that sidelined him for more than 18 months 7 years ago.
Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima (to give him his full name) ruptured the tendon in his left knee while playing for AC Milan against Livorno this past Wednesday night, after previously damaging the equivalent tendon in his right knee, first in 1998, and then much more seriously in 2000.
It seems pointless to try and explain just how good he actually was, but suffice to say that alongside Zinidene Zidane, he is by far the best player I’ve seen in my lifetime. Perhaps the most lethal forward in the history of the game, he had everything; sublime technical skill, raw power from both feet, strength on the ball even at 17, and just the most explosive turn of pace you could ever hope for on a football pitch. Set your eyes to ‘stun’ and peep out these career statistics for the man nicknamed ‘The Phenomenon’ at 14 years of age:
Cruzerio (1993-1994) – 13 appearances, 12 goals
PSV Eindhoven (1994-1996) – 46 appearances, 42 goals
FC Barcelona (1996-1997) – 37 appearances, 34 goals
Inter Milan (1997-2002) – 69 appearances, 49 goals
Real Madrid (2002-2007) – 127 appearances, 83 goals
A.C. Milan (2007-2008) – 20 appearances, 9 goals
Brazil (1994-2006) – 97 appearances, 62 goals
Total – 392 appearances, 240 goals
FIFA World Player of the Year (1996, 1997, 2002)
World Soccer Player of the Year (1996, 1997, 2002)
European Footballer of the Year (1997, 2002)
It all just makes me wish I’d just seen more of him in his prime really, as during his early career especially it was difficult to see much European league football without the satellite TV and internet we take for granted now. In retrospect, his season for Barcelona was maybe the most incredible display of sustained individual talent the game will ever witness.
As the years passed however, Ronaldo was dogged with allegations of boozing, gambling and most famously over-eating, as time and time again he appeared to be pretty fat following the summer party season throughout Europe and back home. Furthermore, he has been through several tumultuous relationships, with three serious partners coming and going in the last 10 years. Firstly it was professional women’s player Milene Domingues (who strangely holds the world football-juggling record), then MTV presenter Daniela Cicarelli, and finally Brazilian model Raica Oliveira. Sports writer Andrew Dowie (ESPN) is right to draw a correlation between his on-field performances and personal stability, with those aforementioned award-winning seasons all taking place during the more settled periods of his life; namely his marriage with Domingues, and subsequent engagement to Cicarelli.
Yet despite all of this, and additional clashes with various coaches over his poor attitude in training, he still reached a height that few players have even come close too. It almost makes you wonder if circumstances had been different, could he have been greater still? Is that actually possible?
Along with Zidane he is the only player in history to have won World Player of the Year three times, while the 1996 win makes him still the accolade’s youngest recipient at 19. He is the World Cup’s leading all-time goal-scorer with 15 goals, and along with the great Jurgen Klinnsman is the only man to have scored more than thrice in three successive World Cups. He has won the Dutch Cup, the UEFA Cup, the Spanish Super Cup, La Liga and the Cup Winners Cup, as well as the World Cup twice.
To many he will be remembered for the bizarre convulsive fit that kept him out of the 1998 World Cup final which Brazil ultimately lost to France, while to others, it will be the huge grin and ridiculous half-moon haircut from the victorious 2002 World Cup campaign that resonates in the memory. Those gossip-savvy among you might even focus on the amazing rumours of him and Ronaldinho buying a noodle and massage bar in Milan, just to chill out away from the public eye and get the odd rub ‘n’ tug!
Personally though, in one of his first games for Real Madrid a few years ago, I remember seeing him and Zidane conjure up an epic attacking move, carving open the opposition defence from the halfway line with one-twos, backheels, stepovers, everything in the trick locker. ZZ ended up on the byline near the edge of the box, Cruyff-turned inside his man, squared it to Ronaldo literally 5 yards out, and I rose to me feet ready to scream that I’d just seen the greatest goal ever scored and then…Ronaldo skied it out of ground. Him and ZZ just looked at each other and burst out laughing. What a legend.
Christ I’m talking like he’s dead! Anyway, glory in some of these videos from years gone by and recognize an irreplaceable talent. For anyone drawing up any All Time Top XIs, he should be one of the first names on your list…
Documentary on PSV days:
hattrick from real 3 – 4 man u (CL 2003):
All 15 World Cup goals: