He didn’t come to France to compete with the players of his generation, but to seek a place amongst the best of the two millennia—this one and the coming. If Romário, his predecessor, was subtlety, Ronaldo is exuberance. If Romário’s habitat was the penalty area, Ronaldo’s home would need to measure half the size of the pitch.
– Jorge Valdano
Ronaldo by Sammy Moody
 It was first off and then on. The name on the starting line up. 18 years on nobody knows what really happened. Ankle injury, stomach upset, love life and even poisoning are mentioned. Its amazing how the 40 odd members (players, coaches, physicians and support staff) of the 1998 Brazilian world cup team have not revealed anything concrete to end the rumours. Ultimately it has settled down on epileptic seizures.

The effect on the side was catastrophic. Although they lost, effectively, to only poor set-piece defending the performance was zombie-like. None of the exhortations from their manager, a World champion as player (twice) and manager, had any effect on the players. The early collision with the bald man between the sticks only made things worse. The man, boy really, who had the world under his feet suddenly felt it crushing him.

An injury affected season with the Nerazzuri followed where he managed 14 goals in just 19 matches. The disappointment in Stade de France was somewhat assuaged in Paraguay as Ri-Ro ran riot and brought home their 2nd Copa America in as many attempts. Then disaster struck when he ruptured his knee tendon and his career was over. Two Copa Americas, an Olympic bronze, two broken transfer records, two FIFA world player of the year awards, a Ballon D’or and 233 goals for club and country. All over before turning 24.

Truly the worst ever moment in football history.

At an age when most players begin their career, Il Fenomeno‘s seemed over. He missed the best part of 3 seasons including the whole of 2000-01. He came on and off till December 2001 before taking an extended break until he returned for the UEFA Cup tie with Feyenoord. With 4 matches to go, Inter were top, two points ahead of Roma. Ronaldo scored 4 goals in 3 matches to nearly take Inter to their first Scudetto since 1989, ahead of their visit to Stadio Olympico to play Lazio. A subdued Ronaldo was subbed off in the 77th minute with the Nerazzuri trailing 2-4 after leading 2-1 just before the break. Inter would have to wait another 5 years to win a non-awarded Scudetto.

A disappointed end to a whirlwind return. The catharsis would come less than 8 weeks later in Japan as Ronaldo returned in grand style to deliver for Brazil its first world cup for eight years and their fifth overall. Ronaldo, with a little help from Rivaldo, scored in every match bar the quarterfinal vs England. It was the most magnificent return for the most magnificent player of the preceding decade. He was not the same player as he was before the injury but he proved that un fenomeno e un fenomeno even if that fenomeno is just 80% of what it used to be.

Ronaldo: The Catharsis
Ronaldo, at club level, was hardly the most decorated footballer. He won just two league titles in Europe and even off those two left halfway in the 2nd campaign. Though he won the lesser of two European cups, he played in just 1 Champions league semifinal and did not even play in a Champions league final. In his last year in Europe, at just 31, he injured his other knee and his European sojourn was over. He ended his career with two decent seasons for Corinthians in his home country.

All this does not matter because Ronaldo transcended trophies. He was an absolute force of nature on the pitch who was loved by both the home and away fans. The sheer anticipation of what he would do is probably matched only by Ronaldinho and Messi since. He was the first number 9 in ages who would drop deep and dribble instead of hanging with the last line of defence. Fans have been really spoilt by Messi with his dribbling but Ronaldo was the first player in decades who regularly dribbled past 5-6 players at a time.

A small list of defenders in Serie A during his time: Ferrara, Montero, Maldini, Nesta, Thuram, Zambrotta, Desailly, Costacurta, Pessotto, Cafu. A veritable who’s who in the pantheon of defenders. Almost every defender in the list names Ronaldo his toughest opponent. The famous clips of him destroying Nesta & Maldini are the stuff of legends. His injury is probably the biggest “what if?” in the history of football. Sky literally was the limit. A true phenomenon!

I began with a Valdano quote and I’ll end with another quote from him.

“Ronaldo is not a man. He is a herd.”


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