My Football Heroes: Ronaldo de Lima

I wasn’t lucky enough to see Pele play, however I have had the pleasure of watching Ronaldo. I have never seen a player like him, he is unique. Ronaldo could do whatever he wanted with the ball, if he decided to score then he would. The Brazilian had great strength and technique – He could play anywhere, on any pitch against any opponent – He was a class above everyone else.

Ronaldo was one of the best players I have ever seen. The term world class gets banded about far too often these days, Ronaldo was worthy of that title. In 2008, AC Milan were playing Livorno, Ronaldo was hurt by what seemed to be an innocuous challenge, the Brazilian ruptured ligaments in his left knee – The third such injury of his career, it looked like the end, another set back of an injury ravaged career, but this was Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s mental strength to return from such bad injuries against all the odds was incredible. Only two years after suffering the knee injury against Livorno, the Brazilian was back in his homeland doing what he did best for Corinthians. The three times world player of the year showed his capacity to triumph in adversity and prove his doubters wrong.

In his younger years, Ronaldo was rarely seen without a ball at his feet, such was his love of the game – Even at an early age. Futsal was Ronaldo’s first love, it is at his first club Valqueire where he began to catch the eye. News of his talent quickly spread, he was soon invited to play for Social Ramos club, a larger and more organised club in Rio’s northern suburbs. Tall, quick and skillful, Ronaldo possessed all the attributes to reach the very top. It was lower league side Sao Cristovao that gave him his first opportunity in 1991, after Rio’s top clubs refused to pay his bus fare for a trial. 44 goals in under two years meant his stay at the club was short lived. Ronaldo’s next move would be to Cruzeiro, a first division side based 340 kilometres away from Rio. Signed to play for Cruzeiro’s youth team, Ronaldo’s talent was obvious – He had the ability to step up to the first team. In his only season at the club, Ronaldo averaged a goal a game, helping the club to win their first Copa do Brasil in 1993.

At just 17, Ronaldo was already being compared to Brazilian legend Pele. Ronaldo had that bit of genius that set him apart from the rest. Ronaldo was called up to the Brazil World Cup squad in 1994. Ronaldo wasn’t thrown into the Brazilian team like Pele was at the same age. Brazil already had a great team, they chose to hold him back a bit. Ronaldo didn’t play a game during Brazil’s World Cup triumph in 1994, however the experience proved invaluable for Ronaldo. After the World Cup, Dutch side PSV Eindhoven paid 4.7 million to bring the Brazilian to the Netherlands. Ronaldo scored 54 goals in 57 games for PSV. After two years with PSV, Ronaldo was on the move once more, this time to Barcelona. In his one season at Barcelona, Ronaldo scored an impressive 34 goals in 37 appearances, making him the top scorer in La Liga. He was an integral part of the side that won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa España and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup. Despite seeming happy and settled in Spain, Ronaldo expected to be among Barcelona’s top earners. Inter Milan were alerted to the situation and got their man.

Despite the lofty expectations put upon him, Ronaldo didn’t disappoint in an Inter shirt. The Brazilian helped Inter Milan to the UEFA Cup in his first season. To watch Ronaldo was pure football. Ronaldo was voted world player of the year in 1996 and 1997, Ronaldo was the first megastar of football’s modern era. At the age of 21, Ronaldo was already central to Brazil’s World Cup aspirations, the 1998 World Cup was all about Ronaldo. The Brazilian scored four times on the way to the final against France. However, on the eve of the final, Ronaldo’s wolrd was about to be turned upside down, Ronaldo had a fit. He appeared to be unavailable for the final, the team was sat in the dressing room when Ronaldo walked in. Ronaldo said he was fine and was ready to play. However, France would go on to win the game comfortably 3-0. Ronaldo was a far cry from the striker who had tormented defences over the previous five years.

Ronaldo’s nightmare was only just beginning, his goal-scoring record at Inter remained prolific but in November 1999, he tore ligaments in his right knee, before tearing them again in April 2000. Ronaldo was given only a 50% chance of playing football again. After that, the real Ronaldo never came back – Obviously he was still a great player but he wasn’t the same. Ronaldo refused to give up, after a strict rehabilitation programme and nearly two years out of the game, Ronaldo was back. He returned to action in September 2001, though the rest of his season was hampered by injury. Few expected Ronaldo to be a force for Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. Ronaldo was determined to erase those painful memories from four years ago in Paris. Ronaldo prepared tirelessly for the World Cup. Any doubts that he lacked the fitness to cope at the top level were immediately dispelled in Brazil’s opening games. Ronaldo and Brazil progressed to the final to face Germany. This time the world saw the real Ronaldo, disregarded and written off at the age of 25 he answered his critics in the most emphatic way, he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over the Germans, ending the tournament as top scorer with 8 goals.

Crowned world footballer of the year for a record third time. Ronaldo hot property once again, after five years at Inter, Ronaldo was back in Spain – This time with Real Madrid. Ronaldo was the latest of the Galácticos. Ronaldo came off the bench to score twice on his debut against Alaves. In 127 games for Real Madrid, Ronaldo scored 83 times. Ronaldo destroyed Manchester United in a Champions League quarter-final at Old Trafford. The Brazilian scored a hat-trick that night.

Ronaldo’s off-field antics were beginning to catch up with him, in 2006 Ronaldo played in his fourth World Cup. While he was as clinical as ever in front of goal, he was out of shaped and lacking in pace. His goal against Ghana in the last 16 was his fifteenth in all World Cup’s passing the record held by Gerd Muller. Brazil eventually lost to France in the quarter-finals. After 97 games and 62 goals it would be his last international appearance. Only Pele has scored more in a Brazil shirt.

Despite the continued goals and accolades throughout the years its a testament to Ronaldo’s ability, that there is still a case of what might have been. A striker touched with genius, he was truly a phenomenon.

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