505 appearances, 350 goals. That record speaks for itself. Add in the fact that this is from a man who has only just turned 31 and you realise how good he must have been.
Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima, the original Ronaldo, is often looked down upon as a man who never truly made the most of what he had, often through media pressures and bad injuries. However, examine his career in statistics, not headlines, and it tells a different story:
- All-time top scorer in World Cup Finals
- Three time World Player of the Year
- Four World Cup tournaments, three finals, one single-handed win
- Trophies in four countries with six different clubs
When you finish that list, you begin to understand why I consider Ronaldo alongside players like Paolo Maldini for this series. Although he was caught up in a ridiculous scandal in recent months, nothing takes away from what this man has achieved.
As would happen with many South American players in the future, Ronaldo was plucked from Cruzeiro at the age of 17 to play in Europe for PSV Eindhoven. He had scored 12 goals in 13 games, and this was enough for PSV and the Brazil national team to sit up, take note and give him his chance. The $6 million PSV paid Cruzeiro would seem like a bargain as, over two seasons, Ronaldo terrorised Dutch defences with an incredible 55 goals in 57 games. He won the World Player of the Year award for 1996, the youngest ever winner at just 19.
Barcelona, led by English manager Sir Bobby Robson, swooped for Ronaldo. He repaid them by firing 47 goals in 49 appearances, keeping up his phenomenal scoring rate of just under one every game. After winning the Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup with Barca in 1996/97, he was once again named the best player in the world. Ronaldo moved on again, this time for a world record fee, to Serie A.
Inter Milan paid Barcelona £18 million for Ronaldo’s services in 1997, beating the £15 million Newcastle United paid for Alan Shearer in 1995. He continued his scoring feats, with 34 goals in 47 appearances in the 1997/98 season, culminating in winning the UEFA Cup.
Staying with Inter, he travelled to France ’98 with World champions Brazil. The world was watching. They wanted to see this talented 22-year-old tear the world apart and fire Brazil to a second-successive World Cup trophy. It all went to plan. All of it, except the final. Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit the night before and the media went into a frenzy as to why he had suffered a fit and if he would play. He was to be excluded by coach Mario Zagallo, before pleading to play. He did. But not well. He was a shadow of his former self and, not helped by a collision with France keeper Fabian Barthez, was lethargic, off-pace and nowhere near peak condition. Brazil lost 3-0 and Ronaldo began a dark period in his career.
He returned to Inter, continuing his goalscoring with 14 in 20 league appearances, but suffered a ruptured tendon in his right knee and would require surgery. He was ruled out for the 1998/99 season. On his comeback in April 2000, he suffered the same injury again. Once again he was out for the season. After two operations and 20 months of rehabilitation, Ronaldo returned to the Inter Milan first team. His aim was to regain his fitness in time for the 2002 World Cup. He returned and showed his class once again, scoring 7 goals in 10 league games.
Brazil went to the 2002 World Cup having only just qualifed, but Ronaldo led the team once more and scored in every round, bar the quarter-finals against England, as Brazil reached the final. Ronaldo then laid to rest the ghosts of his injuries and the 1998 Final with a solo performance to beat Germany 2-0, scoring both goals. He was named 2002 World Player of the Year. Ronaldo was back.
He joined European Champions Real Madrid’s ‘galacticos’ for £25m after the World Cup, scoring twice on his debut. He stayed at Madrid for four-and-a-half years, scoring 102 goals and endearing himself to Real’s fans. He moved on, perhaps for the final time of his career, to AC Milan in January 2007 for around £5 million, although injuries have overshadowed his return to the San Siro.
He was cup-tied for their run to the 2007 Champions League trophy, the closest he ever got in his phenomenal career. He will go down as one of the greatest players to have never won Europe’s greatest prize, although he can console himself with his three World Player of the Year trophies and his World Cup winner’s medal.
If he is not respected for the sheer amount of trophies he was won and goals he has scored, then surely it should be for his determination to return from such a crippling injury, twice, to reach the heights he had before, World Player of the Year. Thus, he must be considered a living legend.