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The ‘First’ Ronaldo: Saluting an Almost Forgotten Genius

COS contributor wants to remind the world of the original Ronaldo. The one who doesn’t throw himself to the floor at the merest mention of a tackle.

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Following the end of another World Cup and the discussions of the stars of the tournament I found myself thinking back to the World Cups of yesteryear and in turn the stars of those times. I came across many, despite my relatively short time obsessing about the game. If I told you my first full World Cup properly remembered was 1994 you would get the general idea. Romario, Hagi, Stoichkov were all remembered and all reviled in their own right. However when moving on to 98, and indeed 2002 I found one name who, though accepted as having a good tournament, never really got or indeed gets the praise his talent undoubtedly deserved. I am of course, talking about Ronaldo, the original and in my opinion the best.

I firmly believe that this is a player who had more talent than any of the current crop. It saddens me to think that in the future when people talk of those footballers of the past and the name Ronaldo comes up, people will immediately think of the bryllcream wearing, winking Portuguese maestro. This is not a criticism of Cristiano, the man is an exceptional player and if not the best, then the second best player in the world currently. However the thought of the Brazilian genius outshone by a name sake in a similar way Bryan Robson outshone ‘Pop’ Robson is a sad state of affairs.

To cast your mind back Ronaldo was simply a phenomenon, the build up to 1998 was all about him. Scottish defenders were contending how to deal with him in the newspapers prior to the tournaments opener, I think their best idea was a group prayer before the start of the match.

Going back even further to his formative years he was picked up by PSV for $6 million at the age of just 18 and scored 42 goals in 46 league games for the Dutch giants. Of course this cannot be too much of a barometer of his success as the Dutch league has granted prolific scorer status to such also rans as Alfonso Alves, Mateja Kezman and the goal machine that is Dirk Kuyt. It was following his transfer to Barcelona that pundits and fans alike really started to take notice. People forget he spent just one season at Camp Nou, such was his impact. As a 20 year old he amassed 47 goals in just 49 games, 34 in the league and was the last player to top 30 in La Liga till 2009. It would be worth looking up some of his goals during that season on you tube to see the incredible, balance, strength and skill Ronaldo had in abundance as he rocketed towards that remarkable total.

Then came the big move to Italian giants Inter and unsurprisingly his success and stock rose. 34 goals came in his first season and 15 in just 20 games in his second. To put it into perspective by the end of his second season at Inter, Ronaldo was just 23 years old. He had won the Fifa World Player of the Year twice, the Balloon D’or , the European Golden Boot, Spanish League Foreign Player of the Year, Serie A Player of The Year as well as the Copa America Player of the Tournament. At 23 he was still seen to be nowhere near his peak, the world of football dreaded and anticipated excitedly in equal measures the type of player he would seemingly become.

An incident on November 21 1999 changed that. Ronaldo’s leg buckled in a match with Lecce and it was confirmed he had ruptured a tendon in his knee, it put him out for nearly 5 months. However the killer blow came in April of the following year when 7 minutes into his return he injured his knee again. The Ronaldo once known and feared was no longer.

A season completely missed in 00/01 followed but Ronaldo seemingly came back with a bang for the 2002 World Cup helping Brazil win the tournament for an unprecedented fifth time. He won World Player of the Year again in the same year.

A move to Europe’s most recognisable team Real Madrid for 39 million Euros followed, however it was clear something wasn’t quite right. Ronaldo was not the same, he had noticeably gained weight and the same explosiveness witnessed pre-injury did not seem as evident. Despite a regular scorer for Real, he netted more than 20 goals for three consecutive seasons, his original brilliance only appeared intermittently, an example being his sensational hat-trick at Old Trafford in a 2004 Champion’s League Quarter Final. Fabio Capello was seemingly unimpressed with the new Ronaldo and at 30 he was shipped out of the Bernabeu, this time to the red half of Milan, for just 6.9 million Euro’s. A year after this move Ronaldo’s career in Europe was over, a third serious knee injury put him out till the end of his Milan contract, he was ignominiously released and we were treated the following summer to photos of the great man enjoying himself on a rather sizeable yacht with an equally sizeable stomach. By the tender age of 31 the career of what should have been the world’s greatest footballer was over.

By the end of 2008 Ronaldo had returned to professional football having signed a one year deal with Corinthians of Brazil, however by this time he was off the radar of Europe and also seemingly the Brazilian coach Dunga.

The incredible thing about Ronaldo’s career is that he will always be remembered as a player who was never the same after his injury. This is undoubtedly true, however when most players who suffer tragic injuries go from an excellent player to a good one, Ronaldo simply went from an unbelievable player down to an outstanding one. Outstanding players will always be remembered in their own right, however after what Ronaldo showed us pre-injury it meant his fantastic career that followed his return simply wasn’t good enough to satisfy us and I expect himself too.

To add some statistical back up to my point Ronaldo’s post 99(injury) club career goals record reads 137 goals in 238 games. This is an average of .57 goals per match. The age old adage of great strikers is that a 1 in 2 goalscoring record is the benchmark of a quality forward. If we compare this to the great English forward of recent times it stands up extremely favourably. Many see Alan Shearer as our best since the introduction of the Premier League. His average was .54 a game, less than post injury Ronaldo. Thierry Henry’s league goals were amassed at .51 per game, again lower than post 99 Ronaldo.
It’s a sobering thought when a player who had ‘past it’ was more prolific than the current two top all time Premier League scorers.

The statistics really run true when we look at pre injury Ronaldo and it is based on this that we see what a truly astonishing player he was. Remember this is up to the age of just 23 including seasons in two of the toughest leagues in Europe Ronaldo scored a mind-blowing 199 goals in 238 games. .84 goals per game. Ranking him up there with the likes of those considered to be the best of all time, namely Pele, Puskas, Romario etc. This is the player that should be talked about as the greatest of our time when the future grandchildren come asking. More explosive than Wayne Rooney, more complete than Cristiano Ronaldo, more skilful than Leo Messi, more composed than Alan Shearer and more powerful than Didier Drogba.
Alas the likely scenario is the labelling of this footballing genius as the fat Ronaldo as opposed to the real Ronaldo, which is his name when my grandchildren come asking.

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