Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ronaldo: Il Fenomeno

Click here or read below for my player profile of Brazilian football icon, Ronaldo. It was published on Scotzine.

Ronaldo: Il Fenomeno

“Mentally, I wanted to continue, but I have to acknowledge that I lost [the battle] to my body.”

Those were the words of Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima speaking in February 2011, when announcing his inevitable retirement from football. Ronaldo had problems with his knees for large periods of his career and it appeared, alongside a heavy weight problem, an issue that he was unable to shake off.

There is always a tinge of sadness when a quality player finally admits defeat with their body and some Rangers fans may go through similar motions when their favourite old man, Davie Weir, hangs up the boots. However, while Weir has been a great servant to his club in times of financial turmoil, his achievements severely pale in significance to that of Ronaldo who would unquestionably be in most people’s top fifteen players of all time.

The Brazilian superstar – known by many fans as ‘Il Fenomeno’ – has an endless list of trophies and awards, some individual, some team-orientated. After winning the Copa do Brasil with Cruzeiro in1993, he moved to Europe, with a scoring ratio of almost a goal a game at PSV Eindhoven and continued to make similar impacts for Brazil and his next club, Barcelona. His unbelievable talent and goal tally was rewarded with the title of FIFA World Footballer of the Year in 1996 and 1997, making Ronaldo both the youngest ever to win the award and the only player to do so in consecutive years.

Unable to renegotiate Ronaldo’s contract, Barcelona were waving goodbye to their star man after just one season at the club. Inter Milan forked out, what was then, a world record fee of £19 million for Ronaldo’s services and the then, twenty-one-year-old, made his way across the Mediterranean.

The goals continued to flow and the whole world looked forward to witnessing what Ronaldo could produce on the biggest platform of football at the 1998 World Cup. Bizarrely, Ronaldo already had a World Cup winners medal after being included in the 1994 Brazil squad, but he had failed to make an appearance, so he was desperate to claim another, this time by firing his country to glory.

After a 2-1 victory over Scotland, Ronaldo scored his first goal of the tournament in a 3-0 romp over Morocco. Although Brazil fell to a 2-1 defeat to Norway in the final group stage fixture, they won their group and progressed to the second round. Ronaldo would score a penalty, hit the post and then coolly slot past Chile keeper’ Nelson Tapia to wrap up a 4-1 demolition of their South American neighbours. It seemed that after a typically Brazilian tentative start to the tournament, they had finally shaken off their complacency and looked set for another World Cup success.

In the quarter finals Brazil met Denmark in what ended up being a thrilling end-to-end affair. The Brazilians came up trumps to win 3-2 with Ronaldo assisting two of the goals. Indeed, it seemed that some people were oblivious to his clinical through-balls as well as his finishing, but after this special performance, his all-round game would be appreciated further.

The Netherlands were the next obstacle for the Samba Boys and they soon looked comfortable after a fantastically timed run by Ronaldo, finishing past Edwin van der Sar with ease to open the scoring. However, Holland equalised three minutes before the full-time whistle and after a fruitless extra thirty minutes, penalties would follow. Ronaldo set Brazil on their way, sending van der Sar the wrong way and after Ronald de Boer missed his decisive penalty, a final between host nation France and World Cup holders Brazil was set up.

It would be this infamous World Cup final which tainted the star’s reputation. Ronaldo, quite simply, failed to produce the goods, with Brazil on the receiving end of a Zinedine Zidane master-class, finishing 3-0. Conspiracy theories followed especially when Ronaldo failed to be placed on the team-sheet seventy-two minutes before kick-off, only to be mysteriously added again on a further team-sheet released around thirty minutes later. Ronaldo did take to the pitch, but he looked a shadow of his former self and failed to impose himself on the game.

In the end however, it transpired that the night before the final Ronaldo had suffered convulsions and it was only decided by medical staff at last-minute that he was well enough to play the fixture. Despite the clearance by doctors, Ronaldo’s team-mates were not convinced and it seems worry took hold of them and they failed to perform to their usual high standards. After the match, Ronaldo was quite philosophical about the whole episode claiming that “we lost the World Cup but I won another cup…my life,” underlining how close to death he and his team-mates believed he was.

Ronaldo continued his astounding performances when he returned to Inter Milan, but the first significant signs of injury troubles appeared on 21 November 1999 in a match against Lecce. The striker had ruptured a tendon in his knee and required surgery. He made his comeback in April 2000 and within minutes left the pitch injured once again. Two operations and months of rehabilitation followed and Ronaldo found himself ready just in time for the 2002 World Cup.

Ronaldo scored in all three group stage fixtures, knocking a single goal past Turkey and China respectively, followed by a further two against Costa Rica. The goal tally continued with a late goal against Belgium in a 2-0 win and although he failed to score, Brazil beat England 2-1 in the quarter finals, a match which was won thanks to Ronaldinho’s exhilarating lob over David Seaman. The semi-finals brought Brazil and Turkey together again with a forty-ninth minute Ronaldo goal enough to send the Brazilians through to another final.

This time, Ronaldo was fit and able to play and the man himself opened the scoring after sixty-seven minutes when he pounced on a rare Oliver Kahn mistake. Twelve minutes later Ronaldo popped up again to side-foot past Kahn and seal a fifth World Cup for the boys in yellow. This appeared to be the rebirth of Ronaldo’s career. He finished top goalscorer at the World Cup and later in 2002, won World Player of the Year for the third time after sealing an incredible €39 million move to Real Madrid.

As it transpired, Ronaldo continued to score but injuries still plagued him and would repeatedly do so for the rest of his career, often incurring lengthy spells on the sidelines. Criticism of his now sizeable weight followed him into the 2006 World Cup and indeed the most recognisable striker in the world failed to light up the competition as he had in the two previous.

Brazil won their opening three games of the competition, but Ronaldo would struggle, being substituted in the first two fixtures, before finally breaking his duck against Japan, twice. In the second round, Brazil cruised past Ghana with Ronaldo scoring the first goal of the match which came about from a perfectly timed run onto a through ball followed by a wonderful shimmy past goalkeeper Richard Kingson. This goal took Ronaldo’s overall World Cup goal tally up to fifteen, a record which still stands to this day.

Brazil were knocked out by France in the quarter finals and from this moment forth, Ronaldo’s career would spiral into oblivion. He made the trip back to Italy, this time to play for AC Milan, but ravished by injury, only featured for just over three hundred minutes in the entire 2007-8 season and the world icon headed home for Brazil.

Ronaldo was adamant that once he recovered from injuries he would sign for Flamengo, however, he shocked the country by joining league rivals Corinthians instead. Initially, the move appeared successful, after helping the club win the Campeonato Paulista and the Brazil Cup. Although Ronaldo signed a contract extension to the end of 2011, he announced his retirement in February this year soon after Corinthians were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores.

There is no doubt that the natural talent Ronaldo possessed was nothing short of extraordinary and the endless individual and team awards he has received recognise this. However, due to physical weaknesses his career was often interrupted for long spells. Therefore, Il Fenomeno should be given credit for continuing as long as he did and congratulated for his continued goalscoring record at all times, no matter how fragile he was. Despite his problems, he managed to play ninety-two games for Brazil, scoring sixty-two goals in the process, but perhaps the most significant blip on his record is the lack of a Champions League medal even though he featured at Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan.

Ronaldo was not the fastest player in the world, but he did have incredible bursts of pace which enabled him to play off the shoulders of defenders to devastating effect and he seemed to almost contain a physic ability to draw out goalkeepers to meet him, only to fool them at the last possible moment and stroke the ball into the goal with, what appeared, relative ease.

Is he amongst Pele, Zidane, Best, Maradona, Beckenbauer and Garrincha? For some people, not quite. They argue that his injuries crippled him for too long and was therefore unable to provide the consistency to be an all-time great. Whether you follow this train of thought or not is somewhat irrelevant. He was sensational to watch when he was fit and undoubtedly added an extra dimension to the 1998 and 2002 World Cup which at the time, for a youngster like myself, was spellbinding to watch.

written by Will Lyon

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