Monday, February 14, 2011

Farewell to the Real Ronaldo

Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, or simply known as Ronaldo, the buck toothed version, the fat version, the one who seemingly slept through the 1998 World Cup Final, call him what you like, he's one of the finest and most gifted players this blog has ever seen. Reports today state that he has announced his retirement from professional football.

Ronaldo, The Phenomenon is quite simply one of the most potent attacking talents that the world has ever seen and where one can only start to realise just how great that talent was is to look at his statistics and the trophies he won whilst realising how many years and how much of his ability was taken away by a series of cruel and serious injuries that possibly deprived the world of potentially the greatest player that had ever lived.

Ronaldo followed the route of so many Brazilian greats, born into a poor family and neighbourhood in Rio only for his talent to propel him onto the world stage and global mega stardom. This route, whilst well trodden is riddled with pitfalls, and like Ronaldinho, for a variety of reasons those that walk that path often have careers that blossom quickly but fade just as fast.

We on this blog first became aware of the young but absurdly talented seventeen year old whist he was playing for PSV of Eindhoven. He had been an unused but much talked about substitute during the 1994 World Cup and on the advice of the former PSV icon Romario he duly joined the Dutch club. Despite the first of a series of knee injuries he would endure during his career, a plethora of goals followed with a total of 42 in only 46 games.

Bobby Robson, no stranger to PSV paid a handsome fee in 1996 to take him to Barcelona and how in one amazing season - maybe his best - he repaid them. Only 37 appearances yielded 34 goals including the one we all remember against Compostela where he fought off assorted challenges and fouls to score one of the greatest goals ever seen.

Spanish football would superficially have seemed the most natural habitat for such a free attacking spirit yet a breakdown in his relationship with Barca brought a transfer to Internazionale of Milan and regrettably the beginning of the chronic injury problems that would ultimately destroy his career. That being said, Ronaldo proved himself to be of the highest possible calibre by succeeding in adapting to Italian football  where so many other greats have failed.

Having already been voted the World's best player before the start of the 1998 World Cup in France, the stage was set for his further endorsement during the tournament itself. Part of a potent team - alongside Rivaldo, a slightly ageing Bebeto and a highly talented Denilson - Ronaldo shone through the rounds of the tournament without necessarily hitting the absolute heights. France with home advantage and also a hugely talented team with the ever blossoming talents of Zinedine Zidane lay in wait in the final. It should have been a classic but Brazil were rocked by stories of a fit that Ronaldo suffered prior to the final. Whatever the truth, Brazil were shaken to their core and the man himself remained an utter passenger throughout the match as France ran out easy 3-0 victors in a huge anti climax. For Ronaldo, it was the beginning of the end of his career at its' absolute peak.

In the following seasons at Inter, Ronaldo suffered two horrendous knee injuries and he contributed only sporadically and whilst stories prevailed of his love for the high life, one could not feel anything but sympathy for a player that always played with a smile upon his face. I remember hearing his knee snap during a comeback game and hearing him howl whilst lying on the turf, it was enough to make you cry at home, no one deserved that.

The 2002 World Cup began the Renaissance period in the career of Ronaldo. In an almost Darren Anderton-esque twist, he followed up nearly four years of constant injury with near perfect fitness for the four weeks of the tournament in Japan and Korea.

Despite the ridiculous wedge on the front of his head, Ronaldo remained streamlined enough to provide the goals to fire Brazil to glory in which was a decidedly average World Cup. Despite his goals haul, the global adulation that followed and the acrimonious transfer to Real Madrid, one couldn't shy away from the suspicion that as great as he still was, it was like watching a post injury Paul Gascgoine, robbed of the absolute peak of his talents whilst still easily good enough to make a mockery of those around him.

Real Madrid, committed to their Galactico policy could simply not resist. His transfer fee, less than either Zidane or Figo who had gone before was a reflection of the reality of the fragility of his fitness. Ronaldo's contribution to the Madrid cause was probably the most consistent period of his career. Despite that the Madristas never really took to their number nine, his work rate and perceived girth - this blog always felt he simply was built like a middleweight boxer - earned him the nickname of 'Fatron' or 'Bigron', neither were particularly fair and his strike rate for Real cannot be argued with. His hat trick against ManYoo at Old Trafford in the Champions League was applauded even by the home side.

It is no surprise that after Real his career began to fall away. Age and injuries were rapidly catching up and AC Milan received a player that was already in steep decline, his inevitable further injuries and transfer back to Brazil were not a surprise and it was sad to see such a once incredible player looking so decidedly average.

It is hard to know the absolute truth regarding the Real Ronaldo. Were his knee injuries a result of steroid injections given to an underdeveloped teenager that resulted in the bulging thigh muscles that his knee tendons could ultimately not support? Who will ever know the whole truth surrounding the Final at Le Stade De France and whether painkillers were to blame. Did Nike really force Brazil to put his name on that teamsheet? Did his love of the high life contribute to his injuries and his longer periods of recuperation and premature fall from grace?

Personally, I would prefer to remember the young and untroubled Ronaldo who made defenders look like traffic cones with his combination of explosive acceleration and unrivaled ball control. The new Ronaldo may well end up surpassing him in terms of statistics but I for one would much rather watch the original who made football a joy to watch. Maybe the tainted geniuses and injury victims with their shorter careers are really the best or maybe it is simply more romantic to think so, Gascgoine, Maradona, Best, Cantona and Van Basten all spring to mind. Whatever the truth is, the man retiring today is the original and the best Ronaldo as far as this blog is concerned - no nonsense.