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Sunday, February 20, 2011

A goal scoring pheno menon retires

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Ronaldo celebrates after scoring against Inter Milan during their Italian Serie A soccer match at San Siro stadium in Milan on March 11, 2007

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“I love to score goals after passing all the defenders as well as the keeper. This is not my speciality, but my habit,” Ronaldo Luis Naz├írio De Lima said in 1997 and all through his career, he achieved this goal and more.
How do you describe a footballer, who holds the record of being the highest goal scorer in FIFA World Cup history, 15 goals, a feat that was achieved in 2006, and is still the youngest man to have won the FIFA Player of the Year award, aged 20?
There are so many enduring images of Ronaldo, the Brazilian superstar, who retired from the game on Monday, February 14, 2011.
To some football fans, Ronaldo had retired a long time ago - Monday’s press conference was just a confirmation of what was already public knowledge since 2008, when he signed for Corinthians looking seriously overweight.
The beginning
Ronaldo started his professional football career with Brazilian minor league side, Social Ramos in 1990 and went on to play for Sao Cristovao and Cruzeiro.
His talent was spotted on the streets of Bento Ribeiro, by Brazilian legend Jairzinho, who was at the time coaching Sao Cristovao. The 16-year-old signed his first professional contract with Cruzeiro and in his debut season he smashed an astonishing 44 goals in as many games, announcing his arrival on the crowded Brazilian scene.
His decision to play football was not approved by his mother, who wanted him to become a doctor.
“In Brazil every kid starts playing street football very early. It’s in our blood. Every time I went away I was deceiving my mum. I’d tell her I was going to school but I’d be out on the street playing football. I always had a ball on my feet,” he said when asked about his spellbinding talent at that time.
His signature from that early stage was blistering pace, close control of the ball and shooting technique that stood him out and led to comparisons with the legendary Pele. This is a burden that almost every exceptional player has to face since Pele emerged as the star of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, aged 16.
Playing at the highest level
In 1994, after he made his international debut and was part of the Brazilian squad that won the World Cup, though he did not get to play actually, he joined PSV Eindhoven in Holland on the advice of Romario.
Wherever he went, he scored many goals. When he moved to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, he scored an amazing 57 goals in just 54 games. At the 1996 Olympics, Ronaldo was the signature player along with Bebeto, Rivaldo and Dida.
Nigeria, however, contrived to stop the Brazilian team in golden extra time but the world was now aware of another burgeoning talent from Samba land.
Ronaldo moved to Spanish club, FC Barcelona for $17 million in 1996 and went on to break almost all the scoring records that had existed before his arrival. The Nou Camp side were being coached at that time by the late Bobby Robson and the Englishman acknowledged that Ronaldo was the best player he had ever coached. Robson had coached players like Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Romario, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Luis Figo.
“The best player I ever worked with? Tough competition, but it has to be Brazil’s Ronaldo,” Robson said in 2007.
During the 1996/97 season the Brazilian scored 47 goals in 49 games and led the Catalan side to the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup triumph and he scored the winning goal in the cup final itself and also won a Copa Del Rey trophy.
Youngest FIFA Player of the Year
He was rewarded for his goals by becoming at 20 years old, the youngest player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1996. He was also named the runner-up to Matthias Sammer of Germany for the Ballon d’Or title.
At the time, Ronaldo was scoring goals of the highest level; the type of goals not seen since Dutch striker Marco Van Basten’s verve started waning.
Barcelona’s match against Compostela in the La Liga on October 12, 1996, showed the whole world that they were witnessing a real football phenomenon! On that day, he scored, arguably one of the greatest goals ever. Describing the goal will never do it justice, it can only be enjoyed when watched (YouTube still has this goal in their archives).
Ronaldo picked up the ball just after the half way line and proceeded to dribble five defenders before scoring, even though he was being pulled and tugged.
At the end of the 1996/97 season, contract talks broke down between Barcelona and Ronaldo’s agents and with the striker now a very beautiful bride, sought and wanted by all the biggest clubs in the world, it was just a matter of time before he moved.
Barcelona had to accept a then world record bid of £18 million from Inter Milan for their striker. He moved to Italy to face the Catennacio challenge, and his career would never be the same again.
In his first season at Inter, he scored 34 more goals but that season will be remembered for an incident involving Ivan Zamarano. The bona-fide owner of the No.9 jersey before Ronaldo’s capture, he was ‘urged’ to give up the number to the new striker. Zamarano then chose the No.18 jersey, but on match days, the 18 on the back of his jersey appeared as 1+8, the Chilean added the plus sign in-between the 1 and 8.
In 1998, Ronaldo became the first player to ever win the FIFA World Player of the Year award back to back, and he went a notch higher by snagging the Ballon D’or he lost to Sammer the previous season.
The World Cup in France in 1998 was therefore supposed to be the crowning place for Ronaldo as the greatest player in the world but a convulsive fit on the eve of the final match against France scuppered that dream. Whatever happened the night before the match, Ronaldo said after the tournament, “We lost the World Cup but I won another cup - my life.”
When Brazil and France submitted their team sheets before the World Cup final match on July 12, 1998, there was a noticeable absentee from the Selecao side, Ronaldo.
But when the referee for the match went to confirm the official team selection, Ronaldo’s name reappeared. That final is a match the Selecao will love to wipe from memory they and their goalscoring sensation, Ronaldo did not play like they had done throughout the tournament. Afterwards the Brazilian team doctor Lidio Toledo revealed that Ronaldo had been rushed to a hospital after suffering a convulsion in his sleep the night before the final. “I don’t remember what happened but I went to sleep and, like the doctor said, it seems I had a fit for about 30 or 40 seconds,” Ronaldo admitted after the finals.
Italian tragedy
He returned to Milan and continued banging the goals until November 21, 1999, when tragedy struck - and one his career never actually recovered.
Ronaldo ruptured a tendon in his knee during a game against Lecce and his game which was built on an exceptional ability to change direction, speed and ferocious shots had to change from then on.
After surgery and five months of rehabilitation, he made his return in the Coppa Italia final against Lazio, but he suffered a relapse on the same right knee after just seven minutes on the pitch.
He was then sidelined till about the end of the 2001/2002 season. Ronaldo came back just in time to grab a spot in the Brazilian national team to the World Cup in Korea and Japan.
He unveiled a new hair cut and guided Felipe Scolari’s side to the final to face Germany. In the 2002 World Cup final, Ronaldo exorcised the demons of the 1998 final and scored two goals to give Brazil victory over a German side that had not conceded a goal up till the final.
Added to the six, Ronaldo had scored in the knock-out rounds, he ended the tournament as top scorer with 8 goals.
The Galactico
His return to form aided another transfer - a world record transfer, for a fee of €39 million saw Ronaldo leave Inter Milan to join a growing list of Galacticos at Real Madrid. Another 30 goals followed even though he was sidelined with injury for two months. Real Madrid won La Liga and he scored 104 goals in 184 games over a period of five years at the Spanish club.
The injuries, an erratic love life and controversial living were now in overdrive in the media. Ronaldo was selected for Brazil’s 2006 World Cup squad and scored three goals to lead his country to the quarter finals where they lost to France 1-0. Nevertheless, he broke Gerd Muller’s record of 14 career goals in the World Cup by scoring his 15th in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Ghana on June 27, 2002.
The beginning of the end
After the World Cup, he fell out with new Madrid boss, Fabio Capello and returned to Italy to sign for AC Milan on January 27, 2007. At Milan, he set another record, becoming the first player to ever score for the two Milan sides - Inter and AC Milan in the Milan derby, having previously scored in the fixture for Inter in the 1998/1999 season.
Tragedy however struck again on an Italian pitch on February 13, 2008, when Ronaldo suffered a ruptured kneecap ligament following an attempt to win the ball in a league match against Livorno. After that injury, Ronaldo said, “My life has always been a series of challenges and I’m psychologically prepared, but this is the biggest challenge of my life.” It was one injury too many for the body of the Brazilian star. His deal at the Italian club was not renewed and he had to return to his homeland - Brazil.
Free fall
On December 9, 2008, Ronaldo signed a one-year deal with Corinthians to take up another challenge but it was more like a resignation to fate - the career of the great man was in free fall.
Ronaldo scored his first goal for Corinthians on March 8, 2009 in a Campeonato Paulista match against Palmeiras and went on to help helped Corinthians win the tournament with 10 goals in 14 games.
On February 2010, he signed an extension that was supposed to keep him with the club until the end of 2011, which he declared as his retirement date. But things did not go as planned. In February 2011, after Corinthians were eliminated from the Copa Libertadores tournament which was to have been his swan song, Ronaldo announced his retirement from football.
“It’s very hard to leave something that made me so happy. Mentally I wanted to continue but I have to acknowledge that I lost to my body,” he said in a press conference on Valentine’s day. “I will celebrate, but I know new goals and objectives will come and I am ready to take them.”
Whatever goals are in the future for El-Fenomeno, as he became known in Italy, one thing he can’t do any more is father children.
Ronaldo had a vasectomy after fathering five children with three mothers. He explained that five children were enough for him.
Football fans, players and coaches will always love Ronaldo - for the goals he scored, for the trophies he won but much more, for the exuberance and joy that he espoused on the football pitch. That is his greatest goal.