When it comes to discussing the best strikers in football history, there are few players who sit above Ronaldo.
The Brazilian, still only 35-years-old, has become a bit of a laughing stock in recent times, with his weight issues gaining headlines less than 12 months ago as he looked to extend his playing career at Corinthians.
But to focus on his final spell in professional football is to do a disservice to this striker’s quite stunning spell in European club football as the world came to know about Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.
Following in the footsteps of Pele and Romario, the striker was also able to fire his country to World Cup glory in 2002 – four years after suffering a fit before the final against France and eight years after his first experience in the competition as a squad member for the successful ’94 winning side.
A three-time winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award (’96, ’97 and ’02), as well as two-time Ballon d’Or winner (’97 and ’02), Ronaldo was not short of individual honours during his illustrious career.
The World Cup’s all-time leading goalscorer left Cruzeiro for PSV Eindhoven in 1994 to become one of European football’s hottest properties. And, whilst a knee injury blighted his progress in Holland, Barcelona weren’t afraid to spend big to bring him to the Nou Camp.
At the age of just 20, Ronaldo enjoyed what was arguably his best ever season under Sir Bobby Robson. With 47 goals in 49 games, the youngster helped his side to the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Copa del Rey. It would prove to be a solitary season at the Nou Camp though, leaving for Inter Milan the following summer in a £19 million deal (a world record fee at the time).
So, why were the Italians willing to pay the money? Acceleration, skill, power and pace were all part of the player’s make-up, but a deadly ability to finish was the real jewel in this player’s crown.
From inside the box, Ronaldo was lethal. From outside the box, he had an ability to unleash a rocket of a shot from nowhere. These two skills combined mean you simply couldn’t take your eye off the player for a second.
And, in his first season with the Serie ‘A’ club, he showcased all of these attributes, as well as a newfound maturity, taking the armband on a number of occasions for the San Siro outfit during that ’97-‘98 campaign.
However, the infamous ‘fit’ at France ’98 was followed by a number of other niggling injuries, and in 1999 Ronaldo ruptured a tendon in his knee. Five months later, in his first comeback from injury, the problem resurfaced. The striker would miss the whole of the next season.
He returned with goals in the few games he played the following year, and then delivered on the biggest stage with a brace against Germany in the ’02 World Cup final.
The goals secured a €46 million move to Real Madrid that summer, and started a renaissance for the striker as he once again found great form in Spain.
In three consecutive seasons, Ronaldo scored over 20 league goals, helping Los Blancos to the title in the 2002-03 season.
Success didn’t always follow the striker around though, and that La Liga success was the player’s first-ever domestic title. A second would come in 2006-07 – the players last trophy in European football.
Indeed, Ronaldo must be regarded as one of the greatest players never to win the Champions League, which eluded the Brazilian during his time at Inter and Real in particular.
A relatively brief spell at AC Milan brought an end to the player’s romance with club football in Europe, and a move to Corinthians in 2009 was seen as the end. Ronaldo brought his career to an end in 2011.
“It's the body that's hurting me. The head wants to go on, but the body can't take any more,” he said at a press conference to announce his retirement.
The first player to think of when considering top strikers over the last decade, it’s perhaps the greatest tragedy that Ronaldo was so often blighted by injury. A career of ‘what ifs’ to add to all his glories.
What if he hadn’t had the ’98 fit? What if he’d stayed at Barcelona? What if he’d not got the knee injuries at Inter Milan?
But to focus on the negatives would be to detract from a quite stunning career – the finger waging goal celebration renowned across the world as defenders and goalkeepers were left embarrassed by the brilliant Brazilian.
That we never got to see Ronaldo play in the Premier League is perhaps one of the saddest parts of his career through the eyes of an Englishman, but glimpses in European competition always reminded us of his greatness.
One night against Manchester United sticks particularly in the memory, when the Old Trafford faithful stood to applaud his substitution after scoring a quite sensational hat-trick.
It’s these little gems that remind us just how special this player really was. He deserves his place amongst the list of GiveMeFootball’s favourite players of all-time.
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