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RONALDO – ‘El Fenomeno’

The Boy Wonder. The Wonderkid. The Miracle Man. The Monster. The Phenomenon. The King.

Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, The greatest goalscorer in World Cup history, The Unstoppable and arguably the greatest Number 9 in footballing history brought his playing career to a halt this week when he announced his retirement from the game. Ross Fisher pays tribute to the greatest player of his generation.

To those who have been captured by his wizardry – he will always be seen as the ‘real’ Ronaldo, the original R9 and one of the best centre-forwards who ever played the game. At the age of 34, Ronaldo called time on a career which read as 3 times winner of the Balloon d’Or,  collected a World Cup Winners Medal on 2 occasions and put the ball in the back of the net over 400 times for both club and country.

‘My body aches,’ said Ronaldo who had battled four serious knee injuries in his glittering career. ‘The head wants to continue, but the body cannot handle it. 

‘I can’t take it anymore. I think of a move, but can’t perform it as I want. It’s time. But hell it was beautiful.’


Beautiful it was – In his prime, there was no other word to describe him other than colossal. Sir Bobby Robson was quoted to have said “…the thrill of helping Figo and Van Nistelrooy turn from raw teenagers into world stars was immense, but if I had to single out one player, then it would be Ronaldo hands down. That boy was lean, mean, and as quick as an Olympic sprinter – some of the goals he scored had me shaking my head in disbelief.”

He had it all – a gravity-defying ability to turn, shimmy and buy an extra couple of yards off the nimblest defenders, the ability to hang in the air for bullet-like headers, not to mention a rocket of a shot that probably still wakes Fabien Barthez in the small hours.

There have been many moments in his career that have been something out of a comic book – the boy wonder playing for Barcelona at the age of 21, proving he was worth the £20m price tag by smashing home 47 goals in 49 games and helping Barca lift the Champions League, there was his transfer to Inter Milan where he cemented his status as the best player in the world and winning the UEFA Cup, but personally, there are two moments in his career which makes him one of the best players ever.

In 1999, he was forced off the pitch after rupturing the tendons in his knee and left him on the sidelines for 4 months before injuring the same knee on his first game back after only 7 minutes.

After several months and countless of operations, a slightly overweight Ronaldo was written off by many as one of the great players who’s injuries would prevent him from fulfilling the immense talent he possessed. Critics thought that Brazil’s Head coach, Felipe Scolari, was ‘living in the past’ by including him in the national squad which travelled to the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan, seen as a ‘spare part’ by fans after seeing the future in a young Ronaldhino. However, Brazil went on to win the tournament with Ronaldo scoring twice in the final to finish the tournament’s top goal scorer with 8, making him the all-time leading goal scorer in World Cup history . Winning the Balloon d’Or for the second time and making a transfer to Real Madrid for £39m in the same year capped off the greatest footballing career comeback the world has ever seen.

In the La Liga, Ronaldo could do no wrong. Madrid’s faithful loved him from the moment he signed and he had an incredible knack to score important goals against their rivals. None more so important than the hat-trick he put away against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 2003.

An away goal at the Bernabeu had given Manchester United a glimmer of hope as they started the Champions League quarter-final second leg 3-1 down at Old Trafford. 

Twelve minutes in and Ronaldo showed the kind of movement and blistering pace that critics thought was no longer there. Guti played a through ball from midfield, Ronaldo spun away from Rio Ferdinand and the striker hit it first time from the edge of the area, low and hard into a stunned Fabien Barthez’s near post.

The second was a simple tap-in after a good Madrid team move and the third sealed one of his greatest performances.

With United back to 2-2 and still dreaming of qualification, Ronaldo unleashed a curling shot from 25 yards that flew over Barthez and into the goal.

As he ran towards the small number of away supporters, the Manchester faithful could do no more than look on gob-smacked. By the time he was replaced by Solari eight minutes later, everyone in the stadium was on their feet in ovation, in awe of one of the greatest players not to have played in the Premier League. Every single one of those goals was a perfect example of what he was – a skilful powerhouse, a poacher and a magician.


So here’s to you Ronaldo, the only player I can think of who Zidane regarded as ‘…the greatest player I have had the honour of playing with’, the REAL Ronaldo, the original. You really were the greatest.

Ross Fisher

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