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The World Cup’s all-time top goal scorer, Il Fenomeno has decided to hang up his boots, bringing an end to one of the most remarkable careers in the modern game. Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima yesterday announced his retirement from football and although one could make cheap jokes of the proverbial fat man finally singing, to do so would be to mock one of the greatest players of our generation.
Born 22nd September 1976, Ronaldo was raised in the poor suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Like most children in the area he took to the game of football, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his childhood icon Zico. By the age of 12 Ronaldo was playing for the youth club Tennis Club Valqueire, participating in various youth competitions. As a youngster Ronaldo’s potential was clear to see and his early goal scoring ability attracted interest from a number of Brazilian club across the country. Cruzeiro Esporte Clube were able to see off other rival clubs, paying over $50,000 for the promising striker.
In his breakthrough year Ronaldo scored 12 goals in 13 appearances, helping Cruzeiro to their first ever Copa do Brasil championship. Ronaldo’s talent earned many plaudits and at the age of only 17 he was called up to the national team for the 1994 World Cup. Although watching the tournament from the bench, his appearance in the national team created a stir within the footballing world and after only one season at Cruzeiro, the established European club PSV Eindhoven moved to bring Ronaldo to Holland.
Ronaldo was an instant success, scoring 30 goals, making him the Eredivise top scorer in his first season at the club. His second year was largely disrupted by a persistent knee injury which kept him in the medical room for most of the season but he was still able to maintain an average of nearly a goal a game guiding PSV to victory in the Dutch cup.
Ronaldo’s profile in Europe was growing and in 1996 Barcelona paid a then record fee of £17million to sign the Brazilian. This figure was certainly justified by the striker, who delivered a remarkable 39 in 44 for the Catalan giant’s, leading them to success in the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de España. Ronaldo was La liga top scorer and became the youngest ever player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year at the age of 20.
This incredible year was to be Ronaldo’s only season with Barca as contract renegotiation issues resulted in Inter Milan paying another world recorded fee of £19million to activate the players buy out clause. Again Ronaldo vindicated his transfer figure scoring goals for fun in Serie A. He won the FIFA World Player of the Year for a second time and collected the Ballon d’Or in his first season. Ronaldo was able to overcome the disappointment of the 1998 World cup, where his Brazilian side was beaten by the hosts France in the final, to repeat a second successful season with Milan. He finished second in the FIFA player of the Year and third in the European Footballer of the Year.
Ronaldo was in the form of his life and generally regarded as the best player in the world at the time. Unfortunately this magical period was abruptly ended in the 1999-2000 season when during a match against Serie A opponents Lecce, Ronaldo ruptured ligaments in his left knee. Many speculated that he would never return the same player and after breaking down only 7 minutes into his comeback match, clutching the same knee he had injured almost a year before, there were fears his career could be over.
Amazingly after two operations and months of rehabilitation Ronaldo did return and was included in the Brazilian side for the 2002 World cup. Many considered bringing Ronaldo a risk but the striker silenced any doubts about his fitness, finishing the tournaments top goal scorer with 8 goals including 2 in the victorious final over Germany. He won the World Player of the Year a record third time and was bought for £39million by Real Madrid, to be the spear head of the clubs infamous Galacticos project.
At Real Madrid Ronaldo resumed his incredible goal scoring record, netting a staggering 98 goals in 168 appearances despite spending large periods of time sidelined with further knee and ankle injuries. Ronaldo became a fan’s hero scoring numerous goals against Madrid’s rivals and produced several outstanding individual performances including a historic hat-trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions league. After manager Fabio Capello took over at the BernabéuRonaldo began to grow more out of favour due to injury and weight issues.
Injuries continued to damage Ronaldo’s career and after moving to AC Milan for a single season, he returned back home to play for the Brazilian side Corinthians in 2009. Although he helped win a Campeonato Paulista title, Ronaldo was unable to achieve his goal of winning a Copa libertadores with the club and after being eliminated from completion earlier this month Ronaldo announced his retirement. In a press conference the striker indicated that injuries had finally forced him to retire declaring, ‘My body aches. The head wants to continue, but the body can’t take much more.’
Throughout his career Ronaldo was forced to battle obstacles both on and off the pitch with crippling injuries compounded by off the field incidencts and issues regarding his weight and general health. Against all of this adversity Ronaldo was still able to carve out one of the most accomplished careers in football, scoring 62 times for his country adding to his lifelong tally of over 350 official goals.
Ronaldo once said ‘I love to score goals after passing all the defenders as well as the keeper. This is not my speciality, but my habit’; a statement which appropriately summarises one of the greatest goal scorers of all time along with the self-belief required to face all of the challenges thrown in his direction.