“We can’t afford not to”. These were the words that the late Sir Bobby Robson told the Barcelona board in 1996 when he was told the club couldn’t afford to sign a young Brazilian player from PSV Eindhoven called Ronaldo. He was right. The young player known as “o fenômeno” would become one of the greatest strikers of all time.
Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima started his career with Cruzeiro before moving on to PSV at the suggestion of fellow Brazilian Romario. At the Dutch club he scored a frightening 42 goals in 45 games. That was only to be the start. His one season at Barça he had a similar goal scoring ratio, scoring the UEFA Cup winning goal, becoming the FIFA World Player of the Year and scoring goals that left many with no doubt of his sheer world-class ability.
Inter Milan took note and signed the young Brazilian for £19 million in 1997. He adapted to the Italian game nicely. However, in his 2nd season in a game against Lecce, Ronaldo’s knee gave way and kept him out of the game for months. Like our own Paul McGrath, his knees would constantly give him grief throughout his career. In his much anticipated comeback game, Ronaldo played just a few minutes against Lazio before injuring his knee yet again. Fully fit by the 2002 World Cup, he triumphed for the national side, winning the competition and scoring 7 goals – 2 of which were in the final. Signing for Real Madrid that summer for a record €39 million he became and integral part of their Los Gálacticos team at the time alongside Figo, Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos and…McManaman. He scored 83 times in his 127 games for Madrid.
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A return to Milan in January 2007 seen him score in a ratio of almost a goal every second game for the red & black half of the city, but his time there was cut short by yet another knee injury a little over a year later. Returning to his native Brazil in 2009, he joined Sao Paolo-based Corinthians. A much loved figure, it was a superb signing. He scored 18 goals in his 31 games for the club and also winning the Copa do Brasil and the Campeonato Paulista. He retired on Valentine’s Day 2011 after Corinthians’ exit from the Copa Libertadores (and subsequent threats from mindless Corinthians fans), it marks the end of the finest ever striker of the modern game. “The head wants to go on, but the body can’t take any more” he told the Brazilian press. Nevermind Torres, Eto’o or Shearer…Ronaldo, the phenomenon, was the greatest ever number 9.