When you mention the name Ronaldo to most soccer fans, their minds will instantly think of the all-conquering Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese star has won the Ballon d’Or five times and rightly stands out as an exceptional talent. Before Cristiano came around, there was another Ronaldo in town, and he was just as adored as the Portuguese star.
Brazilian star Ronaldo Nazário became known as Il Fenomeno because he was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. This is the story of Ronaldo, Il Fenomeno, who made his name way before Cristiano.
Where it started
Ronaldo was born in Brazil, and after quickly breaking into the Cruzeiro team as a teenager he was brought to the World Cup in 1994. Brazil thought it might have its next Pele on its hands, but Ronaldo didn’t play in that summer tournament.
He scored five goals in one game at Cruzeiro, and that brought him to the attention of the Brazilian press. From there, he just exploded onto the scene, and it wasn’t long before he was making his way to Europe.
Impact at PSV Eindhoven
After the 1994 World Cup, Ronaldo was bought by Dutch team PSV Eindhoven after being encouraged to join them by Brazilian legend Romario. Ronaldo scored 30 league goals in his first season. Somehow Ronaldo was making this game look easy, and he was a class above everyone else on the field.
Ronaldo’s trademark was to basically get the ball in midfield and then sprint through the entire opposition before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball in the goal. People couldn’t get near him, and he was basically to soccer then what Lionel Messi is today. However, during his time at PSV, Ronaldo would suffer a knee injury that would prove a thorn in his side throughout his career.
Getting a big move
For many, there was no way Ronaldo could remain at PSV forever, and there had to be some huge European clubs looking to buy him. Barcelona and Inter Milan were battling it out to sign Ronaldo, who still hadn’t hit 20 yet.
He signed for Barcelona for the 1996-97 La Liga season for a then world record fee of $19.5 million. Ronaldo seemed to be able to run quicker with the ball at his feet than without and he was destroying defenses all over Spain in that season.
He scored 34 goals in 37 league games in Spain, and he was the only player to score more than 30 goals for two decades in La Liga. In total Ronaldo scored 47 goals in 49 games and his opponents had to concede that he was basically unplayable.
Ronaldo was an instant hit in Barcelona, and they tried to offer their young star a contract for the next ten years. Eventually, those talks broke down because it was an unrealistic contract and Ronaldo was sold to Inter Milan, who wanted him 12 months previously. Once again, Ronaldo broke the world record transfer fee, and he was sold for $27 million.
This arguably marked the most successful period in Ronaldo’s career as he scored 25 goals in his first season and was named the Serie A Footballer of the Year. Ronaldo was shining bright, and he won the Ballon d’Or halfway through his first Inter Milan season. He would also star at the 1998 World Cup, where he was named the player of the tournament.
Struggling with injuries
As with any professional athlete, Ronaldo had to get lucky to avoid serious injuries, and the Brazilian striker was definitely not fortunate. In four seasons with Inter Milan, Ronaldo only made 68 league appearances after suffering a devastating knee injury.
This was the second time he missed serious game time through injury, and this one really changed him as a player. Ronaldo no longer had that explosive power that seen him blow other players away because his knees were just not up to the stress of professional soccer.
Finding his feet again
Ronaldo had a long lay off, but by 2002 he was slowly getting back to his best. He starred in the 2002 World Cup and scored eight goals, including the two winning goals in the final against Germany. The player mightn’t have had the pace of the past, but he was still reliable when it came to hitting the back of the net. On the back of his World Cup performance, Real Madrid decided it was time to add him to their roster.
After starring for Brazil in 2002, Ronaldo won the Ballon d’Or for a second time. He began life as a Real Madrid player on the injury list, but by October he was in the team. Ronaldo was back thanks to a great surgeon who was invited to the World Cup final as the striker’s guest. He cemented his legacy at one of the world’s greatest clubs by finishing as top scorer in La Liga, and winning the league.
Who does he compare to?
Fabio Cannavaro, one of the best defenders in the world, said Ronaldo was the hardest opponent he ever faced. He said that Ronaldo was his generation’s Pele or Maradona. Ronaldo is essentially what Messi and Cristiano have become in this generation, but would have more recognition if his injuries hadn’t held him back.
Not only could he dribble through the field with ease, but he could head the ball, score free kicks, and he was deadly inside the penalty box. He didn’t need any other players on his team and could create opportunities for himself out of nothing. If Ronaldo was on your team, all you had to do was give him the ball, and he’d do the rest.