Tuesday, February 15, 2011

El Fenomeno retires - farewell to one of the game's most dangerous strikers

So Ronaldo, not the Portuguese one, will hang up his Nike boots at the age of 34. The kid that broke onto the international scene as an 17 year old on Brazil's World Cup winning side in 1994 he was always seen as the next big thing in football. Unlike so many others he lived up to that billing. Winning the FIFA player of the year three times - 1996, 1997 and 2002 - collecting 2 World Cup winners medals as well as a runner up medal, winning 2 Spanish league titles, a UEFA cup title and a Cup winners Cup title he is one of the more decorated footballers. Granted he never tasted Champions League glory, but he is the all time leading World Cup goal scoring leader with 15 goals to his credit.

# Date Venue Opponent Score Result World Cup Round
1. 16 June 1998 Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes, France  Morocco 1 – 0 3–0 1998 Group Stage
2. 27 June 1998 Parc des Princes, Paris, France  Chile 3 – 0 4–1 1998 Round of 16
3. 27 June 1998 Parc des Princes, Paris, France  Chile 4 – 1 4–1 1998 Round of 16
4. 7 July 1998 Stade VĂ©lodrome, Marseille, France  Netherlands 1 – 0 1–1 1998 Semi-Final
5. 3 June 2002 Munsu Cup Stadium, Ulsan, Korea Republic  Turkey 1 – 1 2–1 2002 Group Stage
6. 8 June 2002 Jeju World Cup Stadium, Seogwipo, Korea Republic  China PR 4 – 0 4–0 2002 Group Stage
7. 13 June 2002 Suwon World Cup Stadium, Suwon, Korea Republic  Costa Rica 0 – 1 2–5 2002 Group Stage
8. 13 June 2002 Suwon World Cup Stadium, Suwon, Korea Republic  Costa Rica 0 – 2 2–5 2002 Group Stage
9. 17 June 2002 Kobe Wing Stadium, Kobe, Japan  Belgium 2 – 0 2–0 2002 Round of 16
10. 26 June 2002 Saitama Stadium, Saitama, Japan  Turkey 1 – 0 1–0 2002 Semi-Final
11. 30 June 2002 International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan  Germany 0 – 1 0–2 2002 Final
12. 30 June 2002 International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan  Germany 0 – 2 0–2 2002 Final
13. 22 June 2006 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, Germany  Japan 1 – 1 1–4 2006 Group Stage
14. 22 June 2006 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, Germany  Japan 1 – 4 1–4 2006 Group Stage
15. 27 June 2006 Westfalenstadion, Dortmund, Germany  Ghana 1 – 0 3–0 2006 Round of 16

So what to make of the wildly talented yet somewhat motivation-ally challenged Brazilian? Is he one of the all time greatest players?

In the overall pantheon of great players I cannot include him in the top 10, as some have...I would say there is an argument for his inclusion in the top 20. However a part of me feels as if we never saw Ronaldo living up to the massive potential he showed as a young 20 something player. He was dominant in 1998 until he faced Les Bleus in the World Cup finals, I realize there was a lot of controversy whether or not he was fit to play and there are rumor that the corporate backers of Brazil's team, namely Nike who kitted out Brazil as well as provided Ronaldo's boots, insisted he start. At the start of the match he walked out with his team, but was a shadow of himself on the pitch, I am sure his night time trip to the hospital did not help nor did the fact that Thuram et al. completely suffocated him during the match.
Barthez checks on Ronaldo's health - WC finals 1998

His true glory would come 4 years later where he helped carry Brazil to the title - teamed with Rivaldo and Ronaldino they Samba'd their way past the likes of England and Germany to capture their 5th title where Ronaldo scored a brace in the finals. He would play in a third World Cup (4th participation but he never saw the field in 1994) where he would set the all time World Cup goal scoring record, but once again run into Les Bleus who would end his World Cup career. He would finish his international career with 62 goals in 97 matches for a 0.64 goals per game average.

Ronaldo's moment of glory...first goal a true poacher goal after a terrible spill from Kahn. The second a pure strike of skill - taking a good square ball and realizing he had time to settle and pick his side but not being rushed in the process - coolness in front of goal another sign of a solid striker.

Of course his club football was marked by playing for the likes of Cruzeiro, PSV, Barcelona, Inter, Real, ACMilan and Corinthians. Clearly he played for some of Europe's biggest clubs, but for me it is surprising that he did not make a greater mark at any of these stops. Granted his time at Inter, when he was starting to make some noise with the club, was cut short by two knee injuries and 3 subsequent surgeries. He then moved to Real Madrid, but was a bit overshadowed as part of the Galacticos - Raul, Beckham, Zidane, Figo et al. I am not sure he fully recovered from his injuries either. Add to this a questionable mental discipline - he did get a little heavy and used questionable judgement in his private life (granted this was when he was at Milan but still...I am sure this was not his first rodeo).

When you look at his career you would say it was successful, however when you take into account the player many saw emerge from Brazil as a teenager and you would say there is something hollow about the career. Yes he is the all time leading World Cup goal scorer over 3 World Cups - but I did not feel he really took over any of these tournaments. There was no Maradonna 1986 or Platini 1984, when these two took over the World and European Cups for their nations. Nor was there a 1958 moment when another young Brazilian burst onto the world scene.

Ronaldo will be regarded as one of the greatest strikers the game has seen, but looking back at his career I feel that it could have been more - injuries cut his career short and maybe had he worked his trade more seriously when he was able we might be talking about a player that could be in the top 10 of all time. All the best in his retirement, I am sure many defenders and keepers are happy to not have to face him moving forward.

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