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.