Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, known around the world as Ronaldo (Brasil), R9, or O Fenomeno (“The Phenomenon”), was the very definition of the modern striker. He combined remarkable speed and strength with a shocking technical ability and a fluid style that overflowed with creative flair. A two-time World Cup winner with his native Brasil, Ronaldo was one of the most prolific goal scorers to ever live, having scored 62 goals in 98 games in International competition for Brasil and 352 goals in only 518 professional appearances. R9 is also the leading goal scorer in World Cup history.
His accomplishments, however, cannot be fully captured by statistics, as it was impossible for anyone that saw him to forget the breathtaking way he played the game. To borrow a well-known military term, his style of soccer was pure shock and awe — he played at such a furious pace and with such fine technical abilities, he left fans and opponents absolutely dumbfounded. When he ran at a defender with the ball, it was like watching a cheetah chasing down its prey. You just knew it was not going to end well for the defense, but it was absolutely thrilling to watch unfold. He attacked with such ferocity and with so many weapons in his game that watching him play was truly a spectacle. He was an enormous player on the grandest stage — he played in the biggest stadiums for the biggest and most famous clubs, and his performances were the stuff of legend. There was one famous goal that Ronaldo scored at the age of 19 while playing for Barcelona when he dribbled past 6 or 7 defenders while they were pulling his shirt and hacking at his ankles, falling all over themselves in a desperate attempt to stop him, but they couldn’t manage to even slow him down as he sliced past one and then another until he finally put them out of their misery with a calmly placed shot to the near post while they and their goalkeeper looked on helplessly. The reaction of Ronaldo’s coach at the time, Bobby Robson, was priceless — he clasped his hands on top of his head and then then threw his arms skyward while looking to the heavens as if to say “Where did this guy come from? He must be a gift!”
Ronaldo’s career was tremendously successful by any measure, but he also had more than his fair share of setbacks, which made rooting for him that much more appealing. Drama seemed to follow him everywhere, as there was never a dull moment. He suffered an mysterious emotional and physical breakdown under the stress of the 1998 World Cup and played like a zombie in the final match after leading Brasil as the best player in the tournament up until that point. He also had two devastating injuries to his right knee, both requiring reconstructive surgery and grueling rehabilitations totaling almost two full years of his career. Few who saw them will ever forget the graphic images of Ronaldo, clad in the distinctive blue and black stripes of Inter Milan, writhing in pain on the ground after his knee collapsed while we was making another run at a helpless defender. After a huge setback and another surgery, Ronaldo made a remarkable and improbable recovery just in time to lead Brasil to victory again in the 2002 World Cup while also capturing FIFA World Player of the Year honors. For many true soccer fans, it was truly inspiring to see him fit and playing in top form again after all that he had been through in recent years.
Even today, when I watch a video of O Fenomeno, I can’t help but go outside and kick the ball around. He makes me feel like a kid again. He’ was a genius on the soccer field and his abilities were transcendent, but he also played with a child-like joy that brought happiness to millions of people that watched him.
Ronaldo retired from professional soccer in 2011, finishing back where it all began, in Brasil. Having learned the game playing street soccer as a child (which is how so many famous soccer stars began), he started his professional career in Belo Horizonte at Cruzeiro Esporte Clube and soon played in the 1994 World Cup for Brasil at the age of 17. He then went to Europe to launch his career on a global level — first with PSV Eindhoven of Holland, and then to much larger clubs including FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and A.C. Milan, before wrapping up with S.C. Corinthians Paulista.
Certainly one of the greatest soccer players to ever play the game, Ronaldo is one of only three players to ever win the FIFA World Player of the Year Award three or more times (1996, 1997, and 2002). He also helped his native Brasil to win two World Cups (1994, 2002).
I think Ronaldo is a great soccer hero for any aspiring DFC striker who dares to imagine for a moment what is possible on the soccer field. Enjoy a great video of Ronaldo at his best, but when you are finished you should go outside and start working on your game. Anything is possible if you are willing to work hard enough to make it happen. See you on the fields!