Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.
Ronaldo, the first one, the Brazilian one. It is hard to believe that the great man needs to be distinguished at all. However these days, he does.
This week the Brazilian legend announced that after years of struggling with weight and injuries, he was retiring from football. This is big news for my generation.
I remember being very slow in catching on to this new global superstar. Ronaldo made his big move from PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona in 1996, but with the internet still in its infancy and terrestrial television opting for Premiership and Serie A coverage, his blistering first season was largely missed by the UK audience. He played one season for the Catalans, scoring 47 goals in 49 games.
It was only when he moved to Inter the following season, that we began to see what all the fuss was about. My first memory of watching him live was in the UEFA cup final against Lazio. Inter won 3-0 and Ronaldo was devastating. I remember I was only giving the game the most minimum of attention when all of a sudden I saw this. I had never seen anything like it and it was only years later, once the internet really got going that I could locate it, and study it. In time, Ronaldinho would come along and trademark this trick as his own, but myself, and a few others knew where it had really come from, Ronaldo. You can watch his goal in that final here.
Ronaldo’s list of awards and honors is enormous, however there remains a feeling that he still never quite hit the great heights his talent demanded. This was down in no small part to two very serious knee injuries suffered by the less tolerant defending of the Italians.
From Inter he moved to Real, thus joining a very select group of players to have played for both teams in Spain. It was here that he enjoyed probably his most stunning achievement at club level. In 2003, Madrid went to Manchester to play Manchester United in the second leg of a Champions league quarter final. As a Utd fan I sat down to that game with a quiet optimism, fully aware of how powerful Utd were at home. Myself, like so many others, looked on in sheer horror as Ronaldo smashed a quite incredible hat-trick to knock out a bewildered Utd.
I remember stumbling across the bizarrely named ‘ronaldhino9.com’ website, which contained seemingly endless video clips of not only Ronaldo’s goals, but his passes and tricks too. I spent hours and hours on this website experiencing a mix of shock and pleasure as I saw things that I’d never seen a professional even attempt.
With Sky now pumping La Liga into our living rooms and Nike egging on Christiano Ronaldo and Messi to ‘out trick’ each other each week, it’s easy to take a feint and a step over for granted these days. Ronaldhino, C. Ronaldo and Messi have raised viewer expectations beyond belief, but it all started with Ronaldo.