Ronaldo: O Fenomeno, The Number 9, The Best

Given our connection to Brazil, the upcoming retirement of Ronaldo caused us to mull over our own love affair with soccer. Watch the following video, read our reflection on Ronaldo’s career, and remember why you too love this game.

The 1994 World Cup final – a dour, scoreless affair – certainly wasn’t the best ambassador for the beautiful game. How ironic that one of the most prominent champions of joga bonito was glued to the bench.

Ronaldo – who is expected to announce his retirement tomorrow – not only failed to feature in the final, he didn’t play a single minute in the entire tournament. But just two years later he was the darling of the soccer world after scoring 47 goals in 49 games for Barcelona.

What was significant about Ronaldo wasn’t the amount of goals he scored – though at times the tally was mind-boggingly – it was how he scored them. Pelé and Maradona skipped past defenders, Beckenbauer bulldozed through them, and Di Stéfano flew by them. Ronaldo did all three. Sometimes simultaneously.

At times, the young Ronaldo of Barcelona seemed unstoppable.

By the 1998 World Cup Final, he was more than a famous soccer player. He was one of the world’s most famous people. And when Brazil, built on the backbone of a victorious 1994 squad but also featuring Ronaldo, met France in the final, it seemed anticlimactic to even contest the match.

But mere hours before the game, o fenomeno felt the first twinges of a body about to betray him. For soccer fans, the story is familiar, if not legendary. A series of seizures the evening before the match put his participation at doubt until seconds before the opening whistle.

Though he did play, his lethargic performance and Brazil’s 3-0 loss portended a swift fall from grace. Ronaldo, fortunately, never suffered more seizures, but his body broke down not much more than a year later. Knee surgeries in 1999 and 2000 limited the striker to 17 games in three years.

Ronaldo's 2002 World Cup haircut may have been atrocious, but his play was anything but.

By the 2002 World Cup, memories of the unstoppable Ronaldo had faded. There were even calls to withhold him from Brazil’s squad. But manager Luiz Felipe Scolari’s faith was rewarded when Ronaldo resumed his place among the sport’s elite.

His 8 goals were three more than any other player, not to mention one more than the combined total scored by China, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Cameroon, Slovenia, France, and Argentina. Brazil almost effortlessly advanced to the final, with Ronaldo triumphantly netting both goals in the 2-0 victory over Germany.

But something was missing. Oh, Ronaldo was still unequivocally the world’s best striker. But he was no longer the most entertaining.

Unable to perform magic while traveling at top speed, Ronaldo turned into the ultimate poacher, hovering around the penalty area while waiting for the perfect pass. His injuries sapped his trickery and speed but not his instincts.

After the 2002 World Cup, he continued to score at a prodigious rate for prestigious clubs. The wonder, though, was gone.

Instead, his style was characterized by a brutal efficiency. Put Ronaldo into a position to score and he wouldn’t miss. Every so often he’d produce a little shimmy or two, but for the most part, he was clinical, rather than inspirational.

A mid-2000's, out-of-shape Ronaldo belied his sleeker, younger self.

And as age added its influence to the joints ravaged by injury, Ronaldo, never known for his superb work ethic, again faced question marks heading into a World Cup. The 2006 edition, his last, once more saw Ronaldo handed a starting role despite the skepticism of many.

If 2002 signaled a change in his style of play, 2006 bespoke the end of an era. But despite his deteriorating skills and Brazil’s exit in the quarterfinals, the 2006 World Cup was still a joyous occasion for Ronaldo. Though clearly overweight, the formerly spry star found the net three times, surpassing Gerd Muller for the most career World Cup goals.

On the record-breaking tally, the years seemed to peel back, even if the weight did not. After running onto a teammate’s pass, Ronaldo charged toward the keeper, gleefully executing a stepover at the last possible moment.

For most non-Brazilians, that goal would be their last positive memory of Ronaldo. Another knee injury (suffered in 2008 while playing for AC Milan) and the move to Corinthians would limit his TV exposure outside his homeland. But even his skillful 15th World Cup goal didn’t do justice to his former breathtaking ability.

With the modern era’s recent focus on formations and strategy – the very trend that led to the creation of this site – we should all do well to reflect on the virtuosity of young Ronaldo, the reason we watch. The reason we dream.

So here’s to the Boy Wonder. The Phenomenon. The Number 9.

Thanks.

2 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Bradley's Receding Hairline says:

    I grew up watching Ronaldo like most people currently in their 20′s. He was unbelievable when he was younger, and like you said he was good as he got older, but in a different way.

    Tomorrow will be a sad day for the beautiful game.

  2. robinoz0 says:

    i only got to watch Ronaldo in the 2006 world cup as i didn’t truly begin watching games until around that time. sometimes i really wish i had watched soccer before then as i went ahead and watched some youtube videos of Ronaldo. what a beast! i feel almost sorry for the men who tried defending against him

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