Not fat Ronaldo, Proper Ronaldo
The announcement that Corinthians striker Ronaldo has retired has been greeted with plenty of sadness in the footballing world, but also lots of snidey remarks about him being ‘The Fat Ronaldo’. Of course, for a long time he was the only Ronaldo in town, but in the early part of the 2000s, just as the Brazilian version’s career was beginning to wind down, an exciting young talent emerged from Portugal bearing the same name. That meant that people needed a shorthand for differentiating between the two and, due to him piling on the weight as his career progressed, the man from Rio was saddled with his unfortunate soubriquet.
What a disgrace. Rarely can football have seen such a force of nature as Ronaldo in his mid-90s pomp. During the 1996/97 campaign at Barcelona he scored a phenomenal 34 goals in 37 games, most of which entailed him getting the ball 40 yards out, running at the defense, beating two men, then firing the ball home from the edge of the area. By the time of the 1998 World Cup, he was indisputably the leading player in the world, scoring four goals in Brazil’s march to the final. Then there was the strange episode of his seizure in the hours before the game against France – seeing him stroll around the pitch apparently still in a daze was a sad sight for all who witnessed it.
His non-performance in the World Cup Final saw the start of years of setbacks, but despite some terrible knee injuries, he continued to score freely when fit – 49 in 68 games for Inter, who he joined in 1997. By the time the 2002 World Cup came around though, Ronaldo was deemed to be too injury prone to still be a major threat, whilst Brazil were, unusually, not regarded as one of the big favourites. However, Ronaldo took full advantage of Brazil’s generous draw to score eight goals in the tournament, two of which came in Brazil’s victory over Germany in the final.
On to Real Madrid in 2002, the goals continued to flow, a hat-trick in the Champions League at Old Trafford being a particular highlight. That evening, the Manchester United fans applauded Ronaldo off the field, knowing they had seen genius at work. He twice won La Liga at Real and then, in the 2006 World Cup, scored three more goals to take his career World Cup total to 15, surpassing Jairzinho’s record.
The last few years of his career, played out at AC Milan and Corinthians, were hardly memorable, but Ronaldo left an asotnishing legacy. Three World Player of the Year titles. Two World Cups (he was an unused sub in 2004). More World Cup Final goals than anyone in history. 175 goals in 252 La Liga and Serie A games. Plus the memories of all who saw him at his peak – undoubtedly the best pure striker that I’ve seen. Not The Fat Ronaldo. The Proper Ronaldo.