Pele said in the build up to the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002: “I’m Ronaldo’s number one fan as a Brazilian but you can compare him to me only after he has won the World Cup.”
Ronaldo rose to the challenge and went on to lead Brazil to their fifth championship and left with the Golden Boot, scoring a remarkable eight goals. It could be said here that Ronaldo more than ‘filled his boots’ and made himself worthy of being uttered in the same breath as Pele.
This perfectly sums up the man, the way in which he managed to confound his doubting critics and rise to the occasion time and time again. This resilience is one reason why he will always be considered among the greatest the game has seen.
A career of 247 goals in 343 games in the club arena and an international record of 62 goals in 98 appearances for Brazil are records to behold, but tell just half the story.
His goalscoring record is not what makes him a legend of the game but it’s his ability to return better and stronger despite recurring career threatening injuries, constant weight problems and ill timed mysterious fits.
As a youngster he was a player blessed with blistering pace and immense skill, and was one of those few players who could run with the ball seemingly faster than without it.
As Bobby Robson said about him at Barcelona: “You can go anywhere in the world and you won’t find a player who can score goals like Ronaldo. He can pick up the ball anywhere and turn that into a goalscoring situation on his own. He is simply sensational.”
That was a feeling backed up by his international team mate Roberto Carlos: “He is not a great team player, he is too obsessed with scoring great individual goals.”
He scored goals wherever he went despite the constant pressures of heavy price tags and whilst also battling serious knee injuries and constant weight issues.
Even in his later career while perhaps a little inflated, despite not ever giving the most mobile of performances, he would always be able to beat the last defender when needed to most, and was able to adapt his game and drop deeper into midfield. It is also this ability to adapt which helps set him above the rest.
Stronger and faster
The occasion that best describes Ronaldo’s pedigree was the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan. That was even though he took no part in the qualification campaign due to another career threatening knee injury.
When the World Cup arrived, Ronaldo had the weight of a nation on his shoulders. He came back stronger and faster than ever and took the responsibility for leading the attack. Rivaldo, who had looked so lost without Ronaldo, was able to blossom in his shadow, with Brazil going on to win all their games and the championship.
The only thing that went wrong was that ridiculous haircut. His excuse? So his son could recognise him on television.
Another factor that places Ronaldo among the greatest is that despite being far from a one club man he is always seen through admirable eyes for the clubs he played for, and always among the legends of his club.
This is in spite of playing for rival teams such as Real Madrid and Barcelona, Milan and Inter. This helps tell you something about the happy and respectful manner of the player, and that what he gave to his team went beyond any rivalries.
Ronaldo’s career was one of a constant struggle between talent and the ravage of injury. However, it is not his exceptional talents that put him among the top echelons of the game.
It was his ability to thrive when the pressure was at its greatest and to return from the brink of career-finishing injuries.
As the great Zico commented: “Ronaldo has come back from injury problems and still produces on the pitch. That’s the mark of a great player.”
It leaves one to think that perhaps the scariest thing about Ronaldo was that, despite the level he reached in the game, his injuries stopped him from ever reaching his full potential.
By Charlie Houghton