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World Cup Legends

Ronaldo: O Fenomeno

February 26, 2010

Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima (otherwise known as Ronaldo) has picked up more personal awards than many could ever dream of. A World Cup winner, twice, the Brazilian striker elevated himself to the very top of world football almost immediately and picked up two FIFA World Player of the Year awards before he was 20 years of age.

Ronaldo
GettyImagesRonaldo kisses his second World Cup trophy.

Ronaldo will always live in the shadow of Brazil's greatest player, Pele, but many have argued that his achievements in breaking into the European game, coupled with his many successes at international level, provide evidence for his claim to be the best. Only his shocking injury record and off-pitch distractions serve as reminders of his mental and physical fragility.

Beginning his career in street football, as many in Brazil do, Ronaldo was spotted by World Cup winner Jairzinho and brought through the ranks of Cruzeiro in 1993. He exploded onto the scene as a 17-year-old, boasting incredible pace and a fluid attacking style and was immediately thrust into the limelight with a call-up to Carlos Alberto Parreira's 1994 World Cup squad.

While he did not play, it was a valuable learning curve for the young striker and, alongside the likes of Bebeto and Romario, Ronaldo cemented his place in the future plans of the national team. After moving to PSV in the summer, where he bagged 66 goals in 71 appearances, he did enough to warrant inclusion for the Olympic Games in 1996 under new boss Mario Zagallo and it would turn out to be a pivotal year in his career.

The striker went to the tournament known as 'Ronaldinho' (little Ronaldo) because of the presence of centre-back Ronaldo Guiaro, but soon graduated to the nickname 'big Ronaldo' when he helped his side to a bronze medal. Upon his return he joined Sir Bobby Robson's Barcelona and bagged 34 goals in 37 league matches in his single season at the Nou Camp, catapulting him into stardom.

The move to one of Europe's elite powered him to the top of world football and, at the age of 20, he became the youngest player to pick up the FIFA World Player of the Year award. His rise was not yet complete though, as he was transferred for a then world record fee of around £18 million to Inter Milan in 1997 and immediately set the benchmark with the best goal-per-game average in the history of Serie A - form which landed him another World Player of the Year gong the following year and saw him crowned as the first player to ever win back-to-back awards.

Travelling to France '98, Ronaldo was seen as one of the most potent strikers in the world. His first playing World Cup cemented that reputation as he scored four goals and provided three assists, but it also raised questions over his mental state after an incident before the final against hosts France that continues to remain a mystery to this day.

The striker was reported to have had a 'convulsive fit' at the team hotel the night before the game and was removed from the Brazil lineup, but then reinstated after he personally requested a chance to play. A shadow of his former self, Ronaldo made little impact on the game and Brazil were beaten 3-0 in Paris by a Zindine Zidane-inspired French side, as the off-pitch distractions hindered their ability to perform.

The true events of that night may never be revealed, but what is certain is that it affected the rest of Ronaldo's career. In 1999, the striker suffered the first in a series of serious knee injuries and went under the surgeon's knife. It was nearly two years before he played again with regularity, but when he did return he revealed why the Italian press had labelled him O Fenomeno as he led his side to glory at the 2002 World Cup.

After completing a gruelling recuperation process, Korea/Japan proved to be a stunning revival for the brilliant Brazilian as he finished as the tournament's top scorer on eight goals. The misery of 1998 was laid to rest as he smashed both goals in typical style in a 2-0 win over Germany in the final and confounded the critics who had been quick to hint at his possible early retirement.

With another World Cup winners medal in the bag, Ronaldo's place back at the top of world football was confirmed and he moved to Real Madrid for €39 million. Brought in as one of Florentino Perez's galacticos, Ronaldo helped Madrid win the league in his first season with 23 goals but, a glorious hat-trick against Manchester United in the 2003-04 Champions League aside, his time in Spain was blighted by injury and, for the first time, concerns over his weight.

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GettyImagesO Fenômeno was at his peak in 1998.

Germany 2006 afforded him yet another opportunity to bounce back from criticism and, once again, he delivered on the biggest stage of all. Travelling to his fourth World Cup, Ronaldo was only two goals away from equalling Gerd Muller's record of 14 goals at the start of the tournament and drew level with the German legend with a brace in the group stages against Japan; creating a new record for himself (15) against Ghana in the Second Round before their exit at the hands of France in the quarter-finals.

It would be his last appearance (to date) in the famous shirt and a move back to Italy after the tournament to the other half of Milan, AC, was fraught with the same injury and weight concerns that had blighted the latter part of his career. A sex-scandal involving three cross dressing prostitutes was embarrassing to say the least, with the striker admitting he was suffering from ''psychological problems'' linked to his long-running knee injury.

Eventually returning to Brazil with Corinthians in 2009, Ronaldo chose to see out his career in his homeland and in full view of an adoring and faithful public. Initially he saw glimpses of his former self, finishing his first season with the club with 20 goals in 29 appearances and his iconic status was confirmed as he helped his new side to league and cup trophies, before eventually bowing out of the game in 2011.