February 21, 2008
As the greatest goalscorer in the world reaches his 30th birthday, most of the attention will be on his achievements in Europe and with the Seleção - his record FIFA World Cup finals goals haul, his countless personal awards, his goals, his injuries - even his personal life. But that would be to forget where it all started for the poor boy from Rio who was to become the most famous sportsman in the world.
Ronaldo was born in Bento Ribeiro, a poor slum in Rio de Janeiro, the youngest of four children, on 22 September 1976. Like many modern Brazilian stars, he honed his skills by playing Futebol de Salão with two clubs on Rio's outskirts: Social Ramos and Valqueire. His talent was noticed by 1970 FIFA World Cup-winning hero Jairzinho as a 14-year-old, who made it his mission to get the boy noticed.
'The Hurricane' managed to get Cruzeiro, a club he played for late in his career, to sign the prodigy as a 16-year-old. Thrown into the competitive world of Brasileiro football, the young Ronaldo exploded, scoring thirteen goals in just fourteen games, including an unbelievable five in a 6-0 win at home to Bahia. The following year he rifled in an extraordinary 23 goals in the Campeonato Mineiro as the Raposa carried off the trophy. The word was out on football's hottest star.
National team coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was impressed enough to give the teenager his Seleção debut as a sub for double goalscorer Bebeto in a 2-0 friendly win over Argentina in March 1994, before calling him up to the final squad for the 1994 FIFA World Cup Finals in the USA. Although O Fenomeno, still with braces on his teeth, did not see any playing time during Brazil's fourth world title-winning campaign, he had already done enough.
Shortly after the finals, Dutch side PSV signed the player for around £4million, making him the world's most expensive teenager ever. Joining the Eindhoven-based outfit he was following in the footsteps of superstar Romário, previously a PSV number nine - footsteps that would take Ronaldo all the way to Barcelona and megastardom himself.
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