Ronaldo's Career by Darlon Diego Manickchand
On signing for Dutch giants PSV in the summer of 1994, Ronaldo was not only becoming the world's most expensive teenager but was also following in the footsteps of Brazil's previous generation striking genius. Romário had played in Eindhoven for five seasons until the year before Ronnie's arrival, and had scored 127 goals and won three league titles.
Little did the 18-year-old know, but Ronaldo would soon enough be moving on to replace Romário at Barcelona, too.
Settling in to live in Holland immediately, Ronaldo scored on his Dutch league debut against Vitesse Arnhem and followed with two goals against Go Ahead Eagles three days later. By mid-autumn he began to catch fire, scoring braces against MVV and Feyenoord as PSV chased their first championship since 1992. Partnered by the experienced Luc Nilis, and with supply coming from the likes of Bolo Zenden and Arthur Numan, he couldn't stop scoring, registering 30 goals in just 33 league games.
His first European hat-trick came against Bayer Leverkusen in a UEFA Cup match, and he comfortably finished the Eredivisie's top scorer, 12 goals clear of Ajax's Patrick Kluivert. Sadly for Big Ron, this was the year Ajax's all-conquering team, including Litmanen, the de Boers, Davids, and Seedorf, swept all before them. PSV trailed the Amsterdammers (who also lifted the UEFA Champions League) by 14 points.
Despite his amazing first season, he was little used by national coach Mario Zagallo, who used him in only one game in the 1995 Copa América. But the start of the new season in Europe meant more goals for PSV, as the maturing 19-year-old drilled in 12 goals in his first 13 league games, and a brace for his country in a friendly against Uruguay in Salvador.
Tragically, that brilliant burst of form was to be his last for a while, as he was struck down by a serious knee injury that kept him out of action for six months.
With the 1996 Atlanta Olympics approaching, Zagallo was keen to have his main prospect available for the one major tournament Brazil had not, and still have not, won. Ronaldo was raced back into action, featuring in two end-of-season friendly matches before heading off to the US for the Olympics.
His young frame recovered well from his injury. He scored five times in six appearances as Brazil (only) won the bronze medal. However, the seeds for his later injury troubles had already been sown.
With such a phenomenal record to his name already, he was set for one of Europe's biggest clubs. Eventually Barcelona won a protracted battle for Ronaldo's signature, and a £ 12million fee took him to the Catalan capital, again making him the most expensive teenager ever, as he was still not quite 20.
Touching down in Barcelona, Ronaldo was one of a raft of new signings arriving at the Nou Camp after a change of regime at the Blaugrana. Long-term coach Johan Cruyff had departed after eight years in charge, and many of his 'dream team' of the early to mid 1990s had departed. New coach Bobby Robson had been brought in to bring back the glory years to Catalunya, and had brought in the likes of Laurent Blanc, Luís Enrique, and fellow Brazilian Giovanni to partner O Fenomeno.
Ronaldo hardly took any time to settle in to life at one of the world's biggest clubs, scoring five times in his first five league matches. Barça's incredible forward line tore defences to pieces, putting eight past Logro in October and six past Real Valladolid the following month.
Ronaldo's personal form arguably hit a peak during the month of October, scoring his now famous goal against Compostela, where he dribbled half the length of the field and scored an extraordinary goal that left coach Robson staring in disbelief. A week later he drilled a hat-trick past Valencia as defences simply crumbled around him.
His form cooled a little in the middle of the season, perhaps unsurprising given how electric he had been, coupled with the fact that the Seleção had made him the centrepiece of their campaign to retain the FIFA World Cup in France in 1998. The goals weren't long gone, however, and hat-tricks against Real Zaragoza in February and Atletico Madrid in April took him clear at the top of the scorers' charts.
In Europe Los Cules were progressing too, reaching the final of the Cup-Winners' Cup, Ronaldo finishing with five goals in the seven appearances he made in that tournament.
In a spectacular season littered with goals of every type, Ronaldo had already proved to be the greatest striker on earth, totalling 34 goals in the 37 La Liga games he played for Barç. His 37th-minute penalty against Paris-SG secured the Cup-Winners' Cup, yet it was another season of disappointment in the domestic league for Ronaldo. Despite Barcelona scoring 102 league goals and thoroughly entertaining fans everywhere, they were pipped to the post by Real Madrid, coached by wily Italian Fabio Capello.
Whether his presence in the team would have made a difference to the outcome of the season is academic, as national team commitments meant he missed the run-in for his club. One goal in four meaningless friendlies was a sorry end to a great season, although five goals in six Copa América goals brought in his first major success with the Seleção.
Sadly, relations with his club over the terms of his contract had soured beyond repair with Ronaldo saying he would not return to Barcelona.
The situation got so bad that Ronaldo decided he was moving to Internazionale whatever happened, including trying to buy out his Barça contract. Los Cules protested to FIFA, claiming this attempt to be illegal, and the governing body had to step in, eventually sanctioning an £ 18million move to Italy to join Inter.
It was a very dissatisfying end to his stellar Barcelona career and one which left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans, while also hinting at the many off-field problems that were beginning to affect the superstar.
It's easy to see why Sir Robert William Robson and Ronaldo Luiz Nazário de Lima got on famously when they worked together at Barcelona. They arrived at the Nou Camp ahead of the 1996-97 season as hugely successful figures in their respective fields (they wouldn't have been chosen to manage or to play for a club as esteemed as Barcelona had they not been), yet humility had remained a conspicuous characteristic in both.
The veteran Englishman is renowned for insisting 'just call me Bobby', while the striker he had under his wing during his short and sweet tenure in Catalonia had, at the time, commented; 'I'm just another player here to do my share of the work'. They came from different worlds, from continents separated by vast waters and even vaster standards of comfort, but Robson and Ronaldo shared a similar sense of humour, an unpretentious demeanour, and an absolute devotion to their profession. Both possessed that likeability factor.
It was, in fact, Robson who had been behind Barcelona smashing their transfer record to sign Ronaldo. Convinced that the boy wonder was set for superstardom, the former England coach squeezed president Nuñez into raising his initial $10 million bid a staggering six times!
The eventual fee it took to prise him from PSV Eindhoven was $20 million, exactly double the starting offer. Critics dubbed the figure 'ridiculously exorbitant', but it took just a couple of games for them to witness Ronaldo's extraordinary talent and duly gobble their words.
Despite Ronaldo's sublimity, the Spanish hulks failed in their attempts to capture the La Liga crown that campaign (although they did claim three titles), and at the end of the season both the jet-heeled goal machine and the wily trainer made one-way journeys from the Barcelona departure lounge.
Nevertheless, the short period that they worked together was sufficient for pupil to make a lasting impression upon master. In his 1998 autobiography, An Englishman Abroad, Bobby Robson spoke passionately about his time in command of a player he rated as 'as good as Pelé':
"One of the great joys of my year coaching Barcelona to three trophies was having the world's best player Ronaldo in my team. There is no doubt about the part he played in our success: in forty-eight starts he scored an incredible forty-five goals. He was portrayed as a greedy young man but I never had a problem with him or his attitude; in fact the biggest problem I had with the lad was getting him off the training pitch because he would always say, 'Please Meester, just a leetle longer, just a few more shots.'
"He was a great player and a brilliant boy to work with. He liked a joke in the dressing room but he respected the senior players. He was a fine boy who trained well and, as far as I concerned, he wanted to stay with Barcelona a lot longer. It was other people who decided his fate and his future.
I have worked with some outstanding players during my life, players from every corner of the globe, but he was in a different class and when you consider that he was only twenty when he came to Barcelona it made him very special indeed. He is strong and quick over fifty metres, has a side-step that is lightening-quick with the ball at his feet, and he can shield the ball, turn and beat defenders in the twinkle of an eye. He has the ability, the talent and the temperament to be not just the best in the world but maybe even the best ever. As good as Pelé and I cannot go any higher than that. I believe only injury will stop him developing into one of the all-time greats, possibly the greatest of them all. In terms of potential he is a cut above anything else I have seen.
In his short stay he had left an indelible impression on myself and the people of Barcelona. He reminded me of Diego Maradona the way he went past defenders. He was one of the quickest players I ever saw with the ball at his feet, strong enough to take a buffeting and a whacking. He can play with his back to goal or drive forward, stay on his feet or go past people. I have seen tough defenders bounce off him. Where Romário was lightening-quick over ten metres, this boy could sustain his pace over fifty, accelerating past his marker never to be caught. It means he can come deep to pick up the ball and see what is in front of him; then he can use his pace or his dribbling skills to take on defenders. Ronaldo can beat opponents just like George Best used to do in his great years. He was as good a buy as I ever bought in my career."
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