Although it may seem as if this day has been coming for years, today world football will say goodbye to one of its greatest stars. Legendary Brazilian forward, Ronaldo de Lima, relentless scoring machine, football legend, and owner of the all-time World Cup goals record with 15, has decided that the time has finally come to end his playing career.
Though his last few years have been marred by numerous injuries, some scandalous behavior and significant criticism over his level of dedication and fitness, Ronaldo is one of the greatest that fans of the beautiful game have ever been privileged enough to witness.
Along with French legend Zinedane Zidane, Ronaldo is the only player to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year three times, taking home the prestigious honor in 1996, 1997 and 2002. He was also twice named the recipient of the Ballon D'or, awarded to the best player in Europe, during the years 1997 and 2002.
Currently a member of Brazilian Serie A club Corinthians, the 34-year-old has had enough of the constant stream of injuries he has been forced to endure in recent years, as well as the controversy surrounding his club's disastrous exit from the high-profile Copa Libertadores. Corinthians became the first Brazilian club to fail to make it beyond the preliminary round of the prestigious South American club football tournament.
Following the premature departure, there have been reports of unrest amongst supporters of the club, some of whom reportedly smashed players' cars, defaced training ground property as well as made threats toward certain players deemed responsible for the poor performance.
Ronaldo was unfortunately the target of some of the hooligan-like activity, and that likely helped finalize his decision. Prior to today, Ronaldo had already announced that he would retire at the end of the season, but recent events served to speed up the process.
Ronaldo's football career began on a much happier note than it ended. He started his professional career in 1993, when as a 16-year-old for Brazilian club Cruzeiro he made an immediate impact as a significant goal-scoring threat. His 12 goals in only 14 appearances helped to lead his club to the championship of the Copa Do Brasil.
Shortly thereafter, at 17, he was chosen to represent Brasil in the 1994 World Cup, which took place in the United States for the first time. He didn't play in that cup, but gained confidence and valuable experience which would contribute to him eventually becoming one of the greatest players in World Cup history.
After his first World Cup selection, Ronaldo moved on to a grander stage, beginning his illustrious European career with PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie. He quickly adapted to the style of football in the Netherlands, scoring 30 goals in his inaugural season.
Unfortunately, he injury woes began then too, and he missed most of his second season with a knee injury. In his two years in Holland, he amassed an astounding 42 goals in 46 appearances.
With his star rising significantly, Ronaldo made the leap to the massive Catalan side Barcelona in Spain's La Liga. In his only season with Barcelona, he brilliantly displayed his devastating goal-scoring prowess, tallying 47 goals in 49 appearances.
During his short stay with the club, he was La Liga's leading scorer, helping Barcelona to championships in the UEFA Cup Winner's Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana. His massive contributions to La Blaugrauna's success earned him the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the 1996 calendar year.
Quickly moving on after complications with his contract negotiations, Ronaldo then transferred to Inter Milan, the team that had originally battled Barcelona for his signature when he left PSV. He became a dominant force for Inter, scoring 34 goals in 47 appearances during 1997-98. The Brazilian dynamo took home his second FIFA Player of the Year award for 1997, as well as his first Ballon D'or.
Ronaldo followed up his Inter debut with another stellar start to the 1998-99 season, tearing up Serie A with 14 goals in 19 games. Unfortunately, he tore a knee ligament in 1999, forcing him out of action for half a year. Upon his return, he instantly re-injured the knee, being forced out in his first game back After his scintillating debut season in Milan. Two knee surgeries limited him to only 52 appearances over four seasons.
Before his injury woes marred his Inter Milan career, he played a starring role in Brazil's march to the 1998 World Cup championship game. His four goals and three assists earned him the Golden Ball for the tournament, but health issues and a mid-game injury in the final led to a disappointing 3-0 defeat to France in the championship.
Toward the end of his Inter run, following his massive injury layoffs, he made a triumphant return to the Brazilian national team to spearhead their attack in the 2002 World Cup.
Recovered from his knee problems for the time being, he returned with a vengeance, earning the Golden Boot for leading all scorers with eight goals, and leading his nation to their fifth World Cup victory. This brilliant showing helped earn him his third FIFA World Player of the Year award, and his second Ballon D'or.
Following his starring role in the 2002 World Cup, Ronaldo then continued his whirlwind tour of the massive clubs on the European continent, transferring to Real Madrid for the 2002-03 season.
In his five seasons in the Spanish capital, he helped win two La Liga titles, the 2002 Intercontinental Cup, and the 2003 Supercopa de Espana. After three healthy, dominant seasons, injuries and weight issues marred his last two years in Madrid, and he eventually found himself on the move once again.
Prior to leaving Madrid, however, Ronaldo appeared in one last World Cup, the 2006 tournament in Germany. Though he was often ridiculed for his fitness levels, he still managed to score three goals, breaking Gerd Muller's all-time World Cup scoring record with 15 total goals. Ronaldo's performance was much-maligned, and Brazil was knocked out in the semifinal round.
Though he appeared to be facing difficulty staying in playing shape, Ronaldo wasn't finished yet, and made yet another transfer to a European giant, this time to AC Milan for the second half of the 2006-07 season.
He started strong, scoring in half of his appearances, but then tragedy struck, as he once again ruptured a knee ligament, ending his AC Milan career after only 20 appearances. Ronaldo scored nine goals in those 20 games, but was soon released by the club.
Facing the end to his storied career in European football, Ronaldo de Lima made his long-desired voyage home to finish his playing career in Brazil. Courting controversy by training with Flamengo to rehabilitate, before signing with their bitter rivals Corinthians, Ronaldo was once again ready to take the field.
During 2009, he scored 23 goals in 38 matches, helping lead Corinthians to the Brazilian Serie A title and the second Copa do Brasil title of his career.
His success with Corinthians faded, as he was once again visited by his recurring injury issues and problems with staying fit enough to continue playing at the high standards he had set.
From 2010 to his retirement in February 2011 he managed 31 appearances, seeing his goal return in that span fall to 12. With a difficult beginning to his 2011 season, and the devastating elimination from the 2011 Copa Libertadores, Ronaldo saw the writing on the wall and finally brought an end to an illustrious career.
Over parts of 19 seasons as a professional footballer, Ronaldo de Lima amassed an amazing 352 goals in 515 club appearances in all competitions for a .68 goals per game ratio. He developed a reputation for being one of the most ruthless finishers that modern football has seen.
As impressive as his club career was his international duty, winning two World Cups with Brazil, although he only played in one of those winning cups. During his time with Brazil, he scored 62 goals in 97 appearances, and set the all-time World Cup scoring record with 15.
He is only one of two men, along with Jurgen Klinsmann to score at least three goals in three different World Cups. In 2002, he was the Cup's leading scorer and Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
His many scoring titles, World Cup records and honors, three FIFA Player of the Year awards and two Ballon D'or titles combine to make him one of the most decorated players in modern football history.
It's rather impressive that in spite of his frequent bouts with serious injury issues, Ronaldo still managed to dazzle fans and opponents whenever his body allowed him to take the field.
Though the end was sadly disappointing, the footballing world will never forget the abundant accomplishments and contributions to the game of the brilliant Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.
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