Three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo has called it quits on one of the most outstanding, heartbreaking and outrageous soccer careers in recent memory.
Hailing from the football breeding ground of Brazil, Ronaldo burst on to the scene in 1996 at Barcelona, becoming the youngest player to win World Player of the Year. He dominated Europe for the next decade before his lifestyle began to catch up with him, while also being an automatic selection at center forward for the Selecao.
His first major injury came in his time at Inter Milan, and this was the start of his fall from grace. Ronaldo was a player with great natural ability. Athleticism, technique, vision, and clinical finishing were traits of his that could not be matched. Unfortunately, work ethic was never what he was known for. His weight ballooned after joining Real Madrid, which led to a transfer to AC Milan. This was the first place that his natural talent could not bail him out. He never gained the form which made him be considered one of the greatest soccer players in the world.
Ronaldo suffered another knee injury, his third major injury of the same nature, and was not re-signed when his contract expired. He joined Brazilian club Corinthians and played there for two years. He did score goals at his normal career rate, but he still struggled with fitness and missed time here as well.
After Ronaldo came Ronaldinho.
Ronaldinho became the face of Brazilian soccer with his mesmerizing dribbling, stunning free-kicks, and excellent samba dancing. Ronaldinho made a big impression in Europe, first in France with PSG and then with Barcelona. His unmistakable smile and trademark goal dance made him a popular figure while at Barca. However, after an injury plagued and unhappy season, he transferred to AC Milan in 2008. This was a turning point in Ronnie's career.
While at Milan, he was widely publicized as a man who partied instead of taking his job seriously. His form was poor for the majority of his time in Italy, and it seemed as though the child-like exuberance that helped him win FIFA World Player of the Year twice while at Barcelona had disappeared.
He moved back to Brazil this January and it is yet to be seen if he will ever be able to reach the level of play which made him so popular just a few years ago.
So here are two brilliant individuals whose lack of discipline prevented their careers from being even greater. Both players are legendary, especially Ronaldo, but how much better could there legacy have been if they would have been able to have longer careers. They cut short their own prime.
The reason I am highlighting these two is because there may be a youngster who is showing the same bad habits. 19-year-old Santos phenom Neymar is just the latest big thing off the Brazilian Footballer production line. He has stunning ability alread, and one can imagine how good he could be with good coaches, natural progression and hard work.
It is inevitable that he will make a big money deal to Europe in the near future. He has already been courted heavily by the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid. Unfortunately, his character has been more publicized recently than his play on the field.
Neymar threw what can only be called a temper tantrum after his now ex-coach decided to let someone else take a penalty kick for Santos. Why ex-coach? Santos fired him shortly after his spat with their young star. Santos claims it wasn't for the argument, but, well, one can assume otherwise.
Neymar was also allegedly caught partying with prostitutes while at a hotel with his team. Perhaps most telling is Brazil head coach Mano Menezes' decision to not bring Neymar into the Brazilian camp after his issues with his former Santos coach, citing a lack of maturity.
Hopefully, this is just an example of a 19-year-old kid being just that, a kid. He is facing many decisions that will greatly affect his footballing future.
If he keeps his feet on the ground, he could be the next Christiano Ronaldo, a smart, skilled, athlete who dominates every time he steps on the field. Or, he could take his future for granted like some of his compatriots and never gain the work ethic which seperates the good from the great and the great from the best.
One can only hope that he looks at the examples that came before him and works to avoid the same pitfalls that so many players have fallen in to.