Ronaldo Nazario’s story is of a player who overcame many hardships to live his dream in breathtaking fashion.
|Name:||Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima|
|Born:||September 18, 1976|
|Height:||6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)|
|Clubs:||Cruzeiro, PSV Eindhoven, FC Barcelona, Inter, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Corinthians|
|National Team:||Brazil (92 caps/62 goals)|
|Titles:||18 (13x Club, 5x International)|
The name Ronaldo makes people think of the Portuguese player Cristiano. Before him, however, there was another who donned the famous name called Ronaldo Nazario, aka “The Original”.
It’s strange really of how very few can recall what a magnificent player this man once was. He had everything in his prime from fast, strong, elegant and quick feet to a deadly eye for goal.
Ronaldo was the full package who gave defenders nightmares both before and after facing him.
The Brazilian’s mystical performances were mind-blowing and made him FIFA’s youngest Player of the Year winner, aged 20. His illustrious nickname ‘O Fenômeno’ (The Phenomenon) was a fitting description.
As awe-inspiring as he was, though, some tragic blows marred this legend’s career.
Rapid rise to the top
Ronaldo Nazario’s story began in Itaguaí, Rio de Janeiro on September 18, 1976.
He was the third child of Nelio Nazario de Lima and Sonia dos Santos Barata, who split when Ronaldo was just 11. The youngster dropped out-of-school afterwards and began his epic journey.
For Ronaldo, football was the only career option. He spent his childhood honing his talents on the streets of Bento Ribeiro hoping to become the greatest player.
“I wasn’t just dreaming of being the greatest, but actually, truly believing it. That I really could be … one of the best who ever played.” he wrote in the Players’ Tribune.
After spells of indoor and junior football, the Brazilian made his professional debut for Cruzeiro in 1993. Five goals came against Caldense club and propelled him into the spotlight.
Ronaldo later led Cruzeiro to Copa do Brazil and Campeonato Mineiro glory. Therefore, the 17-year-old made Brazil’s squad for the triumphant 1994 World Cup campaign.
Despite not playing a single minute, the experience was invaluable for Nazario’s development. He trained with legends like Romario and Dunga in a Championship-winning side, after all.
A €4.7m transfer to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven followed to begin his European career.
The boy from Bento Ribeiro was ready to make his mark and laid defences in the Netherlands to waste. He scored 54 goals in only 57 games to become the biggest prospect in Europe.
In 1996, Ronaldo Nazario went from youth football to world champion in only two years. Clubs were queuing up for his services until Barcelona signed him.
But nobody in Spain knew what to expect from a kid from Holland, who cost €15m. Those doubts, however, quickly vaporised as Ronaldo stepped into the light as “The Phenomenon”.
Phenomenal was the only word fitting enough to describe the Brazilian’s time in Camp Nou. His pure ability was something else, and he regularly found the back of the net with no aid.
47 goals in 49 games proved his class. While Barcelona won the Copa del Rey, Supercopa España and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
The forward finished as La Liga’s top-scorer and won FIFA’s Player of the Year award.
“When he was at Barcelona with Bobby Robson,” said Jose Mourinho.
“I realised that he was the best player I’d ever seen take to the field.”
To the utter disbelief of everyone in Catalonia, however, Ronaldo left Barcelona after just one season. Failed talks over a contract renewal led to an Inter Milan move in 1997.
Adapting to the defensive-minded tactics of Italian football proved to be no problem for Ronaldo. He scored five goals in his opening five league games and inspired Inter to UEFA Cup glory.
At just 21, the Phenomenon was already Brazil’s great hope for the 1998 World Cup and didn’t disappoint.
Ronaldo was unstoppable in France with four goals and three assists. Not even a seizure could keep him out of the final.
But that health scare meant the striker wasn’t in peak condition for the match. It was a costly blow and condemned an under-par Brazil to a deserved 3-0 defeat to France.
The great comeback
After his World Cup heartbreak, Ronaldo Nazario returned to his prolific self at Inter and terrorised Italian defences.
But tragedy soon occured when the player suffered a knee tendon injury in November 1999. He spent several months sidelined before making his return against Lazio in the Coppa Italia.
Disaster struck, however, as Ronaldo fell to the ground when his knee ligament completely broke. Seeing him in tears was a heartbreaking sight for players and fans alike.
Doctors later gave him only a 50% chance of playing football again.
Although Ronaldo never gave up and returned to football nearly two years later following a strict rehabilitation programme. While there were a few bumps in the road, he made Brazil’s squad for the 2002 World Cup.
The striker wasn’t the same player anymore, but his eye goal and intelligent movements remained strong.
Ronaldo completed one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all-time by firing Brazil to a fifth World Cup. He scored eight goals, with two of them coming against Germany in the final itself.
“My happiness and my emotion are so great that it’s difficult to understand,” – Ronaldo.
“I’ve said before that my big victory was to play football again, to run again and to score goals again.”
What happened in that tournament was incredible.
Ronaldo deservedly won a second Ballon d’Or and third FIFA Player of the Year for his efforts.
Becoming a Galactico
As part of his ‘Galacticos’ project, Florentino Perez signed Ronaldo Nazario for Real Madrid in the summer of 2002.
It was a massive coup and seeing the ex-Barcelona star in the white shirt made it even more satisfying. Even more so when he scored in just under 15 seconds into his debut for the club.
A Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup and the La Liga title all came to the Santiago Bernabeu. However, Ronaldo’s greatest moment was in a Champions League quarter-final clash against Manchester United.
His hat-trick at Old Trafford eliminated United and even got the home supporters in applause.
But fitness, injury and weight problems eventually caught up with him in Madrid. He left for AC Milan in 2006 before retiring at Corinthians five years later.
“I cannot do it anymore; I wanted to continue, but I cannot,” he told reporters.
Ultimately, Ronaldo Nazario’s career was a case of what might’ve been. Had it not been for all those injuries, he could have been the greatest of all-time.