On Monday, it felt like a part of my childhood died. No, I’m not referring to a footage leak of what will undoubtably be an awful theatrical edition of one of my favorite shows growing up. Instead, the part of my childhood that died this week did so when when of my favorite childhood players announced he would be hanging up his boots for good.
Like many typical American children of the 80’s and 90’s, watching soccer on tv was a rare occurrence. World Cups were about the only time the sport go any sort of coverage, so my knowledge of players started and ended there.
While I can remember watching the 1990 World Cup Final (possibly my oldest football memory outside of my own playing), it was when the tournament came to the states in 1994 that I really was sucked in. And as that glorious month went on and we saw the most boring Brazilian team of all time advance and eventually win the Cup, I became obsessed with a gangly youngster on their roster that never even saw the pitch. Who was this “Ronaldo”?
I learned that he was 17 years old, and was included solely (and to the anger of many Brazilian fans) to help him gain valuable experience at this lofty world stage. So why would this make me obsessed? Two reasons most likely:
- I was confused as to why a team that was a realistic challenger would feel willing to blow a valuable roster spot on someone they knew they likely wouldn’t play.
- It stoked my dreams, making me foolishly believe that I had a shot at making the roster for the 1998 tournament. Idiot.
While Ronaldo’s appearance in 1994 certainly didn’t foreshadow my inclusion in the next World Cup squad, it’s clear that the Seleção bringing him along for the trip did prove to be a wise choice. Seventeen years later that is proven by Ronnie’s selection for the next three World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006), his helping with the addition of a fifth World Cup trophy in 2002, and him sitting on top of the all-time World Cup scoring chart with a whopping 15 goals.
But just talking about El Phenomeno in terms of his World Cup exploits really doesn’t tell half of the story.
Simply put, Ronaldo is the finest striker that I’ve ever seen. Hell, it’s likely that he is the finest striker that I will ever see.
Aside from a wretched two-year injury spell from 1999-2001, Ronaldo was without a doubt the most feared attacker on the planet for nearly a decade. In a glittering club career that included spells at arguably the four biggest continental clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid, A.C. Milan and Inter Milan… not to mention a stunning debut year at PSV), Ronaldo managed to notch 273 goals in 402 appearances.
But again, just talking about his goal scoring prowess doesn’t do him justice.
Ronaldo was what you could consider the first completely rounded striker. No, I’m not talking about his general body shape over the last few years, but instead that the Brazilian was one of the first attackers that offered the complete package.
At his peak, he was untouchable at full sprint, often pulling away from defenders while he was dribbling. As with many pacy attackers, teams then resorted to stopping him with brute physical force. Of course this is when the opposition would learn that was also impossible, because the guy was a beast that could fight through hard tackles. And if you’re the kind of fan that loves fancy tricks, well Ronaldo had those in abundance too. I wasn’t lying when I said this guy had everything.
A perfect example of this is my favorite memory of 3-time World Player of the Year, which came in the opening match of the 1998 World Cup. Facing off against a plucky Scottish side, Ronnie received the ball on the left flank in his own half and sparked a one-man Brazilian counterattack. He then proceeded to take his defender on what can only be described as a “tour of the pitch,” ending up in the far right corner in his own offensive half. It’s quite likely that he covered nearly every point on that side of the pitch — like a gymnast during a giant floor routine — yet the Scots were unable to disposes him despite picking up several defenders along the way. It was awe inspiring seeing a single man virtually take on an entire defense with what looked to be no effort.
What really made him appealing though, wasn’t the goals or the tricks or the utter dominance. Instead, Ronaldo’s appeal came from his ability to do all of those things with that big ass goofy smile constantly plastered on his face. It was tremendously appealing to watch a force of nature in action, and see that he was enjoying himself the whole time.
And that’s when I get sad, as I know most of the world won’t remember Ronaldo that way.
It’s incredibly depressing for me to think that there’s an entire generation of football fans out there that won’t think of the Brazilian first when they hear the name “Ronaldo.” For those of them that do know of him, many will still only remember him as a fat ass that liked to sleep with trannies. Others will remember his bizarre and poor showing at the 1998 World Cup Final, but forget that he was likely pressured by Nike to play even though he probably had a seizure.
Many will forget the fact that even though he was a tad chubby during his Real Madrid days, he still won the Spanish pichichi after having his knee reconstructed twice. Many players would never be able to fully recover from that type of injury, let alone recover and return to the pinnacle of their sport. Even fewer have probably moved on from said injuries to receive a standing ovation at Old Trafford.
So what if the guy played on for several more years beyond when he should have. Can you blame him for wanting to push himself a bit more? Frankly, it’s a miracle he was even able to play after those knee surgeries, so I’ll forgive the guy for wanting to go home to see if he could still make the grade in his old stomping grounds.
Everyone deserves a swan song, and this man more than most.