Ronaldo Nazario de Lima – FENOMENO better than Pele?

Before Christiano Ronaldo, there was Brazil Ronaldo. Christiano Ronaldo has been making headlines in the last few years for an unprecedented goal-scoring run and a heated rivalry with Lionel Messi for the title of best soccer player in the world. But he still may not reach the heights that Ronaldo Nazario de Lima – the”original” Ronaldo – reached during his tumultuous career.

Ronaldo’s career began like that of so many other South American soccer prodigy. Playing on the streets throughout his childhood, he dropped out of school at 11 to pursue a professional soccer career.

At age 15, he signed with Brazilian giant Cruzeiro, and at age 17, he was a member of the Brazilian national team for the 1994 World Cup.

His rapid ascend continued, first at Eindhoven in the Netherlands, then at Barcelona and Inter Milan. By his early 20s, “Il Fenomeno” had established himself as the best soccer player on the planet. It seemed only a matter of time before he would supplant his countryman Pele as the greatest of all time.

Then, disaster struck. In 1999, fresh off a disappointing 1998 World Cup performance in which his 4 goal effort during the campaign was not enough to defeat host nation France in the final, he ruptured a knee tendon. Five months later, in the middle of his rehabilitation process, he re-injured the same knee.

All told, the greatest soccer player in the world was forced to sit on the sidelines for over two years.

Such a devastating injury is enough for anyone to lose hope. Even the most highly trained athletes may not come back from it and if they do, they’re often only a shadow of themselves. But Ronaldo worked, and worked, and never gave up. What followed remains an inspiration to soccer fans throughout the world.

In 2002, Brazil traveled to South Korea to compete in the first World Cup since suffering that humiliating 3-0 defeat to France in 1998. Despite almost no playing time before the tournament, still rehabbing his injury, Ronaldo was a part of the team, and his selection was heavily by local and international media. When the tournament was over, those critics had quieted for the time being.

By the time Brazil finished the tournament with a record 5th World Cup trophy, Ronaldo had found the back of the net eight times – more than anyone since Gerd Muller netted 10 in 1970. He singlehandedly shot Brazil to victory in the final stages, scoring both goals in a 2-0 final victory against Germany just days after scoring the only goal in Brazil’s semifinal victory against Turkey.

“Il Fenomeno,” was back, and better than ever.

Unfortunately, the critics weren’t done. His professional journey took him to Real Madrid and Milan, but at both stops he was criticized for not keeping his weight under control. What most didn’t know: Ronaldo was born with an underactive thyroid gland leading him to gain weight more quickly than most efforts, and any medications to counteract this trend were prohibited by international doping rules.

As a result, the increased weight continued to be a problem, and greatly reduced his mobility in the later stage at his career. It is all the more remarkable then that in 2006, at age 30, he traveled to Germany with Brazil to defend his World Cup trophy, and netted three more goals to set the all-time goals record in World Cup history with 15. 

It would be the last swan song for Ronaldo, who suffered yet another knee injury in 2008 that effectively ended his career.

He remains one of the most fascinating people to ever play soccer: the most well-rounded striker to ever play the beautiful game, hampered throughout his career by issues that were out of his control. But his passion for the game, his perseverance to overcome both injuries and weight problems not of his own doing continue to inspire countless people around the globe. If “Il Fenomeno” can do it, so can we! Contact us to learn how soccer can teach values like perseverance and passion.

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