The word on the street is that Ronaldo is officially retiring tomorrow. This is not news. Everyone knew that this was his last chance to win the Copa Libertadores and the Brazilian league championship–two prizes that eluded him. After the abuse heaped on him by Corinthian fans, I cannot imagine why he would want to help them win anything–especially given all the problems he has had with his health, fitness, and weight (which is apparently due to the medication he takes because of his knee problems.)
Ronaldo’s very painful last few years have lately overshadowed the memory of his career. It’s sad (although probably temporary) because he was a peerless player in his day. Had it not been for consistent injuries, he could possibly have been the greatest of all time. He could score goals with a scary ease, and he richly deserved his nickname “O Fenômeno.”
In assessing his legacy, we can neither forget the highs or the lows. He scored both goals in the 2002 World Cup final, leading Brazil to its (record) 5th title. He won every European prize there was save for the Champions League (a notable omission.) On the other hand, Ronaldo stayed in Europe far longer than he should have, and he was part of the lackluster 2006 Brazil World Cup squad that didn’t flame out so much as whimper.
And then there was the 1998 World Cup final and the very mysterious circumstances surrounding Ronaldo. To this day, the outside world does not know what happened. Apparently Ronaldo had an epileptic fit. He was at first left off the line up and then put back on the amended line up (conspiracy theorists say at Nike’s demands.) Regardless of what happened, he played listlessly–a nonentity on the day that was supposed to be his greatest triumph. And of course, Brazil ultimately lost (badly) to a Zindane-inspired France.
Ronaldo has taken a path that is all too familiar among Brazilians players–spectacular for a few years, and then a sharp decline resulting from personal demons and/or injury. Garrincha, Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho are all fallen idols. Robinho flamed out before he could even reach the heights of his predecessors. Neymar looks to head down the same path.
Yet Ronaldo will ultimately be remembered fondly. He scored more cumulative goals at the World Cup than anyone else in the world. Given that defense now predominates the international game, and 5 goals is enough to win the Golden Shoe, I wonder if anyone will ever break his record.