Ronaldo finds himself with an odd label: underrated
Posted: Friday July 22, 2005 11:51AM; Updated: Friday July 22, 2005 3:43PM
On a team of superstars like Real Madrid, Ronaldo may not stand out like he used to -- but he's still a No. 1 scoring threat.
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Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima has been in the international-soccer spotlight for more than a decade and during that time he has been called many things: phenom, prodigy, the next Pelé. But "underrated" never has been one of them.
Heading into next year's World Cup, however, that's the only word that comes to mind when I think of Ronaldo.
While Brazilian soccer fans have hyped sensations such as Ronaldinho, Adriano and Robinho (whom Real Madrid signed for $30 million to push you-know-who for his job), Ronaldo has sat by idly, unfazed by his fading star, unmoved by the attention that has gone to players whom he believes he is still better than. He knows that, in time, they all will be judged by the same barometer that all Brazilian players are judged by in their careers: World Cup trophies, the same golden statuettes that seem to serve as the chapter points in Ronaldo's career.
"We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation." -- Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist
No one can say truthfully they know what Ronaldo has gone through in his life, because no one has experienced a career full of as many ups and downs that have been chronicled on such a global stage as he has.
He grew up in poverty, playing soccer in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, signed a multimillion-dollar professional contract and won a World Cup at the age of 17; was blamed globally for single-handedly losing the World Cup in 1998 when he played poorly after suffering from a mysterious illness the night before the final; nearly retired from the sport after several knee operations that sidelined him for over two years; and finally redeemed himself by leading Brazil to World Cup glory, winning the Golden Boot award and scoring the final's only two goals.
As I sat beside him in the back of a black Escalade parked outside of a youth center in Los Angeles, listening to him talk about a career that has spanned three World Cups (and counting) and four major European clubs (and counting) it was hard to believe Ronaldo is only 28 years old.
While he gazed out at the hundreds of children chanting his name, he finally smiled, revealing the famous gap in his front teeth that has become as synonymous with Brazil as the samba. Despite being hampered by a strained hamstring that will keep him out of an exhibition game with the Los Angeles Galaxy later in the day, the Real Madrid striker is loving life.