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Ronaldo stays strong

Brazilian legend dishes on fame, injury and Cup glory

Posted: Tuesday January 17, 2006 12:49PM; Updated: Thursday January 19, 2006 12:39PM
Various injuries have limited Ronaldo this season -- he has yet to appear in a Champions League match for Real Madrid.
Various injuries have limited Ronaldo this season -- he has yet to appear in a Champions League match for Real Madrid.
Peter Read Miller/SI
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It's Monday afternoon in Madrid and Ronaldo is making an all-too-familiar drive in his Audi RS 6. It's a trip he'd rather not be making, but one the Real Madrid striker and Brazilian legend has been forced to take more times than he'd care to count.

In fact, after missing 10 Spanish-league games and all six of Real Madrid's Champions League matches this season due to various injuries, Ronaldo has probably driven into the parking lot of the Ruber International Clinic just as many times as he has the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

This time Ronaldo finds himself going to get treatment for a torn right calf muscle, which he suffered in the first half of a scoreless draw against Villarreal on Jan. 8. The injury is expected to sideline the 29-year-old forward for three weeks, but for a player whose career has been littered with injuries and setbacks -- including five major injuries this season alone -- it's simply another obstacle he knows he will overcome.

"These things happen in football," he said. "If I was a lawyer, this sort of thing wouldn't occur. What I need now is a change of luck."

I recently caught up with a mending Ronaldo to talk about everything from his childhood in Rio de Janeiro to his pursuit of the World Cup scoring record this summer in Germany.

SI.com: Since signing with Real Madrid in 2002, the club has acquired some of the greatest players in the world but has yet to achieve the type of success most expect, are you happy with your career so far at the Bernabéu?

Ronaldo: Yes, I am happy. It is very important for me to play in Real Madrid. It's the best club in the world, but obviously there is always a chance to improve, to learn as a player, and Real Madrid has given me that opportunity.

SI.com: How difficult is it to play in a "What have you done for me lately" society among soccer fans, in which you're only as good as your last goal?

Ronaldo: All this sort of pressure is a part of belonging to a big club, such as Real Madrid, or a big national team, such as Brazil. All the players who play in Real Madrid are used to dealing with this pressure and we all understand what the supporters want and expect.

SI.com: Talk about your youth and growing up in Rio de Janeiro -- what were those days like?

Ronaldo: I am sure that my youth was not so different to other people's youth in Brazil. I used to play football in the street and had my idols, such as Pelé or Zico. I remember the days I played hall football and my first days in my poor quarter of Bento Ribeiro.

SI.com: When did you know that you were not just a good player, but a great player? Was there a particular moment when you realized you were playing on a different level than the other kids?

Ronaldo: I don't think one moment like that ever happened. Every day when I was growing up I worked hard to try and improve myself and become the best player I could. I never felt that I was better than everyone else.