Legend of the fall
Ronaldo's only option may be ending career at home
Posted: Tuesday February 19, 2008 10:47AM; Updated: Tuesday February 19, 2008 2:03PM
"Ronaldo: a phenomenon of determination. Flamengo believes in you," read the banner that the Rio de Janeiro team brought out with it on Sunday as it took the field for the big local derby against Vasco da Gama.
Flamengo has a special reason for such faith that the great striker can recover from another serious knee injury: Ronaldo is a Flamengo fan.
As a boy, he cheered them on from the Maracanã terraces and has long hinted of his desire to end his career with the team. As recently as the start of the year, Flamengo was trying to coax him back across the Atlantic.
But in Ronaldo's mind, the timeframe for his move back to Brazil has never gone from the general to the specific. He has always shown himself reluctant to leave the European big-time behind. There is, of course, the example of Romário, his international striker partner in 1997, who threw away potentially some of the best years of his career as a result of a premature return to Brazilian soccer.
Ronaldo may frequently be depicted in the international press as little more than a playboy dilettante, but the charge is grossly unfair. This is a man who came back from major injures to dominate the 2002 World Cup. He has more World Cup goals than anyone in history. He is well aware that he belongs to the elite of the global game, and has wanted to stay in such company for as long as possible.
But last week's injury may have made his mind up for him. It may not be the end, but it could well be the end in Europe.
Put simply, it's hard to imagine a top European club taking a risk on him. He'll be 32 before he plays again, and it has been years since he's been able to play a full slate of games. His knees have taken a real battering. Apart from the injuries, they have also borne the strain of carrying a frame that has grown larger over the years.
A skinny, elusive runner when he first appeared as a teenager, Ronaldo has bulked up in search of power -- interestingly, the Brazilian FA last week sacked a doctor for casting aspersions on how this process took place in the mid '90s.
Put together, the consequences of the increased weight and his history of injuries have meant that, over the last few seasons, Ronaldo has been walking a very fine line, almost a tightrope -- if he has been fit, he has also been very close to a breakdown.
He is thus deprived of continuity. Inactivity increases his weight. So he works to get fit, once again finds himself breaking down and the whole circus goes around again -- until the events of last week interrupt the process and call for a rethink.
Ronaldo has been prepared to put up with the sacrifices of all of this in a bid to remain at the top. Is it worth going through the long and frustrating process of recuperation just to play at a lower level? It's highly unlikely that he would have financial reasons for needing to force a comeback.
It's here that other motives may come into consideration. One option that has been hinted at in the past is Major League Soccer. The U.S. would represent adventure, new ground to be conquered.