Who is Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima ?
Updated: Dec 12, 2020
Who is Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima – more commonly known as just Ronaldo – is a Brazilian business owner and current president of La Liga club Real Valladolid. A retired professional footballer who played as a striker, he is widely considered one of the greatest players of all time – reflected in his Portuguese nickname O Fenômeno ("The Phenomenon"). He has been named FIFA World Player of the Year three times, and won two Ballon d’Or awards.
Born in September of 1976 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ronaldo was the youngest child of three to parents Nélio Nazário de Lima, Snr. and Sônia dos Santos Barata. Ronaldo’s interest in football started early – he spent his days playing on the suburban streets of Bento Ribeiro. His mother talked of his love for football over academia: “I always found him on the street playing ball with friends when he should have been in school.” Sure enough, after the divorce of his parents, Ronaldo dropped out of school to pursue a football career at just 11 years old. At 12, he joined the Social Ramos athletic indoor futsal team, leading the city youth league with an impressive 166 goals in his first season – including 11 goals scored out of 12 in a single game. Though not quite the same as football, Ronaldo credits futsal for his incredible skills on the pitch: “I needed extremely good feet, because you're always attempting to beat opponents in the minimum of space. I loved the challenge of playing on such a small pitch”, he said.
His first foray into football came when he was spotted by coach of São Cristóvão and former Brazilian player Jairzinho, who invited him to showcase his talents on the São Cristóvão youth team. At 13 years old, agents Reinaldo Pitta and Alexandre Martins signed Ronald, stating: “We saw right away that he could be something different than most other players.” This sentiment was shared by Jairzinho, who recommended the child prodigy to his former club Cruzeiro once he turned 16.
In 1993, aged 16, Ronaldo made his professional footballing debut for Cruzeiro in the Minas Gerais State Championship. By the end of the year, he had already caught the attention of the public as he led the team to their first Copa de Brasil in 1993, followed by the Minas Gerais State Championship in 1994. Appearing in 47 games with the team, he scored an impressive total of 44 goals.
After the 1994 World Cup, Ronaldo made the decision to transfer to PSV Eindhoven, where he scored 30 league goals in his first season. During the 1994/95 UEFA Cup, he scored a hattrick against Bayer Leverkusen, earning him praise from the opposing team’s striker and Germany World Cup winner Rudi Völler: “Never in my life have I seen an 18-year-old play in this way.” It wasn’t just Völler who noticed his exceptional talents on the field; future Barcelona teammate Luis Enrique spoke highly of him, stating that Ronaldo was “the most spectacular player [he’d] ever seen”, while The Guardian’s match reporter Nick Miller wrote of “how complete he looked, even as a skinny teenager.”
Ronaldo’s second season with the team was unfortunately cut short due to a knee injury, but impressively, he still scored 19 goals in his 21 appearances. His success continued as he was named Eredivisie top scorer in 1995 and went on to win the Dutch Cup in 1996. Over his two seasons with Cruzeiro, he averaged nearly a goal per game, scoring 54 times over 58 appearances.
Regrettably, Barcelona lost their star player after problems with the renegotiation contract, meaning Ronaldo spent just one season with the club. It was thought that a new long-term contract had been agreed on for the player, with Barcelona president Josep Lluís Núñez stating “he’s ours for life”. However, a week later he was forced to break the news that Ronaldo would be leaving the club when the agreement collapsed. Ronaldo explained: “I had reached an agreement to renew my contract just a month before that season finished, but a week later the lawyer and the president of Barcelona agreed that that contract was absurd.” So, in the summer of 1997, Inter Milan paid the buy-out clause fee in his contract, signing Ronaldo for $27million – another world record at the time, making him the second player to break the world transfer record twice.
True to form, Ronaldo picked up the Italian style of football very quickly, finishing his first season with 25 Serie A goals and being named Serie A Footballer of the Year. While with Inter Milan, Ronaldo began to develop his skills as a striker, racking up assists, taking and scoring freekicks, and becoming the team’s first-choice penalty taker. He quickly became a complete forward – a striker who excelled in all aspects. Halfway through his first season, he won his second FIFA World Player of the Year award, before collecting the Ballon d’Or – well-deserved awards, as teammates confirmed: “Ronaldo was phenomenal. He proved that he was a cut above the rest that season”, said Youri Djorkaeff. After a seizure that made teammates fear for his life and almost kept him out of the tournament, Ronaldo went on to be named player of the tournament during the 1998 FIFA World Cup and, deservingly, came to be widely regarded as the best striker in the world. So, it was no surprise when he was appointed captain of Inter Milan at the end of the 1998/99 season.
With Ronaldo playing an integral role in the team’s attack, Inter Milan had high hopes going into the 1999/2000 season. But disaster struck in November 1999, when Ronaldo felt his knee buckle mid-game and was forced to limp off the pitch. He had ruptured a tendon in his knee, and a surgeon confirmed that he would need surgery. He came back to the game in April the following year. In a cruel twist of fate, just 6 minutes into the Coppa Italia final against Lazio he suffered a complete rupture of the knee-cap tendons, in what his physiotherapist would go on to describe as “the worst football injury” he’d ever seen.
The star player was forced to miss the entire 2000/01 season and most of the two seasons on either side of it. Having undergone two operations and rehabilitation, Ronaldo returned to the pitch for the 2002 World Cup, helping Brazil secure their fifth World Cup title and clinching his third FIFA World Player of the Year award, before transferring to Real Madrid.
He left the team having scored 42 goals over 58 Serie A games, in the league with the most advanced defensive strategies and the world’s best defenders, making it the hardest to score in. He fell just shy of 100 games – after 5 years with the club, he had played 99 games and scored 59 goals for Nerazzurri. His amazing performance while with the team saw him named into the Inter Milan Hall of Fame in 2018.
Ronaldo was signed to Real Madrid for €46 million but with his injuries, he was side-lined until October 2002. Ronaldo scored twice within 61 seconds in his debut match against Alavés, earning him a standing ovation as he left the field. That same year, he won an International Cup, before going on to seal the 2003 La Liga title for his team as well as the 2003 Spanish Super Cup. His talent on the field was such that, after knocking English team Manchester United out of the Champions League quarter final, Ronaldo was given a standing ovation from both sets of fans. Recalling the moment, Ronaldo describes it as “very beautiful, very special”. Despite his impressive performance, injury forced Ronaldo to sit out of the second leg of the Champions League semi-finals, where his team were eliminated.
Ronaldo’s presence on any team was so strong that, without him, they fared terribly. In the 2003/04 season, Madrid were on track to net a treble. However, when Ronaldo was injured towards the end of the season, they lost the Copa del Rey final, were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League quarter finals, and suffered a league form breakdown. Returning to the pitch in his second season, Ronaldo scored one of the fastest goals in the club’s history – shooting the ball into the net just 15 seconds into the game. Three days later, he helped to secure Real Madrid’s first league victory over Barcelona in 20 years. He went on to finish the season with 25 goals, making him La Ligas top scorer and earning him his second Pichichi Trophy. The impact of Ronaldo’s presence on his team’s success was remarkable.
His final two seasons at Real Madrid saw Ronaldo miss many games due to injuries and weight issues. When Ruud van Nistelrooy joined the team in 2006, Ronaldo grew increasingly out of favour with manager Fabio Capello, who described their working relationship: “the most difficult player to handle was the best I coached: Ronaldo, il Fenomeno.” Despite injuries which robbed Ronaldo of the explosiveness of his early years, his skills on the pitch were still recognised as exceptional. He was named by Marca as a member of the “Best foreign eleven in Real Madrid’s history”, having scored over 100 goals in four and a half seasons with the club.
However, tensions between the player and manager Capello were high, and Ronaldo was dropped from the team due to his weight issues. In 2007, Ronaldo transferred to A.C. Milan for a reported fee of €8.05 million. He made his debut appearance as a substitute in February of 2007, with a 2-1 victory over Livorno, and in his first season, scored 7 goals in 14 appearances. However, yet another knee injury forced Ronaldo out of the game for the rest of the season. Teammate Clarence Seedorf, speaking of the moment when Ronaldo, once again, tore his kneecap ligament said: “My heart stopped beating because it was like watching a repeat of the injury he suffered playing for Inter Milan against Lazio. His reaction was the same.”
Amidst fears for the future of his career, when Ronaldo’s contract with Inter Milan expired, they chose not to renew it and he was released from the club’s roster. While recovering from his latest surgery, Ronaldo trained with Rio de Janeiro based Brazilian club Flamengo. Despite being welcomed by Flamengo to join their club, Ronaldo chose to sign with their rival Corinthians instead – earning him a reputation as a “phenomenal traitor” and angering Flamengo fans. Ronaldo debuted for his new club in March of 2009, scoring his first goal 4 days later. Despite the injuries that marred his earlier career, Ronaldo seemed on top form as he scored 8 goals in 9 matches, leading to calls for his return to the Brazil national team.
However, in 2011, he announced that he would soon be retiring from professional football in an emotional press conference: “It’s very hard to leave something that made me so happy. Mentally I wanted to continue, but I have to acknowledge that I lost to my body.”
Appearances: 177 / Goals: 104 / Assists: 35
Intercontinental Cup winner
2x Spanish Champion
UEFA Supercup Winner
Spanish Super Cup winner
Appearances: 99 / Goals: 59 / Assists: 12
UEFA Cup winner
Appearances: 57 / Goals: 54 / Assists: 7
Dutch Cup winner
Appearances: 49 / Goals: 47 / Assists: 12
European Cup Winners Cup winner
Spanish Cup winner
Spanish Super Cup winner
Appearances: 40 / Goals: 21 / Assists: 6
Brazilian Cup winner
Appearances: 20 / Goals: 9 / Assists: 5
UEFA Supercup Winner
Appearances: 10 / Goals: 2 / Assists: -
Brazilian Cup winner
Brazil National Team
2x World Cup winner
2x Copa America winner
Second highest goal scorer
Confederations Cup Winner
2x Ballon d’Or
6x Top Scorer
3x Player of the Year
Footballer of the Year
2x Best Foreign Player
Ronaldinho cites Ronaldo as one of his idols as he states: “He was always an example for young people to look up to, for the way he overcame adversity. I was fortunate enough to play alongside him, my idol, for many years and we had so many great times together. He was always an idol of mine and will always be a friend.”
Zinedine Zidane spoke highly of Ronaldo, stating: “Without hesitation, Ronaldo is the best player I ever played with or against. He had such an ease with the ball. Every day I trained with him, I saw something different, something new, something beautiful.”
Beckham and Ronaldo share a close relationship. Reminiscing on their friendship during a recent Instagram live, Beckham said: “When I moved from Manchester and I had been there my whole life, to move to Madrid was a big move for me. One of the first people that I ever saw was you, when you walked into the changing room it made me feel comfortable to be at the club. I remember you turning around to me and saying that the Brazil squad believed that if there was any English player that could play in the Brazilian team it would be me, but I never believed you!”
Where Is He Now?
Ronaldo was the co-owner of A1 Team Brazil, as well as the sports marketing company 9INE. In 2013, he became a member of PokerStars SportStar, playing a charity poker tournament against tennis star Rafael Nadal. In 2014, he became a minority owner of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League. In 2015, he opened 8 new branches of his youth football school, The Ronaldo Academy, in China, the US and Brazil. He expected to open a further 100 schools worldwide by 2020.