World Cup Alphabet – R is for…

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While we bask in the glow of the Christiano Ronaldo/Messi era debating about who is the greatest we forget about another. If not for injury one player would have outshone them and every other player through time. Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima AKA Ronaldo AKA Fat Ronaldo AKA O Fenômeno (The Phenomenon).


A striker of immense power, speed and guile struck down on more than one occasion but found a way to return (sometimes literally) bigger and better.


This kid was marked from the start to have the makings of a superstar. The power that comes with the infinity of potential. A debutante for the huge Cruzerio club in Brazil by age 16 he then scored some 44 goals in 47 games in a year taking them to a title. This earned him a ticket to USA 94 with the Brazilian side at only 17. He didn’t play a game but collected a winners medal as a squad member. Not old enough to drink but already a World Cup winner.


After the World Cup PSV in Holland were the ones lucky enough to get their hands on the teenage prodigy due to having a good reputation at easing South Americans in to Europe. Romario had taken the same path. From there he spent put them away at Barcelona as a record signing before moving to Inter where he dominated against the toughest defences in the World. His goal celebration a homage to his native Rio always running away from the goal with a look of elation spreading his arms out a la Christ the Redeemer. 


By 1998 for the World Cup in France he was a superstar in peak form ready to unleash on the world and confirm his greatness. He had won the World Player of the Year at only 21. A smiling gap toothed assassin, his disarming dopey demeanor was disarming. He was one of the first strikers to take the ball and run full pelt at the keeper rather than staying around the penalty box waiting to tap in scraps. A striker who played as a winger collecting the ball normally just over halfway and off he went sending an instant buzz through the stadium.


His ability to make room and get himself in to an opportunity to get one on one with the keeper was a joy to watch. As one commentator said, “he’s not a man, he’s a herd”. Theirry Henry would be another that would make this his own. He was a type of player dragging the sport away from the older clumsier past doing things a Messi would now do on an almost weekly basis.


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Ronaldo the Redeemer.


At France 98 he was unstoppable at times playing up front in a star studded side with ’94 star Bebeto his support up front. The world watched as he scored four goals including a pivotal goal against Holland in the semi finals. He set up three others as they roared in to the final. From there something a  little peculiar happened and he would never be the same again.


When the official team sheet was handed in to FIFA some 72 minutes from kick off and then on to the media Ronaldo was not in the team. Rumours began to circulate of a fight between the Brazilian players and that Ronaldo had to be separated from an unnamed teammate. Then as soon as he was out he was back in when a new teamsheet was lodged.


With a good three quarters of an hour left to the game he was back on the team sheet and the Brazilian officials acted all nonchalant and like nothing had happened. Coach Zagallo was inspiring his players to win it without Ronaldo like Brazil had won 1962 without Pele when Ronaldo walked in to the changerooms ready to go. So much for that speech.


It didn’t help Brazil’s cause for the rumour mill when they then didn’t appear for the customary pre-match warm up. What exactly was going on with the superstar? Still, the game went ahead and from the beginning Brazil were all over the place. Ronaldo was a ghost running around in a stupor and never at the races. Halfheartedly chasing a loose ball he was cleaned up by the French keeper Fabian Barthez.


While Ronaldo wheezed around the pitch Zinedine Zidane confirmed his immortally scoring twice as France ran out 3-0 winners.


After the event conspiracies ranged from having a fight with the girlfriend and not wanting to play, to having an ankle injury or an upset stomach. Another rumour that eventually came out and was verified at a Government Inquiry (yes, they got involved) was that he had in fact had a seizure in his sleep on the night before the final for some 30 to 40 seconds. It was then learned that Roberto Carlos had phoned the doctor and told him to rush over to their room in the afternoon when Ronaldo had started breaking down in to tears and then couldn’t stop vomiting.


There were allegations that Nike had also demanded that Ronaldo play, but there was never enough proof to prove that Nike had treated the Brazilian side like one of their sweatshops.


There were also rumours Ronaldo had finally cracked under the pressure of being the one to rely upon for Brazil with the weight of a nation mired in poverty at the time relying on his magic in the biggest game of his life. The Brazilian nation looking for a new mercurial hero after the death of Senna in 1994.


On and off in the four years between world cups Ronaldo entered the seven circles of injury hell. Knee injuries blighted a player seen as the best striker in the world and captain of Inter Milan at only 22. In between 1998 and 2002 he would play only 36 times for 24 goals. In the 2000-01 season he wouldn’t play a single game.  O Phenomena was disappearing down a fitness rabbit hole.


He was missed for the national side. After hiring ‘Big Phil’ Felipe Scolari as coach halfway through the campaign Brazil managed to sneak in to the World Cup to be held in Korea and Japan. Would Ronaldo be there? He scraped together enough fitness and sub appearances late in the season to get his ticket. Scolari took a punt on the faded to star to get the job done.


Joining him in the team would be up and coming star Ronaldinho who was all beaming cocky smiles, sweetness and light. The epiphany of youthful exuberance and confidence. There was also Rivaldo, a veteran of 1998 and Barcelona legend as talented as he was underhanded. This powerhouse front three would be referred to as ‘The Three R’s’.


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The Three R’s celebrating another goal.

Felipe had got Ronaldo to the World Cup and developed a team that could cater for his limitations. He then rolled the dice again starting him against Turkey in the opener. At 1-0 down in the second half a Ronaldo’s brilliant finish made it 1-1 as Brazil would go on to win. Then Ronaldo scored against China and then a brace against Costa Rica as they easily topped the group. In the second round his late goal did away the Belgiums 2-0. He didn’t score against England in the quarter finals but in a re-match with Turkey in the semis he scored the decisive goal. Six goals scored and in to another final, O Phenomena was back!


In a final that confirmed his redemption and the start of his renaissance he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Germany. With his ridiculous haircut he would win the Golden Boot, be given his winners medal by Pele and be voted player of the tournament. The French doctor who had saved his career with innovative surgery on his knees was in the crowd to see his crowning glory. Ronaldo would also win another World player of the Year award.


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Ronaldo hadn’t just won the World Cup, he had decided it.


By 2006 Ronaldo had spent four fruitful years at Real Madrid not back to the monstrous form of 1994-1998 but still a tremendous player and dangerous finisher. The trouble was his ego had also grown with his reputation, as had most of the Brazilian team. Players demanded their own rooms, they charged for tickets to watch them train, there was something corporate and cold about the side rather than being about fun and the good things about the sport.


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Ronaldo swing and a miss in Munich 2006.


Ronaldo also looked very overweight. Even us Aussies were chanting songs about his weight, mocking one of the greats as he went to put a ball away against the Socceroos but missed and fell on his arse. He still scored two against Japan though with a goal against Ghana in the second round he set a new record for the most goals in World Cup history breaking Gerd Muller’s record. This record would last until 2014.


By 2011 he was done with another major injury and his battle with his weight. Brazil gave him a farewell game in Sao Paolo, a rare honour, to thank him for his career even if it did stumble at times. He claimed that a thyroid problem was the reason for his weight issues and since retirement has ballooned out.


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Ronaldo on a segway at the ‘Burning Man’ festival.


He’s now talked about in gossip pages, seen at festivals riding segways and making sporadic public appearances around times like World Cups. A true great that went through peaks and troughs and eeked every inch of glory out of his twisted body.




They can be controversial, game changing and defining for a player’s career. The red card is the Mark of Cain during a World Cup.


A total of 169 players have been sent to the sheds between 1930 and 2014. The first was Palico Golindo in the game between Peru and Romania. All cards up until 1966 were straight reds with yellows not being introduced until the tournament in England. Some reds have denied a player a chance to play in the most important game of their careers. In 1990 the nuggety midfielder Ricardo Giusti was sent off in a semi final against Italy which denied him the chance to play for Argentina in the showpiece event. In that final two of his teammates, Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti, became the first players to ever get a red in a final.


Laurent Blanc would also be denied his chance to greatness being sent off in 1998 against Croatia. The Croatian defender Slaven Bilic pretending he was headbutted to get the central defender sent off. He would still receive a winners medal. In the final his teammate Marcel Desially was sent off but he didn’t seem to mind seeing as his side was up 3-0 and well on their way to a maiden World Cup victory. In 2002 Argentine veteran Claudi Cannigia was given a red card when sitting on the bench as they went out in the first round, a rare feat.


In the ‘Battle of Nuermburg’ in 2006 between Holland and Portugal four players were sent off in one game.  16 yellow cards were also awarded in that game. One famous scene of that game was Barcelona teammates Deco and Gio Van Bronkhurst both sitting on the sidelines gesturing to each other about the poor display by the ref after receiving their red cards.


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Current Australia assistant coach Mark Van Bommel, Gio Van Bronkhurst and Deco all cooling the heels after being sent off in ‘The Battle of Nuremberg’.


In 2010 Johnny Heitenga was sent off in the final when at a pivotal time. His Dutch side would go down to Spain in extra time.  Even our petrol peddling veteran Tim Cahill has copped it. He was sent off early in the game against Germany in Durban for going through Bastien Schweinsteiger like a dose of salts while Harry Kewell went in the next game against Ghana for thinking he was a goalkeeper.


Most of these 169 cards came in the first round. Players can afford to be a bit more generous with their hacking in these games. Then it all gets a bit critical, a bit cagey as it gets to the pointy end of the tournament. No doubt we’ll see more in Russia.


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About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Glory Guerrillas Producer and Co-Host. Contributer to Football Nation Radio and Football West. Worships at the feet of the mighty Cats, Socceroos, Matildas, West Perth, Glory and Glasgow's Green and White most of the time.

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