Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Tearful Ronaldo bids emotional farewell as he hangs up boots

“The time is up, but it was nice dammit.”

As a valediction it will not be recorded as one of history's great farewells, yet the man who delivered it deserves to be ushered into any modern footballing hall of fame.

In the two years since he went back to Brazil, Ronaldo's career has dwindled towards yesterday's inevitable decision but it is for two World Cup wins and a record number of finals goals scored through a unique combination of rampaging, bullish running blended with the skills characteristic of his countrymen for which he should be remembered — a player once described by Bobby Robson as “a god.”

Recent memories conjure images of an overweight, ponderous and frequently peripheral figure as matches hurried by him.

It earned Ronaldo the opprobrium of the Corinthian support, the Sao Paulo club where the boy from Rio had chosen to return home to on New Year's Day 2009.

Such were the level of threats and abuse, and their escalation in the wake of the club's exit from the Libertadores Cup that the 35-year-old has abandoned his plan to play until the end of the year.

“I can't take it any more,” said Ronaldo.

“I wanted to carry on, but I can’t. My body aches. The head wants to continue, but the body can't take much more.”

Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima has often divided opinion, at much at home as abroad and none more so than in the build-up to the 1998 World Cup final.

Then the game's brightest star, he suffered some sort of fit on the morning of the game in front of his room-mate Robert Carlos but still played that night only to have no impact on a game Brazil lost easily to the hosts, France.

What happened, and why he still played, has never been satisfactorily explained even after a congressional inquiry back in Brazil.

Four years later it all came right for both player and country; Ronaldo won the Golden Boot and Brazil a record fifth World Cup.

Another World Cup winners medal followed four years, but by then he was already restricted by the knee problems that were to dog much of his rather illustrious career.

He had long spells out of the game and his weight ballooned.

There were other, off-field, distractions too that saw his career dispersed into a series of cameos — a hat-trick at Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2003 the perfect illustration of what he could still do given a prevailing wind.

He departed Old Trafford that night to a standing ovation having single-handedly taken Real through the tie, but perhaps the first Englishmen to truly appreciate his talents was Robson, who signed him for Barcelona.

It was as a slim 17-year-old that Ronaldo first came to European attention after he followed in Romario's footsteps — on his compatriot's advice — and acclimatised to a new continent in the Netherlands, scoring nearly a goal a game for PSV Eindhoven.

Robson returned to his former club to bring the Brazilian to Catalonia. “He was the best player I ever worked with,” said Robson in 2007.

There was a tear or two yesterday as he said farewell.

“My career was beautiful, was wonderful,” he said.

“I've had many defeats but infinite victories.”

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