The problem with being
Ronaldo is finding time for a life, for tranquillity, for something
remotely like privacy.
At 28, he has been living a surreal and phenomenal existence since his
17th birthday and the birth that year of his international career for
Brazil. The world moved into his life from that moment on, and when he
scores or he sneezes, when he is on top of his game or struggling to be
better than all the rest, the soap opera of world acclaim invades his
On Monday, Luiz Nazario de Lima Ronaldo was dropped from the Brazil
squad that will face Paraguay in World Cup qualification this weekend,
and Argentina on June 8.
He had asked for a holiday, and asked to be released from the
Confederations Cup in Germany from June 15-29. He is sound in body, but
disturbed in his soul following the breakup with his latest fiancee,
Daniella Cicarelli. The romance was world news; the breakup no less so.
Just three months ago, what Ronaldo and Cicarelli called their "wedding"
at a castle in Chantilly, near Paris, was attended by the glitterati of
soccer, show biz and Cicarelli's exotic world of modeling and television.
It was a Valentine's Day declaration of betrothal. Only the fact that
their respective divorces had not been made final in the eyes of the
Roman Catholic Church and the lack of a French license prevented it from
being a wedding.
We can usually tell from Ronaldo's form when his life is tranquil. He
plays, perhaps as one of the greatest-ever goalscorers should, with the
face of a child. He believes the ball is there to be put into the net,
and he does it well.
Only Pele, with 77 goals in official internationals, has scored more for
Brazil than Ronaldo, who so far has 56. Ronaldo had lost two years to a
knee injury that would have ended the career of a less determined, less
boyishly optimistic character. He came back to score eight times at the
2002 World Cup - more than anyone else in the finals for more than a
quarter of a century.
The two goals he scored against Germany to win the final entitle him to
think that, even in Brazil where fabulous strikers emerge on a regular
basis, he has a World Cup future.
He does. Carlos Alberto Parreira, the Brazil coach, sees Ronaldo,
Ronaldinho and Kaká as his three most precious talents. Yet he had no
choice but to play it tough - or at least not to be seen by the
pervasive Brazil media to make exception for Ronaldo.
"Nobody is irreplaceable," Parreira said. "They're quite welcome to stay
at home if they don't want to play. In fact, it's better if they stay
away, because otherwise they'll just get in the way of the others."
Adriano, the powerful Inter Milan striker, will play. Grafite of São
Paulo has been summoned to the squad for the games against Paraguay and
Argentina. Julio César of Sevilla will be there at the Confederations
Cup once he has played in the Spanish Cup Final.
So Ronaldo, who said on Monday that he was prepared and ready to play in
the two World Cup qualifiers but needed a rest and "a chance to forget
about the things I've been through," has effectively been told that he
cannot pick and choose his availability for national team duty.
"It would be great just to play the World Cup," Parreira said when he
returned to Rio de Janeiro from watching three Brazilians in the
Champions League final last week. "It would be great for me if I could
just coach the team at World Cups and not have to worry about qualifiers
and the friendlies where there is a lot of wear and tear."
What was said between the coach and the player over the telephone will
have been slightly different. Parreira is a kind of surrogate father to
all the Ronaldos at his beck and call, and there is never an easy time
to separate the individual needs and the collective purpose.
Parreira is waiting for Mario Zagallo, the coach who first included
Ronaldo in a Brazil squad, to rejoin his staff after abdominal surgery.
Zagallo, 74, has been involved in four of Brazil's five World Cup
"He's making an unbelievable recovery," Parreira said. "Knowing Zagallo,
he will be with us in Argentina."
Yet, even before Ronaldo asked for permission to skip the Confederations
Cup - which is an eight-nation rehearsal for next year's World Cup in
Germany - the coach knew he faced a defining moment when his players
gathered at Teresopolis, the mountain retreat where they train high
"You have seen how Ronaldinho has risen in the world," Parreira said in
Istanbul a week ago. "He is now the world No. 1 player. I cannot tell
Ronaldinho anything about football.
"When we get together, this will be the first time that Ronaldo is less
high in esteem than Ronaldinho. I have spent three days in Barcelona
with Ronaldinho. He's so special there, he's king."
The ultimate test of man-management, assimilating both Ronnies and not
allowing Ronaldo to sense that he is any the less special, is postponed.
Time moves on, Adriano is growing, others might burst onto the team as
irrepressibly as Ronaldo did in his teens.
The media crawl over every movement in and around the Brazil squad. And
Daniella Cicarelli, not the first and possibly not the last model in
Ronaldo's life, has returned to her own pre-Ronaldo fame with the MTV
channel in Rio.
Wind back the clock exactly one year. Brazil beat Argentina, 3-1, in
World Cup qualification at Belo Horizonte. The home country hero was
Ronaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldo.
He scored all three goals, all from penalties because the Argentine
defenders could not cope with his pace, his persistence, his sheer
desire. We have not seen the last of it.