Twice when perennial world champions Brazil came to South Africa to play Bafana
Bafana and Ronaldo was at the peak of his illustrious career, the player
acclaimed as "The Phenomenon" was too big a catch to be lured here for what were
Now, however, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, to give the full name of the
three-times "World footballer of the Year", is intent on coming to South Africa
to play in the 2010 World Cup - and miraculously bringing about for a second
time what the Oxford Dictionary terms "an extraordinary event that is not
explainable by nature or scientific laws."
In 2000, while playing for Inter Milan, the now 32 year-old Ronaldo ruptured the
rotula tendon in his right knee and it was widely feared he would never play
But "The Phenomenon" defied all medical opinion by not only returning to the
game, but emerging the top scorer at the 2002 World Cup - he is the World Cup's
all-time top scorer with 15 goals - and regaining the prized title for Brazil
for what was a record fifth time.
Now, after cruelly suffering a complete rupturing of the rotula tendon again -
this time in his left leg - while playing for AC Milan in a Serie A game in
February earlier this year and being confronted once more with the stark
diagnosis he might never play serious soccer again, Ronaldo is seeking a second
miracle by regaining his place as striker-in-chief in the Brazilian line-up and
competing in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
If it is achieved - and the odds this time are stacked more heavily against him
because of his age than when he previously found himself in a similar dilemma -
it will be the fifth occasion Ronaldo has been selected for the World Cup Finals,
with the opportunity, of course, of furthering the scoring record he holds for
His achievements have already placed him on a pedestal alongside the likes of
other sporting greats like fellow-Brazilians soccer players Pele and Romario,
golf's Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, tennis's Pete Sampras and Roger Federer,
cricket's Donald Bradman and Olympian Michael Phelps.
But miracles don't happen every day and apart from Ronaldo's two major knee
mishaps, his career has since 2000 been plagued by injuries that have curtailed,
if not halted his dynamic achievements.
Recent Bafana Bafana coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who was at the helm of
Brazil when they won the World Cup in 1994 and called up the 17 year-old Ronaldo
for future experience, says the player's talents are so awesome that if there is
no breakdown to his recuperation - he has not played since February, but plans a
comeback in a benefit game next month - "The Phenomenon" could fulfil his final
objective of playing in South Africa in 2010.
"If Ronaldo puts his mind to it and he is not hampered by injury problems," says
Parreira, "he can do it and make a major impact at the World Cup."
Injuries aside, Ronaldo remains an incredibly prolific striker, boasting 278
goals from the 422 games he played for Cruzeiro, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter
Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan - in addition to the spate of goals he has
recorded at international level.
Could it be third time lucky for South African soccer fans to see Ronaldo in
action this time?
Don't count on it. The player's agent, for one, says Ronaldo will be taking "one
step at a time."
The benefit game between a Ronaldo Eleven and a Zidane Eleven in Morocco on
November 17 marks the first tentative step. Initially, it was felt he might be
out of soccer for a year and playing again after nine months is a sign of some
sort of progress.
His career, like many of the all-time sporting greats, has been highlighted by
controversies - and who can forget the eerie 1998 World Cup Final at the Stade
de Paris when Brazil were outright favourites to beat France before Ronaldo was
struck down hours before the kick-off by what remains an unexplained illness.
Initially withdrawn from this pinnacle clash 30 minutes before kick-off, Ronaldo
ultimately made an appearance while only a shadow of his true self as a
demoralised Brazil team slumped to a shock 3-0 defeat.
But the great have to pay a price when it comes to publicity - and, as a
footballer, no one can doubt Ronaldo's greatness.
"Certainly his presence would further enhance the 2010 World Cup," says Local
Organising Committee CEO Danny Jordaan, "and we will view his progress towards
another comeback with more than passing interest." - Sapa