Let’s doff our hats to the ‘Phenomenon’

2011-02-16 00:00

SOME good news would be nice, I think. It’s been a grim week, this past one. Funerals, bad health and plain bad luck have combined to make it a rather trying last seven days.

And just when I thought the new week would bring with it some better weather, one of the world’s great players decided to call it quits.

On Monday, Luiz Nazario de Lima (Ronaldo to the less-cultured) gave a tearful farewell to the game that gave him the platform on which to thrill us for over a decade.

The goofy-toothed assassin will go down in history as one of the finest to ever lace up them silver Nike boots — and certainly one of the very best at locating the back of the net.

The original Ronaldo was something else at the peak of his powers, with a deadly combination of pace, power and precision. In the late nineties he was on another level, and he continued this into the new millenium.

When he failed, which was rare, people could scarcely believe it, as witnessed during the mysterious 1998 World Cup final against France. Ronaldo’s no show — after another dominant display in the lead-up — almost made bigger headlines than Zinedine Zidane’s brace of headers.

“The Phenomenon” was so good that even Chuck Norris probably had his poster on his wall.

You know what I mean.

My best “Ronny’’ moment was in 2003, just after I had arrived in Manchester. All the press leading up to the Champions League visit of Real Madrid had been about David Beckham’s pending departure from Old Trafford. An hour into the game, the Real Madrid number nine was all that anyone could talk about.

I was a kitchen porter at a country pub in Cheshire then, and I spent that hour pretending to be doing my chores whilst sneaking views of Ronaldo wreaking havoc on a startled audience. He was mesmeric, and the ovation that he got on 67 minutes when he departed — I remember that much — was the sort normally reserved for a home player.

It took some explaining to a puzzled pub manager how a porter who had hardly seen the game could be moved to join in the ovation, but I somehow managed to do my version of a Ron step-over past those tricky questions.

Ronaldo, at his best, was worth getting fired for.

The game has changed now, with players performing hybrid roles, shifting between midfield and attack when the match dictates that it is necessary. The new Ronaldo, for example, started out as a winger, but now plays a sort of roaming role for Madrid.

Not the orginal Ron. He was a pure and simple centre forward. And he did it on the biggest stage, for the biggest clubs — and also for the ultimate footballing nation.

I’ve never really liked Brazil too much, because for years they seemed to be God’s Playstation XI. They seemed to win World Cups for fun, and I decided to rather back the underdog; Italy in 1994, Holland in 1998, Senegal in 2002, … you get the point.

And each time, Ronaldo and crew went further than my chosen side.

It hurt, but surely not as much as it did for the poor defenders tasked with trying to stop, amongst many great combinations, the ‘’triple R’’ threat of 2002.

Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho.

Imagine the nightmares.

And before that, it was double R. Ronaldo and Romario. You can say what you want, but back then football was simply about the beauty of the game. It was long before diving, swearing, and getting carded for over-celebrating came to the fore.

The simple days, when a step-over — not a stumble over — was the topic of conversation on a Monday morning amongst wide-eyed followers.

That is not to say that there are no superstars today.

The other Ronaldo and Messi continue to light up La Liga on a weekly basis, while the wundergoal scored by Wayne Rooney against City on the weekend is one of the best seen at Old Trafford in decades.

So yes, the talent in modern football still persists.

But much of the beauty has been replaced by cynical opportunists who will do anything to get ahead.

The end of Ronaldo’s career is like a postcard from an idyllic holiday resort, where everything is serene save for the sudden burst from the magic feet of the “Phenomenon”.

So long Ron, and thanks for the goofy-toothed moments of magic.

Disney ain’t got a patch on you.

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