Try and name a better one-season impact than ‘Il Fenomeno’ at Barca … don’t worry, I’ll wait!
Before some lad from Madeira named ‘Cristiano’ came along to completely alter the brand behind and public reception to the ‘Ronaldo’ name, there was a man by the name of Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima who was working hard to set it up.
Otherwise known as ‘The Brazilian Ronaldo’ – or ‘the Fat one’ by some of you mean people out there – this samba-style forward easily goes down as one of the most naturally gifted finishers of all time.
Not only was he adept at slotting the ball home from whatever angle the chance presented itself, but he was capable of forging a chance out of absolutely nothing! Honestly, the man’s dribbling prowess, ability to improvise and run with the ball at pace towards the defence was astronomical among his peers. And in my opinion, I think nobody comes close to a prime Ronaldo in the categories that I’ve just mentioned.
I love the guy … and you should too, darn it!
But in order to gain such a reputation, Ronaldo had to let his football do the talking, and right up until 1996, he was mainly just a question of promise rather than fact – with much of his preceding career highlights coming at the likes of Cruzeiro in Brazil and PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch Eredivisie.
The latter of which involved following in another one of the club’s greatest Brazilians in Romario, btw!
Having said that, and with the greatest of respects for these clubs, don’t pertain to the level of competitiveness required to be taken seriously at a global level. But this was all about to change once he put atop of FC Barcelona’s wish-list by the start of the new season.
As we’ve discussed in a previous article surrounding Alan Shearer’s failed move to Manchester United, it was actually the Geordie lad who seemed to have his career set in Catalonia – namely down to the fact that the Blaugrana giants were being managed by Sir Bobby Robson during this time.
However, once his advances were batted away by then-Blackburn owner Jack Walker, Robson happened upon Ronaldo; who was starting to show glimpses of his innate physical and technical quality with PSV.
As such, the promise of his ability matched with the presumed financial ability of FC Barcelona (as well as the time remaining on his Dutch contract), contributed to a record-breaking asking price of $19.5 million. A relative pittance by the hyper-inflated standards, but an amount that was enough to bring Robson’s entire reign into question. Given the state of affairs of the club at boardroom level, Ronaldo really had to do the business if Robson was going to be considered a success.
He needn’t have worried …
Best documented in the manager’s own dedicated documentary ‘More than a Manager’ , much of Barcelona’s success that season centred around the prolific nature of their front-man. Around him, he also had the likes of Luis Figo, Hristo Stoichkov (such an underrated player, by the way) and Gheorghe Popescu to ensure that his abilities were respected to the fullest. And in doing so, we were all able to truly appreciate the brilliance that is Ronaldo.
” In that very first season in Barcelona for Ronaldo, I have never seen the same as somebody like, I never see the same.”Jose Mourinho
on Ronaldo in 1996
Compared to a God for his resemblant celebration to the Christ the Redeemer statue back home in Rio de Janeiro – where he would run towards the home crowd with his arms outstretched either side of him – it was perhaps more the fact that we were able to see him perform that ritual so often, that it pertains to his God-like status in Barcelona.
Throughout that one-and-only season in Catalonia, Ronaldo scored 47 goals in 49 appearances across all competitions, and it’s no wonder that he received the year’s Ballon D’Or Award for his efforts!