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Ronaldo's troubled farewell

Daniel Gallas
BBC Brazil

Will Ronaldo be remembered for his heroics at the 2002 World Cup?

Ronaldo Nazário, one of Brazil's most famous and successful footballers of all times, has announced formally that he is retiring from the sport after 18 years of a career marked by spectacular highs and dramatic lows.

"O Fênomeno", as he is known, is a player of superlatives. He is the highest goal scorer in the history of the World Cup - 15 in total, one more than German player Gerd Müller - and one of only two players to win the Fifa Player of the Year award three times, the other being France's Zinedine Zidane.

To many Brazilians, Ronaldo belongs to a selected pantheon of greats. While he would hardly be compared to Pelé in his home country, the 34-year-old star is still high in the list of Brazilian football geniuses, alongside Romário and Zico.

His prolific scoring history and long list of honours are in stark contrast to the bitter and humiliating tone in which his career is now drawing to an end.

His two-year spell with Brazilian club Corinthians, which started with fanfare and victory in 2009, ended in a bitter and violent row with fans and journalists that culminated in Monday's announcement.

2011 was meant to be a crowning year in Ronaldo's career. His target was to help Corinthians win the Libertadores Cup, the South American equivalent of the Champions League.

Corinthians, based in Sao Paulo, are one of Brazil's most popular clubs, with a fanatical following of over 25 million supporters. Despite the club's rich history of titles, Corinthians had never won the Libertadores.

But such high expectations soon developed into bitter rows and violence.

Earlier this month, Corinthians were eliminated by little-known Colombian club Deportes Tolima in a qualifying match for Libertadores. The 2-0 defeat was a first for any Brazilian club. Never had a team dropped out in such an early stage of the competition.

Ronaldo scores for Brazil

2002 - Brazil win fifth title (available to UK users only)

Ronaldo was considered by many fans as the main culprit and suffered the worst backlash of all. In the following day, the Corinthians training ground in Sao Paulo was covered in graffiti taunting him as "O Gordo" ("The Fat One"), a reference to his weight.

A day later, 300 fans gathered outside the training ground and threw stones on the buses that were carrying Ronaldo and his team-mates.

Ronaldo took to Twitter to defend himself. He admitted his role in Corinthians' defeat, but condemned the violence. He said he had even considered retiring from football, but would not give in to "vandals and critics".

Ronaldo also responded to criticism from Neto, one of Corinthians' most popular former footballers. Currently a pundit in Brazilian TV, Neto accused Ronaldo of being a "mercenary" who was playing only for money.

Neto replied by referring on national TV to a scandal in April 2008, when Ronaldo picked up three transvestite prostitutes, who later allegedly tried to extort money from him.

Last Friday, the pressure on Corinthians' players made another victim. 2002 World Cup champion Roberto Carlos announced he was transferring to a club in Russia, citing, among other reasons, some threats his family was receiving from fans in Brazil.

On Monday, Ronaldo confirmed he would be retiring from football. He said his main reason was that his body could no longer cope with the pain from injuries, even though only a few days earlier he had said on his Twitter account that he was back in shape and ready to play again.

Only two years ago, when Ronaldo transferred to Corinthians from AC Milan, he described his involvement with the club as a love-affair.

The deal was described in Brazil as one the landmarks in the recent history of football transfers, although many critics dismissed it as unimportant - claiming that it was just a fading star looking for a dignified way to retire.

Ronaldo scored nine goals in 20 games during his spell with AC Milan in 2007/8

In 2009, he scored some key goals that led Corinthians to win two titles in the first semester of the Brazilian calendar: the Sao Paulo State championship and the Copa do Brasil, Brazil's second most important trophy.

However, later that year, during the national championship, he was injured and remained sidelined for the rest of the season.

2010 was another year of great expectations, with Corinthians aiming to win the Libertadores, but Ronaldo and his team-mates failed to beat Flamengo early in the knock-out stage.

Fans grew impatient with Ronaldo's performances during the rest of the season. Corinthians still managed to come third in the National Championship, but the star had a minor role in the campaign.

His retirement does not come as a surprise to many, having struggled for months with injuries, pain and weight problems. Still, he had a reputation of being a comeback kid.

Some pundits thought his career was over after his spectacular knee-snapping injury in 1999. Ronaldo came back in great fashion, winning the World Cup in 2002 and the Spanish La Liga twice after that, with Real Madrid.

To most Brazilian fans, the bitter circumstances of Ronaldo's farewell to football might be just a footnote of his fantastic legacy and controversial career.

Some will prefer to remember the two goals he scored against Germany in the 2002 World Cup final. Others will be tempted to dwell on the mystery surrounding the 1998 final against France, when Ronaldo initially was not on the teamsheet, before finally taking his place in the starting 11 as Brazil were defeated 3-0.

But hardly anyone will ever forget him.

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see also
Brazil legend Ronaldo ends career
14 Feb 11 |  Football
2002 - Brazil win fifth title
02 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Brazil's Ronaldo to quit in 2011
22 Feb 10 |  Football
Ronaldo's career in photos
14 Feb 08 |  Football
The great World Cup final mystery
02 Apr 02 |  History

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