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Steve McManaman on retired Brazilian legend Ronaldo

Ronaldo celebrates a goal at Old Trafford with Steve McManaman
Steve McManaman (right) played with friend Ronaldo for a season at Real Madrid

Brazilian legend Ronaldo recently retired after a glittering career in which he helped Brazil win two World Cups while being named Fifa World Player of the Year three times. Former Real Madrid team-mate Steve McManaman tells BBC World Service's World Football programme what the often-controversial striker was really like.

If people are idiots off the field, even if they are your team-mates, you'll always be pretty nonplussed by them.

But Ronaldo was brilliant as a person. Like Zinedine Zidane and Fernando Hierro before him, they were just great people off the pitch.

Ronaldo is well known for his bubbly lifestyle, and a lot of Brazilians were like that - certainly those who came over to play in Spain. They enjoyed life to the full, I think, because a lot of them were very poor when they were growing up. But when they had this [new-found] wealth they spread it around with everybody.

There's one thing I always remember about Ronaldo.

He could go in a restaurant, and I could go in with him, and you're not just there with close friends. He invites everybody. You'd be at a table with him and it'd be a judge sitting opposite talking to a politician with someone off the street listening in.

So he just had this amazing aura, where everyone wanted to join him. Sometimes there'd be 20 to 30 people sitting at meal times with him. He was a good friend of mine and a wonderful person. Everybody would second that, no matter what club he played for.

He was a fantastic centre forward and probably underrated in England because we never really saw him first hand

Steve McManaman

Everybody was invited to whatever they [Ronaldo and his family and friends] were doing, people were invited back to their houses. I went back to his house on numerous occasions and there'd be people littered all around his house - even though he wasn't in!

Ultimately, though, he was a wonderfully gifted footballer. Nobody can question that.

Having him up front certainly made my job as a midfielder a lot easier. His pace was brilliant at Real Madrid, so you can only imagine what it was like at Barcelona and Inter Milan before he suffered his serious knee injuries.

You would give him the ball and he wasn't a typical centre forward. He wouldn't just lay it off and move into position. No, he could beat two or three men himself, do the stepovers and go past people.

He'd create goals and chances for himself.

He was a fantastic centre forward and probably underrated in England because we never really saw him [on a regular basis] first hand because he plied his trade all across Europe. It's a pity that English people [perhaps] don't fully appreciate him because he will go down as one of the greats.

His hat-trick at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the Champions League in 2002 was well appreciated, though.

We were very confident going into the game because we'd had a good result [3-1 win] in the first leg and, of all our wonderful players, it was Ronaldo's turn to explode. The players from abroad adored coming to England to play football because they always knew the fans were fantastic. Incredibly vociferous when you're on the other side - but they would also give you a standing ovation if you played very well and they enjoyed what they saw. That's what happened that night.

Ronaldo not winning the Champions League is a strange one.

There's always something that eludes the greats, something that they are tainted with. Real should have at least given him a final. But the fact he won the Fifa World Player of the Year award three times shows how highly appreciated he was by his fellow professionals.

The latter stages of his career, when he went to AC Milan and he started to put a lot of weight on, were difficult. He just seemed to balloon and couldn't keep it under control.

Ronaldo scores for Brazil

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

When people look at sportspersons and see them heavily overweight they just think 'they're not professional' or that they enjoy themselves too much, or that they are eating or drinking too much. But that's not necessarily the case. In the last five years I've lost touch, so I don't know how serious his thyroid problem is.

One of our former team-mates, Albert Celades, said to me that when Ronaldo was at Barcelona in 1996-1997 - where he scored 47 goals in 49 games - he was the most incredible football player you have ever seen.

And that he could have been the best ever had he not suffered so badly with injuries.

Celades played with him, and said he would just pick a ball up in training, beat 10 men and score. They could not get the ball off him. When players like him, and someone like Paul Gascoigne to a certain extent, get a lot of injuries they just lose that yard of fitness and pace. And it does affect them.

But that's not the bigger picture. His goals record at World Cups is amazing and his scoring rate at each and every club was exceptional. Compared to say Jurgen Klinsmann, Thierry Henry, or even Marco Van Basten, I'd put him way, way above all of them.

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see also
Ronaldo's troubled farewell
14 Feb 11 |  Football
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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