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Quazi Zulquarnain Islam

Mention the name of Ronaldo and every football youth in the country will probably instantly draw up a vision of an image-conscious Portuguese, with flash looks and even flashier skills decked out in the red of a famous Mancunian team.

Or they might even think of a logic-bending dipping free-kick that left Portsmouth 'keeper David 'Calamity” James wondering what he had done wrong.

It would be then and only then that they would perhaps think of the other Ronaldo the dour, ponderous, injury-prone Brazilian currently plying his trade in the fashion capital of Milan in the immortal Rossoneri (Red and Black) colours of AC Milan.

But for me that Brazilian has always been the real Ronaldo.
The true greatness of Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima can be encapsulated in one particular incident.

The year was 1996, the date was October 12th, the location was the aptly named Santiago de Compostela, which loosely translates to English as the 'field of stars'.

The buck-toothed Ronaldo, leaner, meaner and fitter than we know him now, was in the colours of the Catalans of Barcelona.

Picking up the ball near the half-way line the Brazilian suddenly decided he wanted to do a Maradona (aka 1986 v England). He started accelerating whereupon he found himself tripped from behind and tugged by a Compostela defender.

Keeping his feet and shaking himself free with all the vigour of a caught eel, Ronaldo proceeded to accelerate past his man before making any skier jealous with an unbelievable slalom past four defenders. He was so quick that by the time he reached the edge of the box, he had left the ball behind him.

Game over you think? Not a chance.

Showing a resilience that would mark his later career, Ronaldo recovered the lost cause, wheeling around and blasting the ball past the keeper in unfathomable fashion. And all done in less time than it took you to read it. 12 seconds, 55 yards and a goal that was as immortal as time itself. In the field of the stars, the sun had arrived. But bigger still was the highlight of the manifold double takes by Spanish TV of the fallout from that incident. It was the image of then Barca manager, Sir Bobby Robson all English gentlemanly manners forgotten ejecting himself from his seat and doing his best Rodregio Tardelli (he of the Italia 90 fame) impression eyes wide with disbelief, mouth an O of utter shock muttering 'oh my God' to the unseen cameras.

The scene was nothing if not divine. Robson, the raucous Compostela faithful, the entire Barca team and anyone lucky enough to watch knew then and there Ronaldo was something special. On Wednesday the 13th of February, 2008 in a match against Serie A upstarts Livorno, the 31 year old Ronaldo came on as a second half substitute and going up to head a ball landed badly on his left knee rupturing the knee tendons and severing his knee-cap. It is an injury that will rule him out for nine months at least and being the third in a long line of long layoffs might spell the end of what has been an unfulfilled career.

Yes, unfulfilled despite lifting the World Cup in the warm summer rain of Yokohama in 2002. Unfulfilled despite being the highest goalscorer in World Cup history in 2006 in Germany. Unfulfilled in spite of the La Liga, UEFA Cup and Serie A titles. And unfulfilled not because of the Champions League missing from his trophy cabinet.

Unfulfilled because for a man who pushed the levels of extremity beyond the borders of mere mortals, Ronaldo will be remembered forever more as a great but not the great. He will be second to the Pele's, the Maradona's the Beckenbauer's and even the Zidane's of this world. And for the man who drove us and Sir Bobby Robson to the edge of reason and then over, in that night in Compostela it is indeed an unjust reward.

(Fancy Ronaldo has a chance of making a comeback? Mail your views in to zulquarnain.islam@gmail.com)


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