Buidling Dreams Together


Ronaldo at Barcelona: The birth of O Fenômeno

Ronaldo Nazário is without a doubt one of the greatest footballers to ever live.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, I found myself watching every goal scored by Ronaldo and I became obsessed with his career and what could’ve been if he hadn’t ruptured his patella a whopping four times.

Anyone who’s seen the video of Ronaldo attempting one of his trademark runs against Lazio in April 2000 knows how heartbreaking his career was.

It is hard to put into words just how good he was and I can only suggest people watch videos of the goals he scored.

Ronaldo made football look like art with his mixture of sheer power and blistering pace and incredible dribbling.

Nobody played the game the way he did and nobody will (because it turns out your knees physically can’t do it).

In a time before Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the original Ronaldo was putting up ridiculous numbers in such a unique style.

I want to focus on his singular season at Barcelona in 1996/97 where he was managed by England great Sir Bobby Robson.

Robson told the president he wanted to sign Alan Shearer from Blackburn Rovers, but the club responded by saying Shearer was priceless. With that information, Robson used his Dutch contacts to sign Ronaldo instead. Funnily enough, Shearer left Blackburn for Newcastle United two weeks after Ronaldo signed for Barcelona.

Still only 19 years old, he signed for Barca for a then-world-record fee of £13.2 million, after spending two seasons at PSV Eindhoven; scoring 54 goals in 57 games – incredible numbers for someone who left their home country for the Netherlands at just 17.

He made his full competitive debut in the Spanish Super Cup against Atlético Madrid on August 25th, 1996 in what is – in my opinion – one of the nicest football shirts of all time and definitely the best Blaugrana shirt ever.

It took the striker just six minutes to get his first goal of the season, as he picked up the ball about 30 yards from goal and drove towards the Atleti defence, bypassing a challenge before drilling the ball into the bottom left corner. He scored again in this game to make it 5-2 for Barcelona, adding the fifth with a finish into an open goal after Giovanni’s mazy run.

Ronaldo offered a solution to Barcelona’s turbulent off-field political war and went on to score 47 times in 51 games across all competitions, setting a record that would only be broken by Lionel Messi in 2011/12.

The Brazilian’s rate of scoring at 20 years old was better than that of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo at the same age, which is just one of the many reasons why it is firmly believed that if his career was injury-free, he would be considered the best ever.

One of the best goals – if not the best goal of O Fenômeno’s career – came on October 12th, 1996 in a league match against SD Compostela.

Ronaldo won the ball back just inside his own half and began driving towards the Compostela goal with one Compostela player taking a fistful of the striker’s shirt, but the Brazilian was unfazed.

He bypassed another midfielder with a little drag back and then carried the ball at an alarmingly quick rate. Once inside the box, it was like the ball was stuck to his feet and he cleverly squeezed himself and the ball through two defenders before slotting it into the bottom left corner leaving Bobby Robson stunned on the sidelines.

While the season was incredible for Ronaldo individually, it was a disappointing one for Barcelona. Although, that was not necessarily down to the team or manager, as it was such a turbulent time off the pitch for Barca and it almost seemed like an impossible task for Robson.

Johan Cruyff – the man Bobby Robson succeeded – was idolised by the city of Barcelona and was still attending games. Cruyff’s departure was due to an enormous rift between himself and the president at the time – Josep Núñez. Núñez was jealous of the power Cruyff had and fired him at the end of the 1995/96 season.

The Dutchman essentially shaped Barcelona’s DNA so it was no easy task for Bobby Robson, especially when he was expected to win the La Liga title – something Barcelona had not done for two years. As well as this, rivals Real Madrid had a very impressive transfer window, signing Roberto Carlos, Davor Šuker and Clarence Seedorf.

They didn’t win the league in Ronaldo’s only season, but they did win the Copa Del Rey and the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, with the striker scoring the winning goal in the final against Paris Saint-Germain.

At the end of the season, Robson was sacked and replaced with Cruyff’s biggest rival, Louis Van Gaal. Robson’s departure is another long and complicated story, so we’ll save that for another day.

Initially, the striker had signed an eight-year deal but he ended up leaving after just one season for yet another world record fee, this time to Inter Milan for a fee of £19.5 million in a complicated transfer.

Allegedly, Ronaldo wanted to stay at Barcelona, but pressure from his agents meant he was almost forced into the Inter move. Barcelona wouldn’t let the striker go without a fight and sent a complaint to FIFA regarding the way Inter had conducted their business.

Eventually, the move was completed and the rest is history. He had an incredible career considering the severity of his injuries.

I could talk/write about Ronaldo for hours but I only wanted to focus on his singular season at Barcelona, a season which ended in him winning the first of two Ballón d’Or awards. If you can, I recommend you watch every goal Ronaldo scored in this one season. He was genuinely a phenomenal player.

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