For the first time in his career this
Wednesday, Brazil striker Ronaldo spoke about retiring from
international football after the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
"It will be my fourth World Cup and I need to step aside and give other
players a chance," declared the 28-year-old Real Madrid ace during his
team's trip to Los Angeles, where he also outlined his ambition to win
his third FIFA World Cup following triumphs in 1994 and 2002.
But even if natural superstition led him to avoid the subject, there is
another target for Ronaldo to try and reach before bowing out of the
international arena: to become the highest scorer in the history of the
FIFA World Cup.
Some records seem to be frozen in time, for all intents and purposes
unbeatable. That is certainly true of Frenchman Just Fontaine's
incredible 13 strikes at the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden, and surely
no one will ever better Pele's feat of scoring in four separate FIFA
World Cups (six goals in 1958, one in 1962, one in 1966 and four in
However, with 12 goals in 14 finals appearances so far (four in 1998 and
eight in 2002), Ronaldo needs to hit the back of the net just three more
times in Germany to streak ahead of the competition in the overall
scoring charts. And he could also become only the second player after
Pele to lift the much-coveted trophy on three occasions.
For the time being, though, the goalscorers' holy grail is held by Der
Bomber, Germany's Gerd Muller, whose total of 14 strikes (ten in 1970
and four in 1974) puts him clear of Just Fontaine (13 in 1958) and Pele
and Ronaldo on 12 apiece.
1998-2002: the wilderness years
Beyond the raw statistics, one can only salute the talent and courage of
a player who has had more than his fair share of injury problems over
the years, and who has always found the mental and physical resources to
A world champion at 17 in 1994, when he did not play a game, the
exciting young prodigy of Brazilian football soon had the whole of
Europe at his feet. He netted 42 goals in two seasons with PSV Eindhoven
and added a further 34 in one campaign with Barcelona to earn himself
FIFA World Player of the Year titles in 1996 and 1997.
Nobody realised it then, but the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France marked
the start of a whole series of problems that threatened to curtail his
career. First of all was the illness he suffered on the morning of the
final against France, which, for all his brave determination to play on,
clearly lessened his impact and destabilised the entire team. Then he
was struck down with two serious knee injuries requiring major surgery -
the first on 21 November 1999 (a ruptured rotular tendon in his right
knee) and the second on 12 April 2000 (same knee, similar problem),
which eventually kept him on the sidelines for 17 months.
'The greatest goal of my career'
As a result, he had played just over 20 matches in two years on the eve
of the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, but he was thrilled to be
able to take part. "I'm not going to go on about the years of suffering
I've been through. I just kept working and working so that I could play
again. In fact, you really can't imagine how hard I've worked, so to
have made it back is by a long the way the greatest goal I've scored in
my entire career," a reborn Ronaldo explained at the time. By the time
the tournament was over, the Brazilian had grabbed eight goals,
including two in the final against Germany, and he walked away with the
Golden Boot as top scorer.
"I worked for two and a half years to be there," he added on the night
of the final. "Every time I walk on to a pitch and every time I score is
a victory in itself. In that sense, even if I hadn't been world champion
I would have been happy. But having won the World Cup is one of the most
wonderful things that has ever happened to me."
And the longer it went on, the more 2002 became a dramatic turning point
for the reinvigorated star. His FIFA World Cup triumph aside, he sealed
a dream transfer to Real Madrid, picked up the Toyota Cup and was once
again crowned FIFA World Player of the Year. "You could say it was an
incredible year," he enthused. "Someone could make a Hollywood film
If his gamble pays off and he hits at least three goals in Germany on
his way to a third global crown, Ronaldo will write a new chapter in the
history of the game and leave the stage with his legendary status
assured. And all that before his 30th birthday.