It's Monday afternoon in Madrid
and Ronaldo is making an all-too-familiar drive in his Audi RS 6. It's a trip
he'd rather not be making, but one the Real Madrid striker and Brazilian legend
has been forced to take more times than he'd care to count.
In fact, after missing 10 Spanish-league games and all six of Real Madrid's
Champions League matches this season due to various injuries, Ronaldo has
probably driven into the parking lot of the Ruber International Clinic just as
many times as he has the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
This time Ronaldo finds himself going to get treatment for a torn right calf
muscle, which he suffered in the first half of a scoreless draw against
Villarreal on Jan. 8. The injury is expected to sideline the 29-year-old forward
for three weeks, but for a player whose career has been littered with injuries
and setbacks -- including five major injuries this season alone -- it's simply
another obstacle he knows he will overcome.
"These things happen in football," he said. "If I was a lawyer, this sort of
thing wouldn't occur. What I need now is a change of luck."
I recently caught up with a mending Ronaldo to talk about everything from his
childhood in Rio de Janeiro to his pursuit of the World Cup scoring record this
summer in Germany.
SI.com: Since signing with Real Madrid in 2002, the club has acquired some of
the greatest players in the world but has yet to achieve the type of success
most expect, are you happy with your career so far at the Bernabéu?
Ronaldo: Yes, I am happy. It is very important for me to play in Real Madrid.
It's the best club in the world, but obviously there is always a chance to
improve, to learn as a player, and Real Madrid has given me that opportunity.
SI.com: How difficult is it to play in a "What have you done for me lately"
society among soccer fans, in which you're only as good as your last goal?
Ronaldo: All this sort of pressure is a part of belonging to a big club, such as
Real Madrid, or a big national team, such as Brazil. All the players who play in
Real Madrid are used to dealing with this pressure and we all understand what
the supporters want and expect.
SI.com: Talk about your youth and growing up in Rio de Janeiro -- what were
those days like?
Ronaldo: I am sure that my youth was not so different to other people's youth in
Brazil. I used to play football in the street and had my idols, such as Pelé or
Zico. I remember the days I played hall football and my first days in my poor
quarter of Bento Ribeiro.
SI.com: When did you know that you were not just a good player, but a great
player? Was there a particular moment when you realized you were playing on a
different level than the other kids?
Ronaldo: I don't think one moment like that ever happened. Every day when I was
growing up I worked hard to try and improve myself and become the best player I
could. I never felt that I was better than everyone else.
SI.com: You made your international debut, went to your first World Cup and
signed your first big professional contract with PSV Eindhoven in 1994. How did
that year change your life?
Ronaldo: It was a great year for me, not only because I had the chance to share
a World Cup with my teammates on Brazil's national team, but because I went to
Europe. Indeed, if your aim is to improve in football, it is necessary to go to
Europe because the best players in the world play there. It was a great
opportunity for a young player and I did all I could to take advantage of it. I
think that playing in Eindhoven was very good for my mentality, although most of
what I am as a player today came from my period in Barcelona.
SI.com: You moved to Barcelona for a record $19.5 million transfer in 1996.
What was that time like? Were you shocked at the amount the transfer was for?
Ronaldo: I was very happy in the Netherlands, but when Barcelona appeared in my
life, it was a real chance to improve. I did not concern myself with the amount
of the transfer fee, but obviously everybody talked about it. I got to play
great football after signing with Barça and since then I have always been
playing top-notch football, despite my injuries.
SI.com: You certainly lived up to the hype in your first season at Barça. You
were the talk of the soccer world, scoring goals left and right, some from even
the halfway line. Was there a goal or a play that season that even amazed you?
Ronaldo: I think that the most famous goal I ever scored was the one in Santiago,
against Compostela, when I took the ball in the midfield and ran towards the
goal, dribbling past a lot of players. Even the manager, Bobby Robson, was
astonished with that goal, which was used by Nike for a commercial.
SI.com: One year later, you went to Inter Milan for a record $28 million
transfer. What was that like to leave Barcelona for Milan and why did you decide
Ronaldo: I left Barcelona because the club's directors tried to lie to me during
the conversations to renew my contract. I think that if they were not there,
then perhaps I would still be playing in Barcelona.
SI.com: How did they lie to you?
Ronaldo: I'd rather not get into specifics. It's in the past.
SI.com: How much pressure was put on you going into the 1998 World Cup? Did
the hype and attention ever become too much?
Ronaldo: As a Brazilian footballer, I get a lot of pressure, but nothing special
compared to other sorts of pressure I have had during my career. When you play
on the national team you must always win, but this is normal in my country.
SI.com: Talk about dealing with the controversy and disappointment following
the '98 World Cup. Did you ever think you'd be the same player again after?
Ronaldo: There were some things that happened and that's all past. Of course I
never thought I wouldn't be able to be the same player because I did not think
that I would suffer the serious injuries I did.
SI.com: After losing to France in the World Cup final you were quoted as
saying, "We lost the World Cup but I won another cup -- my life." What did you
mean by that?
Ronaldo: I prefer not to speak about what happened that day, but I was scared
when I was living in that situation. We did not know what was happening and,
obviously, now we can say that life goes on.
SI.com: What were the following three years like when you were constantly
battling to get healthy?
Ronaldo: All I can say is that I think I have been the only person who never
SI.com: Talk about the Italian Cup in 2000, in which you finally got on the
pitch after four months out and having your knee buckle and being carted off.
After everything you had gone through, what was going through your mind as you
were being taken off the field?
Ronaldo: It was an awful situation because I felt down when I was laying on the
pitch, but soon I had the feeling that I would overcome the injury and play
again as healthy as I did before. I always believe I will come back when I get
SI.com: What were you feeling going into the World Cup in 2002, did you ever
think you could have the kind of tournament that you did?
Ronaldo: When I got the confidence of [then manager] Luiz Felipe Scolari, I
thought that I must give my life to fight for the tournament and, if possible,
win the Cup for my country and all the people who trusted in me.
SI.com: Describe your emotions after winning the '02 World Cup -- was that
like a rebirth for you?
Ronaldo: You could say that, mostly after a tough year, in which I did not play
regularly. The most important thing was that Brazil won the Pentacampeonato.
SI.com: After gaining your health and confidence, why did you want to leave
Inter and play for Real Madrid?
Ronaldo: It was simple, because I did not play in Inter and Real Madrid gave me
the chance to recover my confidence and play again.
SI.com: This time your transfer fee was about $47 million -- did you ever
dream when you were a child that you would be commanding this kind of money?
Ronaldo: When you are a child you only think about playing football, you never
think about money. I hope that all the children who are playing football are not
concerned about the money but about the sport.
SI.com: Speaking of children, you have a son -- is it difficult having a
private life? It seems like your love life gets more coverage than your
professional career at times.
Ronaldo: Yes, it is rather difficult having a private life, but I prefer not to
refer to my private life.
SI.com: But what do you do when you want to go out with your friends or meet
new people? Is that even possible for you to do now?
Ronaldo: It's not difficult to do that. I am free to meet other people, to go to
the cinema or walk with my son. Fortunately, people respect me and allow me to
do these kinds of things.
SI.com: What do you like to do off the pitch to relax?
Ronaldo: I like being with my friends and my son, walking or going to the cinema,
playing golf and listening to the music.
SI.com: What kind of music do you like? If I were to look at your CD player,
what artists would I find?
Ronaldo: I like Brazilian music and hip hop, but if you have a look at my CD
player you will find some records by U2.
SI.com: Talk about being a goal away from breaking Pelé's World Cup goals
record? How much does that mean to you?
Ronaldo: Pelé was a legend and everything that can approach me to him is a great
honor for me.
SI.com: You have been in the spotlight for over a decade, how much longer do
you envision yourself playing? Where would you want to end your career?
Ronaldo: I have enjoyed football and everything I have comes from this sport.
About my career, I signed a contract with Real Madrid until 2008 and I want to
finish my days in football here at Madrid.
SI.com: What are your thoughts on playing on the Brazilian national team this
year? How much longer do you see yourself playing for your country?
Ronaldo: For a Brazilian, playing on the national team is the most important
thing. I am excited to be playing in this World Cup for Brazil and I want to go
on until I am not able to play at a high level.
SI.com: Who were your heroes and favorite player while you were growing up?
Ronaldo: My hero and my favorite player are the same person: [Brazilian soccer
SI.com: What other sports are you a fan of and who do you enjoy watching the
most play another sport?
Ronaldo: I love playing golf and I like watching Tiger Woods play. I also loved
watching Michael Jordan in basketball when he played.
SI.com: You've had many, but what do you feel was your greatest moment as a
Ronaldo: Yes, there are a few, but perhaps when we won the World Cup in Japan,
after recovering from my injuries.
SI.com: What are your thoughts on American soccer? Do you ever envision
yourself playing in the States, much like Pelé, at the end of your career?
Ronaldo: Who knows what will happen in future. I have a lot of confidence in the
growth of soccer in the United States. I think that soccer has been the sport
that has grown the most in universities in the USA and that's great to know. It
will only get bigger and better.
SI.com: How would you liked to be remembered when you retire?
Ronaldo: Nothing special. Just as a good player and a good person.
SI.com: Finally, so much has been written about you over the years, what's
one thing that people don't know about you that would surprise them?
Ronaldo: I'd like to keep those things as a surprise for people in the future
... if they get to know me then, then they'll find out.