Born on September 22, 1976, in Itaguaí, Brazil, Ronaldo established himself as an unstoppable scorer for European soccer teams in the mid-1990s. He bounced back from a disappointing finish to the 1998 World Cup and a series of knee injuries to lead Brazil to victory in the 2002 World Cup, and retired in 2011 as one of the game's all-time greats.
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima was born on September 22, 1976, in Itaguaí, Brazil. His parents, Nélio Nazário de Lima and Sônia dos Santos Barata, separated when he was 11, and Ronaldo dropped out of school shortly afterward to pursue a soccer career.
Ronaldo joined the Social Ramos indoor soccer team at the age of 12 before moving on to São Cristóvão, where he was discovered by his future agents, Reinaldo Pitta and Alexandre Martins. The two arranged for the sale of their new client's contract to Cruzeiro, a professional club in the city of Belo Horizonte.
Professional Soccer Player
Ronaldo showcased his impressive goal-scoring ability for Cruzeiro, helping the club to its first Brazil Cup championship in 1993. The talented 17-year-old was named to the Brazilian national team for the 1994 World Cup in the United States, though he watched from the bench as his countrymen won the Cup.
Ronaldo hit the ground running when his contract was sold to PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands in 1994, averaging nearly a goal per game against top-notch European competition. Two years with PSV Eindhoven were followed by one with FC Barcelona and then a move to Inter Milan, a four-year period in which Ronaldo twice won FIFA World Player of the Year and carried his teams to victory in the Dutch and Spanish Super Cups.
During his peak, Ronaldo possessed an unstoppable combination of speed and power, equally capable of plowing through defenders as he was of nimbly sidestepping their attacks and accelerating away. Adding to his aura was an aversion to practicing and training hard, an attitude that did little to stem his dominance.
Big things were expected from Ronaldo and Brazil in the 1998 World Cup in France, but while he was named the Golden Ball winner as the Cup's best player, the tournament ended on a sour note when Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit before the final and was ineffective in a 3-0 loss to the host country. Bigger setbacks followed when Ronaldo ruptured a knee tendon in November 1999 and reinjured the knee five months later, knocking him out of action for almost two years.
Ronaldo made a triumphant return in time for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, netting eight goals to win the Golden Boot Award as the Cup's top scorer while leading Brazil its fifth world championship. Ronaldo transferred to Real Madrid that fall, winning the FIFA World Player of the Year Award a third time before leading his new club to La Liga and Spanish Super Cup championships in 2003.
Ronaldo appeared in one final World Cup for Brazil in 2006. Although Brazil was bounced in the quarterfinals by France, Ronaldo scored three times to set a record with 15 career goals in World Cup play.
Ronaldo transferred to AC Milan in 2007, but in 2008 he sustained another serious knee injury and his contract was not renewed after the season. The Brazilian legend returned to his home country in 2009 to play for Corinthians, helping them to victories in the Campeonato Paulista league and Brazil Cup that year, before announcing his retirement in February 2011.
Post-Career and Legacy
Ronaldo is recognized as one of the best soccer players in history. In 2004, he was named to the FIFA 100, a list of the greatest living players compiled by the legendary Pelé, and in 2010, he was deemed Goal.com's "Player of the Decade."
Often criticized for not training hard as a pro athlete, Ronaldo set himself up for an active post-playing career by founding 9ine, a sports marketing agency. He also joined the organizing committees for the Brazil-based 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, ensuring that he would remain an influential figure in Brazilian sports and international affairs for years to come.