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What if Ronaldo Nazario Career Wasn’t Derailed by Injuries?

Ronaldo (R9) pictured playing for Brazil

Welcome to a new series of articles from Last Word on Football. In the coming days and weeks, we will look back at several historical moments in football and ask, “What if things took a different turn?”

Today, we’ll take a look at Ronaldo Nazario’s career-defining injury problems.

What if Ronaldo Nazario Avoided Knee Injuries

The Phenomenon

Ronaldo had already established himself as one of the best strikers in the world when he completed a sensational move to Inter Milan in 1997. At 21 years old, he had already won the World Cup and the Ballon d’Or while breaking the world transfer record twice.

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However, it was his first two seasons at San Siro that convinced the world that they were witnessing one of the greatest footballers in history in action. R9’s combination of explosive runs, dribbling skills and clinical finishing became a nightmare for Serie A defenders, earning him the Fenomeno (the phenomenon) nickname.

A Nightmarish Season

Inter started the 1999/2000 campaign with one of Serie A’s most iconic attacking lines, playing Ronaldo alongside Christian Vieri and Roberto Baggio. The Nerazzurri started the season with four wins and a draw, but their impressive run was ended by heavy injuries to Ronaldo and Vieri.

During a 6-0 win over Lecce on November 21, the Brazilian limped off the pitch with his first serious knee injury. A ruptured tendon forced the Brazil international to undergo surgery and kept him sidelined until April. However, things only got worse when he finally made his comeback against Lazio in a Coppa Italia game.

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Only six minutes after coming off the bench, Ronaldo attempted one of his trademark runs but collapsed to the turf in agonizing pain. The Stadio Olimpico crowd gave the striker a standing ovation as he was reduced to tears and stretched off the pitch. Ronaldo had completely ruptured the tendons in his knee cap, suffering what was described as an “unbelievable” injury by his then physiotherapist.

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After undergoing two more surgeries, Ronaldo was able to play for Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. His incredible performances led the Selecao to the trophy and earned him a second Ballon d’Or. However, most observers believe he never managed to fully regain the explosiveness that defined his performances in the late 1990s.

Ronaldo’s recurring fitness issues at Real Madrid and his later image of an overweight striker are in such contrast to his early career that it begs the question of what his football legacy would have looked like without injury setbacks.

What if Ronaldo Nazario’s Career Wasn’t Derailed by Injuries?

The striker was at the peak of his career when back-to-back injuries sidelined him for almost two full seasons. At the age of only 23, he had already scored over 200 goals for club and country, becoming an unstoppable force in Inter’s attacking line.

Given his form at the time, Ronaldo had a good chance of smashing several all-time goalscoring records if it wasn’t for his long spells on the sidelines.

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In terms of team achievements, the Champions League is the biggest title missing from Ronaldo’s trophy cabinet. He scored for Real Madrid in their 2-1 win over Juventus in the 2003 Champions League semi-finals, but an injury kept him out of the second leg, where Los Blancos were eventually eliminated.

Only a year later, a string of brilliant displays from him led the “Galacticos” to the Champions League quarter-finals. However, yet another fitness setback prevented the striker from playing against Monaco, who went on to beat Real Madrid and later reached the final.

The World Cup winner is widely considered one of the best strikers in football history and one of the finest talents to have come out of Brazilian football. Nevertheless, his career was riddled with injury problems that kept him from reaching his full potential.


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