Few players in the world have had an impact on the football pitch quite like Ronaldo. He burst onto the scene in 1993 and for over 15 years frightened the life out of defenses across the globe, showing them a clean set of heals and his trademark R9 boots.
Born in Rio in 1976, football was never going to be far from the striker’s mind, playing on the famous beaches that the likes of Zico, Romario, and Carlos Alberto Torres had graduated from years earlier. It wasn’t long before his potential was seen and his journey to the center of the footballing universe would began.
He left Rio in 1993, joining Cruzeiro where he shot to fame aged just 17, scoring five in a game against Bahia. A surprise World Cup call-up followed, lifting the trophy in his first taste of tournament football – a taste he’d become very familiar with throughout his career.
It was his move to Europe however that changed everything, scoring 54 goals in 57 games for PSV Eindhoven and picking up the Dutch Cup and Super Cup in his short spell at the club.
From there he became unstoppable. Nicknamed ‘The Phenomenon,’ he picked up the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1996 and 1997, becoming the youngest player in history to collect the award.
He would pick the award up once more in 2002, the career-defining year for Ronaldo, finishing top scorer in the World Cup and scoring two in the final to defeat Germany. This earned him a £30million move to Real Madrid where his popularity was really felt.
Two years earlier, Nike had released the R9 boot, transforming the way football boots were made, using synthetic leather for the first time. His move to Madrid boosted sales incredibly and they became one of the most popular boots on the market. As was his name. His jersey sales broke all records on the day of signing and received a standing ovation on his debut at the Santiago Bernabeu. Goals flowed from the off, scoring two on his debut and going on to score over 100 goals for the Galacticos, winning the league, Intercontinental Cup, and Spanish Super Cup alongside the likes of Zidane, Figo, and Roberto Carlos.
And he’s still as popular to this day – after all, what a legacy the Brazilian has left behind. Becoming his country’s second highest scorer only behind the great Pele with 62 goals, he became an ambassador for the nation in the build up to this year’s World Cup and is still spoken about as one of the greatest of all time. It is no surprise that his achievements have landed him in top position in the 11v11 World Player Ranking.
And away from football he’s still a popular figure too. His ambassadorial roles have stretched beyond the beautiful game and he is now a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and a PokerStars SportStar, which incidentally relates to his next big challenge.
Whilst on the pitch, Ronaldo was as deceptive as anyone with his trickery and giving goalkeepers the eyes, off it he’s making quite the name for himself too and will be going head-to-head with tennis legend Rafael Nadal in a poker game being dubbed ‘The Duel’.
The pair are going up against each other on November 6 in London, and it’s a chance for Ronaldo to reignite that competitive fire against a man whose fire is not only still burning bright, but has defeated the twice Ballon d’Or winner already.
They last met just under a year ago, with Nadal taking the spoils during a charity event in Prague. The 14-time Grand Slam winner has since taken on a number of other challenges ahead of this autumn’s showdown, which has spurred Ronaldo into action.
The Phenomenon said, “I challenged Rafa to a rematch after finding out he was preparing for another live poker game. The last time we played together Rafa won the match and it was a lot of fun. This time it will be different, though, because I have been improving on my own poker strategy and will be more prepared.”
It’ll be a welcome return to competitive action for Ronaldo, even if it is away from the football pitch, and we will be sure to keep our eye on what is likely to be an enthralling encounter between a tennis icon and one of the greatest footballers of all time.