As soon as people here in America find out I’m a soccer fan, they always want to know the same two things.
Is soccer ever going to catch on in America?
How ’bout that Ronaldo guy? Isn’t he something?
My answer to the first one is always ‘no’ except for every fourth summer, when the end of another World Cup brings renewed hope. The second question, unfortunately, can only be answered with another question.
You mean there’s more than one?
Well, yes and no. Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese, was born in 1985, currently plays his club ball for Real Madrid, and has failed to impress at three separate World Cups. Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, or just Ronaldo, is a Brazilian who was born in 1976 and was probably among the two or three greatest players of his generation. He retired Monday in Sao Paulo, breaking the hearts of soccer fans and transvestite prostitutes across the world.
But while the two men share a name, a language, and an affinity for hookers, make no mistake — there is and was only one Ronaldo. And he retired Monday.
Ronaldo’s career was as exciting and scandalous on the field as it was off of it. As a player, he won two World Cup titles with Brazil (he scored 15 World Cup goals, a record, including both in the 2002 final against Germany), was named the European Player of the Year twice (his first came at age 21), and earned the FIFA World Player of the Year Award three times (an all-time record shared with Zinedine Zidane, maybe his biggest rival to the title of best player of his generation).
And there was controversy. In the 1998 World Cup final against host France, Ronaldo looked slow and disoriented, and played poorly as Brazil lost. It later came out that Ronaldo had suffered a seizure the night before and should never have been on the field.
Off the field, he dated models, and more models, and more models while looking like this and this. And then there was the prostitution scandal, and the weight gain, and eventually, last fall, a threat to quit.
He finally did quit today, citing his weight and a disorder called hyperthyroidism that makes it difficult to manage his weight. It served as a perfect end to what was an unbelievable career. It was priceless and hysterical and sad and appropriate all at once, because at one time, there was Ronaldo and then there was everybody else. He was it, the way Cristiano Ronaldo wants to be it today.
And all the extra stuff? That was part of the fun. And in a way, it’s a shame he wasn’t born in America, because if he’d been an American, it would have probably made him one of the all-timers. If he could play another sport. Just think: the only comparable sports figure we have is Babe Ruth, a womanizing, chain-smoking, fat, but undeniably all-American, baby-faced boy from the slums of Baltimore.
Not all of that translates to Ronaldo, especially not the American part, but like Babe Ruth, he was an original — a flawed, terrible, lovable, baby-faced original. And we would have loved him for it like we love all our tragic heroes, as long as they prove their worth on the field. No worries, though. The rest of the world loves him, especially the hookers, and when the other guy who goes by Ronaldo retires one day, it really won’t feel the same at all.
And that’s why there’s only one Ronaldo. Sorry, Cristy.