On July 17 1994, Romario and Bebeto helped Brazil end the 24-year wait for a FIFA World Cup and triggered the start of the Brazilian domination for almost twelve years that did experience a bumpy ride temporarily, but till 2006, there was hardly any team in the world football to hold a candle to the greatness of Brazil that was oozing with talent.
After the glorious summer in the United States of America; Brazil travelled to England for the Umbro Cup and Uruguay for the Copa America. The team did not have the services of Romario and Bebeto, rather, the players of next-generation were given the nod – Brazil triumphed at Wembley where Pele was watching the match and witnessed an 18-year-old Ronaldo Nazario Lima scoring. The Selecao beat England by 3-1 despite trailing by 1-0.
The World Champions flew to Uruguay and it was Tulio and Edmundo who impressed as forwards giving the impression that both of them would be the ideal torchbearers of Romario and Bebeto. Uruguay won the tournament beating Brazil on penalties, but a brand of new talents would emerge and overshadow the rest led by a diamond named Ronaldo in the coming days.
Ronaldo chose to join PSV after the 1994 World Cup. He was selected for the tournament despite being just 17 but did not play in any games. His Brazil teammate Romario having played for PSV from 1988 to 1993 advised Ronaldo to move to the club.
Ronaldo scored 10 minutes into his debut against Vitesse, and scored a brace on his home debut against Go Ahead Eagles.
He scored 30 league goals in his first season in the Netherlands, which included seven braces and a hat-trick against Utrecht.
Nick Miller, the match reporter for The Guardian, writes, “What’s striking about Ronaldo in that first year at PSV is how complete he looks, even as a skinny teenager. Everything that would come to define him – the lightning pace, the blurry stepovers, the implausible impression that he was faster with the ball than without it, even the exceptional upper-body strength – was all there.”
Rob Smyth added, “In many ways, Ronaldo was the first PlayStation footballer. His stepover was a form of hypnosis, and his signature trick, the elastico, could certainly have come from a computer screen.”
During his spell at PSV, Ronaldo attracted the attention of both Inter Milan and Barcelona.
It was Barcelona that was willing to pay the then world-record fee of $19.5 million.
According to manager Bobby Robson, he signed an eight-year contract and would play up front alone.
Speaking to The New York Times regarding Ronaldo later that season, Robson said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player at 20 have so much!”
On October 12, 1996, Barcelona faced SD Compostela in La Liga.
The kind of players Barca had, a 5-1 victory was not surprising but the match was memorable because it had launched Ronaldo as the superstar.
His solo goal became an instant hit across the globe and it was shown on sports channels repeatedly.
#OTD 25 Years ago, Ronaldo picked the ball up against Compostela and scored one of the best goals ever 😍
— Marathonbet (@marathonbet) October 12, 2021
During the 1996–97 season, Ronaldo scored 47 goals in 49 games in all competitions, with his goal celebration invariably the same with his arms outstretched like the statue of Christ the Redeemer that watches over his native Rio de Janeiro.
He led the Catalan side to UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup triumph where he capped the season with the winning goal in the cup final, and to Copa del Rey and Supercopa de España wins.
He also won La Liga top scorer award in 1997 with 34 goals in 37 games and the European Golden Shoe.
Still, that solo goal defined his greatness not only in a Barca shirt but after 25 years it is still remembered by those who watched it live.
Nick Miller of The Guardian describes, “It all starts innocently enough. In the 36th minute, Gica Popescu wins the ball in the Barcelona half, stabbing it vaguely in the direction of the centre circle, where Ronaldo loomed. Even though Ronaldo was in the early weeks of his career in Spain, the Compostela defenders already know enough to realise they’re in trouble. In their panic, two cartoonishly collide, and the ball breaks loose again.”
Ronaldo skips away from the defender pile-up and goes after the ball, where he’s met by midfielder Saïd Chiba. Perhaps mindful that conventional weapons are of no use here, Chiba immediately gives up any pretence of winning the ball and goes for the basic solution of trying to foul Ronaldo.
“He does that six times: a hook to the back of the left leg which nearly takes Ronaldo down; a sweep to his left ankle; then another; then he takes a meaty fistful of Kappa shirt, attempting to haul his man back via Italian sportswear; that drags Ronaldo back for just long enough to attempt another kick; then a final, desperate barge into his back.”
“The fouls succeed as far as to give the brief impression Ronaldo had lost control of the ball, but with a speed of thought that convinces you his brains must be in his feet, he stops it with his studs for just long enough that Chiba thinks he’s got him and curtails his assault.”
“No dice. Ronaldo breaks free, Chiba looking like a man who’s just vainly tried to prevent a horse bolting from a stable.”
“At this stage, everyone in the stadium has their eyes on Ronaldo, jaws slackening – absolutely everyone, including Compostela goalkeeper Fernando Peralta. “
“He stopped and he started again and when I saw him coming I was thinking: ‘Oh my God, this guy is amazing,’” Fernando said. Even if you were playing against Ronaldo, even though you were being paid to stop him, you couldn’t help but turn into a gawping child, staring in wonder at this act of God in Nike boots.”
“Ronaldo then accelerates so implausibly it looks like the film had been sped up.”
“Jose Ramon is left for dead, and Brazilian defender William closes in. William had a reputation for being uncompromising, but you have to get near your prey to take it down.”
“Ronaldo cuts back inside, a brief lateral interlude which allowed Ramón to almost catch up, when he and William try to sandwich Ronaldo. But another lightning shimmy, ball transferred from foot-to-foot in less than a blink of the eye, takes care of that.”
“At this stage, Ronaldo almost loses control, the ball escaping beyond his one-yard gravity field for the first time since the halfway line. No matter: obviously nobody else was going to react quicker to this brief escape, and ultimately this nanosecond of lost control only serves to tee up a perfect shooting chance. Then the ball is in the bottom corner.”
“On the sidelines, an assistant coach called Jose Mourinho celebrates wildly. But manager Bobby Robson clasps his hands to head and almost looks annoyed as if he’s just seen a goal so good that the continuation of football is now pointless, and he’ll have to find something else to do. “You won’t find a player who can score goals like that,” said Robson after the game. “Can anybody, anywhere, show me a better player?”
Following the stunner, Ronaldo barely gave the goal a second thought.
“I took the ball in the middle of the pitch, I felt them grabbing me, but I kept running,” he said.
“I saw the whole defence coming forward and I got into the box between two players, and then I was able to take the shot.”
Ronaldo’s Barcelona teammate Gheorghe Popescu was more descriptive in his praise.
“It was the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen in my life, along with [Diego] Maradona’s against England,” he commented.
“I felt very satisfied with my own part in that goal, I could have blown for a foul on him several times but I let him keep going and going… my goodness,” remembers referee Victor Esquinas Torres.
It was an immortal goal and since then Ronaldo would become a Phenomenon and despite a career-ending knee injury – he would not stop reaching the top and become the all-time best striker in the history of football.