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   21 May, 2002 | 1325 IST


Zinedine Zidane
Real Rule Europe

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Ronaldo raring to go again

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Four years ago, Ronaldo arrived at the World Cup burned out, over-exposed and with a billing which proved impossible to live up to.

Although the Brazilian striker scored four goals and produced a few brief flashes of his talent, the lasting memories were of his dazed, lethargic performance in the final.

This time, after virtually two years on the treatment table, expectations are lower, "the Phenomenon" is fresher and he is eager to send a message to anyone who doubted that he could be the same player again.

Recent performances for both Brazil and Inter Milan suggest that the 2002 World Cup has come at the perfect time for the injury-plagued striker.

Ronaldo Ronaldo finally appears to have overcome the two operations on his troublesome right knee and the muscular problems which followed, forcing him to miss most of the European season.

The latter could now prove a blessing as he reaches peak fitness at a time when his markers are likely to be jaded and weary after another long domestic season.

Ronaldo is not alone in hoping that Japan and South Korea can help him to rebuild a once glittering career.


A huge, publicity and advertising machine is standing by in the wings, waiting to grind into action at the slightest hint of a Ronaldo resurgence.

At the peak of his career, the 1996-7 season with Barcelona, Ronaldo became one of the planet's most photographed personalities.

There was Ronaldo driving his new car, Ronaldo in Hong Kong, Ronaldo opening his new bar, Ronaldo taking a helicopter to go shopping during the Copa America.

Some said that fellow striker Romario, a self-styled "Bad Boy" with a well-known aversion to training and an equally well-known liking for a good night out, was leading him down the wrong path.

At the same time, Ronaldo was lending his name to a host of products in return for millions of dollars in sponsorship.

Brazilian commentators began wondering whether it was not all too much for a player who was only 21 at the time, and they appeared to get their answer at the World Cup final against France.

Hours before the game, Ronaldo had what his team mates described at the time as a "convulsive attack" at the team hotel and was rushed to hospital.


Although he eventually played, Ronaldo was a lethargic shadow of the player who normally terrorised defences and Brazilians were left to wonder why he had been fielded at all.

Since his injury nightmare, which began 15 months later, Ronaldo has clearly tried to tone down his lifestyle.

He ditched the Ferrari in which he once sped around Rio de Janeiro's racetrack for a more modest vehicle and tried to move in a more cultural direction by sponsoring a play.

While Romario continued with his Bohemian lifestyle, Ronaldo had married Milene -- a female footballer nicknamed "The Queen of the Keep-Ups" -- and was announcing the birth of their child Ronald.

Ronaldo, who comes from a poor suburb in the sprawling northern zone of Rio de Janeiro, has always remained close to his roots, though modesty has never been his strong point.

"I'm sure I'm going to take the World Cup by storm," he said after making his international comeback for Brazil in their friendly against Yugoslavia in March.

"I want to start slowly but I remain very ambitious. In my career I have always conquered everything I wanted. My objective is to be the best again, I know it might take time but I will do it."

Despite his recent attempts to preach family values, his reputation, and that of Brazilian players in general, continues to go before him.

His decision to return to Brazil in February to continue his battle to regain fitness was immediately greeted with suspicion in Italy, because it coincided with Rio de Janeiro's Carnival.

A furious Ronaldo retaliated by refusing to talk to the Italian media for the next two months -- though he did not do himself any favours by spending a night at Rio de Janeiro's "Sambadrome" as the guest of a local brewer.

He has been quick to get his advertising career back on track and began a campaign on behalf of a mobile phone company even before his playing comeback.

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