Ronaldo, Barcelona And That Phenomenal Year!

I was a Ronaldo fanboy since I first heard about his talents pre the 1994 World Cup, when he was known as Ronaldinho!

He just burst onto the footballing scene. Possessed electric pace, raw unique power, a carnival amount of skills and a prolific eye for goals.

Even later in his career, when he basically had no knees, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima never lost his keen eye for goals.

Even when he was half the player he once was, carrying a wee bit of extra weight, the Brazilian was still better than most.

I always find myself reminiscing about Ronaldo, probably more than any other player.

With that in mind I thought I’d look at possibly his most defining year, the 1996-97 season he spent at FC Barcelona.

He had moved to the Camp Nou after acclimatising himself to the ways of European football after two years at PSV Eindhoven. He would leave PSV after scoring fifty-four goals in fifty-seven games for the Dutch club. Quite a remarkable feat for a teenager adapting to a new continent.

His performances in the Eredivisie as well as that with his national team in the 96 Olympics had caught everyone’s attention and imagination.

Barcelona were the winners for his signature and he moved to Spain, signing on for a record deal at the time.

If you hadn’t seen him play before that moment, you’d be forgiven had you asked what all the fuss was about?

Here was this gangly, awkward, buck tooth smiling, bald, soon to be twenty year old holding up a nice looking Kappa/Barca jersey looking extremely nervous in the full glare of the footballing media.

If he was nervous and awkward during his presentation, he had banished those negative feelings by the time he stepped onto the football pitch. In that arena, Ronaldo was a young gladiator who would slay any dragon who was stupid enough to step into his path!

In that one hugely bright season, La Liga couldn’t cope with or stop El Fenomeno!

He would make rampaging runs, skipping beyond desperate defenders and would love to then dump goalkeepers on their backsides as he took the ball around them before slotting the ball into the empty net.

Barcelona’s Brazilian number nine just couldn’t be contained. He had the pace, the power and the dribbling skill-set to evade any defence.

The raw youngster played with a smile on his face as those he was playing against just looked on in awe while scratching their heads. Kicks and shirt tugs were applied but neither could stop the energetic whirlwind from getting into the box and sticking yet another ball into yet another net.

The young Ronaldo had perfected the step-over and would often drag the ball back before flicking it around opponents. It was skills like this that would have kids in schools playgrounds all around the world playing with the ball at their feet as they tried to copy his unique and devastating style.

Ronaldo would score inside the first five minutes of his debut against Atletico Madrid, he grabbed a hat-trick during October against Valencia and grabbed two strikes in three games against Barca’s biggest rivals Real Madrid that year.

Probably his greatest goal that season came against Compostela. He received the ball just inside his own half, two defenders instantly fell over themselves by the mere sight of the young striking sensation. Another opponent was then on top of him but Ronaldo resisted his blatant kicks and shirt pulls to evade that challenger. The number nine would then use his pace (he actually seemed faster with the ball at his feet than he did without it) to glide passed a defended who seemed to be running in quick sand. As Ronaldo raced towards the penalty area the forward would focus his eyes on goal and then power away from two more challenges and then he dragged his shot into the hear post. It was a goal that showed off all his great traits!

Ronaldo was surrounded by very talented teammates in Luis Enrique, Pep Guardiola, Luis Figo and Hristov Stoichkov but none of them could carry the team like the young prodigy.

In Bobby Robson, Ronaldo had a veteran coach who would guide him expertly that season and who trusted the striker’s ability.

In 2014, Ronaldo would state that Sir Bobby had a paternal influence on his career:

“I’m proud to have worked with him. He was an awesome coach and an awesome person. He was like a father to me.”

Via The Chronicle

Robson would always speak of Ronaldo’s footballing ability in glowing terms. Once he had retired the former England and Barcelona manager confirmed Ronaldo was the best player he had ever worked with:

‘The best player I ever worked with?

Tough competition, but it has to be Brazil’s Ronaldo. I signed him for Barcelona in 1996 after I failed to get Alan Shearer from Blackburn.

Ronaldo was lean, mean, as quick as an Olympic sprinter and some of the goals he scored had me shaking my head in disbelief.’

Via The Daily Mail

The greatest achievement Ronaldo had during his season with the Catalan giants was helping them win that year’s European Cup Winners Cup.

On route to the final, Los Cules had knocked out AEK Larnaca, Red Star Belgrade, AIK and Fiorentina.

Ronaldo would score four times in that competition before the final in Rotterdam.

Once again the big stage didn’t scare the raw youth as he and his teammates took on PSG.

In the thirty-eighth minute, Ronaldo would win his side a penalty after he was hauled down inside the box. The young hitman would then dust himself down before cooly sending the keeper the wrong way. That penalty strike was enough to give Barca the cup win!

Unfortunately it was to be a sad and bitter end to the campaign and to Ronaldo’s life in Catalunya.

The prolific marksman would miss the final few La Liga games of the season due to international commitments. Barca would lose one of those games to Hercules and that inevitably saw them finish in second place, just two points behind Real.

(It’s funny but Ronaldo would only ever secure one league title in Europe. Ironically that was with Real Madrid in 2003.)

Barcelona fans were understandably upset and angry that their star man had deserted them just when he was needed the most.

The player had also shown traits of arrogance that comes with being young and in the limelight. He would make slight digs at Robson’s tactics. But then again name me a young twenty something person who didn’t fall out with their parents at that period of their life?

We also had the tedious contract negotiations. Barca were probably a bit slow to tie the player to a better deal in a quicker fashion. His agents would then take advantage of the situation. Just when Barcelona’s supremo’s thought they’d reached a deal, his advisors would request a move (Source

The whole ending left a bitter taste in the mouths of the support and they would select Luis Enrique as their player of the year rather than the striker who would win the world player of the year award in both 1996 and 1997!

Inter Milan would jump at the chance to complete a world record £19.5m transfer and the rest is history. He would suffer from severe knee injuries that would restrict his natural talent, lose a World Cup final in 98 before finding redemption in 2002 by securing that same title and winning the golden boot.

He would retire in 2011 after returning to his homeland to play for Corinthians.

Yet even though it ended bitterly in Barcelona, in that season we saw a wonderful superstar flourish and probably enjoy his best season as a footballer. He would smash countless opponents both in Spain and in Europe. In the end he would grab forty-seven goals in forty-nine games for Barca.

He took the world by storm and was without doubt the most phenomenal predator of his generation!

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