The end of Ronaldo? Don't bet on it

In the aftermath of Ronaldo’s (latest) heart-breaking injury, newspapers in Brazil and around the world fill their pages with images of our buck-toothed ace lying on the San Siro ground, right hand on his left knee, screaming his lungs out in pain. It feels like déjà vu.

They ask if it’s the end of the line for the Milan star – and their eulogies, praising the great champion Ronnie was, seem to answer the question.

The general feeling is that, this time, he’s done – because it’s his third serious injury to the knee, because he isn’t a kid anymore, because he will lack the motivation for another comeback.

In fact, many were already predicting the end for Ronaldo even before his knee snapped against Livorno. On his latest return to Carlo Ancellotti's squad, after weeks out of action, the below-average performances of this former Phenomenon prompted phrases like “pale shadow of his former self”, “has-been” and “bound for the retirement home”.

Yet every time I read something like that, I can't help thinking of Muhammed Ali’s answer to legendary reporter Howard Cosell, who had said, just before that famous victory against George Foreman in 1974, that Ali wasn’t the same fighter that he was 10 years ago.

“Well, Howard,” responded the Greatest, “I talked to your wife and she said you’re not the man you used to be two years ago”.

The truth is, Ronaldo deserves more respect. Enough of the discourteous remarks 'Fatso' has been getting from the press – and please note that my Fatso is the friendliest of nicknames, since I’d take a chubby Ronaldo over any fit, muscle-toned world-class striker of his generation.

This guy is the World Cup's all-time leading scorer, an accomplishment that, taken on its own, should make people pay him the same respect they pay to the other legends of the game, whether he's playing well, badly or even worse.

But there’s way more to Ronnie's story than that. Twice he's been overcome potentially career-ending injuries, coping with excruciating pain in his daily life and the isolation of getting back to fitness – the kind of hell that would have driven most of us nuts.

And not only did he overcome, he went on to lead an unfancied Brazil to their fifth World Cup.

Ronaldo's a winner, on and off the pitch. Even if he turns up for a game with one leg, a plastic knee and a ridiculous hairdo (which we all know he does), we should bow and say, “Yes, sir.”

Is this the end for the Phenomenon? Another operation, another year of recovery, another delicate return to the pitch, at 32 or 33, with the sceptics saying “No, no, no.”

The odds are against him – more than ever before. But I have learned never to bet against Ronaldo. Never. After all, this is a man whose favourite pastime, alongside pulling ladies and scoring goals, has been proving people wrong.

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