Tears of Ronaldo show the end is nigh

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It wasn’t meant to end like this, not on a cold, damp evening in Milan, not in a routine Serie A league game against humble opposition.

Surely the greatest forward of his generation was destined for a send-off more in keeping with his easy-going nature, flashing that goofy smile and raising a final salute to an adoring public.

Instead of which, for everyone present at the San Siro on Wednesday, February 13, the sight of the once-graceful Brazilian left prostrate on the turf left a hollow feeling in the pit of the stomach.

The press area was abuzz as images of the tearful Ronie being carried off into the depths of the stadium were beamed up on the monitors.

A funereal atmosphere had fallen over the whole arena and that was only compounded when the head of the MilanLAB – the club's state-of-the-art scientific research centre – Jean-Pierre Meerseman, confirmed in sombre tones that the 31-year-old had severed the severed the tendon of his left knee and would leave for Paris on Thursday morning for an operation.

“We are all in despair,” he added.

Fellow Brazilian and former Rossoneri midfielder Leonardo had accompanied the stricken striker to the nearby Galeazzi Hospital where the damage had become all too clear.

In fact, Ronie knew what had happened from the moment he tried to run to meet Massimo Oddo’s curling cross from the right and Leonardo confirmed that the player’s tears told the whole heartbreaking story.

“He said he knew it was bad because it felt just like the other times,” said the visibly shaken Leonardo.

Yes, the other times. Of course, in another time and another place, the fun-loving boy from Rio has seen his knee give way in similar fashion – on November 21 1998 playing for Inter against Lecce; and then on April 20 2000, again for Inter, this time at Lazio.

Just as the San Siro crowd had on Wednesday, so the whole of Rome’s Olympic stadium had applauded him onto the pitch as a second-half substitute, only to witness him buckle like a wounded animal six minutes later.

On those two occasions it had been the right knee and now it is the left, leaving Milan officials clutching to the belief that maybe, just maybe there was hope.

They couldn’t and wouldn’t bring themselves to say that Ronie was finished, over, out, all washed up but their cracked tones and haunted looks betrayed their real feelings.

“It’s not the same knee,” said coach Carlo Ancelotti as if that made it any better.

Vice-president Adriano Galliani did know better and conveyed the sentiments of the whole club and those wider afield who love the game.

"To see him cry like that, it affects those who are on the pitch and the directors. It was a terrible feeling."