The canary yellow of the Seleção and the FIFA World Cup were always destined to play a pivotal role in Ronaldo's football life. As a 17-year-old, he sat on the Brazilian bench at USA 94 watching Romario, Bebeto and co. beat all before them to pick up the prized trophy. The kid, then called Ronaldinho, seemed bound for greatness with astonishing skill combined with bullish strength. But with all eyes directed towards him in the final of France 98, the wheels of the train suddenly came crashing off and the phenomenon, at 22, was already been talked about as a player of the past.
But 2002 would bring new life to the incredible talent. Ronaldo proved both his fitness and desire with match-winning performances in the semi-final against Turkey and final versus Germany. Now he goes up against Germany's Oliver Kahn and France's Zinedine Zidane for the FIFA Player of the Year 2002 Award at the star-studded festival in Madrid on December 17. If he is presented with the trophy he claimed back in 1996 and 1997, he will become the first player to have won it three times.
Ronaldo's early antics with Cruzeiro, where he debuted at age 16, were good enough to land him a spot in Brazil's squad at USA 94. Soon, Ronaldo followed the footsteps of fellow legend Romario and joined Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. In two seasons, he scored 42 goals, despite playing in only 13 matches in 1995-96. He joined Barcelona in 1996 and scored 34 goals in his one season with the Spanish giants including some of the most spectacular strikes ever witnessed on the Iberian peninsula.
Ronaldo reached the apex of personal success by being named FIFA Player of the Year in both 1996 and 1997, becoming the youngest player to ever win the award and the only player to win it in consecutive years. At the age of 20, Ronaldo was on top of the world. The upcoming 1998 FIFA World Cup France brought high expectations from the masses as the public was anxious to see him compete on the highest stage.
His future looked so bright, former England manager Bobby Robson had strong words to say about Ronaldo: "He will become the best ever".
The finals in France, though, did not turn out to be quite what the world expected. Ronaldo scored just one goal in the first round. In the second round, Ronaldo bagged a double against Chile. In the semi-finals, he scored Brazil's lone goal against Holland, and the Seleção went on to win in a penalty-kick shootout.
Then came the final. At the biggest game on the biggest stage, Ronaldo faltered. Slowed by an illness, he missed his scoring chances and was forced to watch France celebrate their first championship.
His disappointment in France was topped only by the disappointment of not playing at all. He has suffered two serious knee injuries with Internazionale that have limited his play since the 98 final. But Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari kept faith and slowly but surely he reintroduced Ronaldo back in to the fold. "I always knew of his potential," said Scolari.
A multi-million pound transfer to Real Madrid soon followed with the forward now just a step away from claiming an historic Gala hat-trick.