Corinthians catch Ronaldo fever
Recent years have certainly been a roller-coaster ride for the estimated 25 million Corinthians supporters in Brazil. Winners of the Brazilian title in 2005, the 2007 Brasileirao campaign ended with O Timão's relegation to Serie B for the first time. This year, the Sao Paulo outfit have bounced back in style, winning promotion to the top tier with a 17-point gap from second-placed Santo Andre, as well as reaching the Brazilian Cup final.
As if that were not enough, on the morning of Friday 12 December 2008, club President Andres Sanchez announced the signing of none other than Ronaldo - the highest scorer in FIFA World Cup™ finals history and a world champion at USA 1994 and Korea/Japan 2002. There to witness the unveiling of O Fenômeno as a Corinthians player were some 6,000 delirious fans, who had flocked to the club's headquarters at Parque Sao Jorge to welcome Ronaldo back to Brazilian football after 14 years in the European game.
Winner of the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1996, 1997 and 2002, Ronaldo made his top-flight debut with Cruzeiro in 1993, where his sensational performances led to him being whisked away by Dutch side PSV Eindhoven just one year later. There is little doubt that his return to his homeland has seen the eyes of the footballing world turn to Corinthians, while a host of famous faces also joined the debate, including O Rei Pele and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a devoted O Timão fan.
Point to prove
"Another madman has arrived to join Corinthians' bando de locos (crazy gang)," said Ronaldo himself at his presentation, in reference to the nickname the club's supporters give themselves. "I'd been thinking a lot about playing in Brazil again, because I missed my country and my family (while I was in Europe). With fans like these and the way they've welcomed me here, it makes me even more determined to pay them back with my performances out on the pitch."
Herein, however, lies the catch. Though Ronaldo's quality has never been in dispute, his fitness is another matter. At previous club AC Milan, the striker appeared in just 21 games between February 2007 and February 2008 before succumbing to a ruptured tendon in his left knee against Livorno. Since the resulting surgery, the former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid goalgetter's daily routine has been one of treatment, physiotherapy and muscle-building exercises as he underwent the painstaking road back from serious injury for the third time in his career.
"I'm not sure exactly when I'll make my debut," continued the player on his official presentation, which was attended by over 400 journalists. "I'm only going to come back when I'm fit and fully recovered. It's not going to be easy but I know that I'm motivated enough to do it."
"I'll give everything I have to prove myself on the pitch," said Ronaldo, in response to doubts raised over his ability to rediscover his best form. "I've still got something to offer football," he added, words that the fans of Brazil's second most popular club will be desperate to believe. Having come back from injury in spectacular fashion before, most notably ahead of Korea/Japan 2002, where his eight goals were vital to the Seleção's fifth world title success, can Ronaldo make 2009 a 'Fenomenal' year for Corinthians?