Though his future as a professional may have been written off by many observers, his stature as one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game means there is always hope for Ronaldo. Well on the road to fitness seven months on from his latest knee operation, the Brazilian superstar told assuredly: "I'll be back."

Luiz Nazario de Lima's face remains as boyish as ever, though the player known across the globe as Ronaldo is clearly carrying more weight than at the peak of his form. "When you haven't been able to do any physical activity for five months, it's only natural to put on weight," admitted the three-time FIFA World Player of the Year. "I just let the press keep making digs about it, it doesn't bother me."

Having been operated on in Paris on 14 February 2008, after the third serious knee injury of his career, the 32-year-old striker has been back in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro since 1 September. Under fire from the Brazilian press thanks his incident-packed social life, the leading scorer in FIFA World Cup™ finals history has vowed to put his latest injury nightmare behind him. "I will be back and I'll rediscover my best form. I'll play football again like I did before," he affirmed.

Ahead of schedule
Upon arriving back in Rio, Ronaldo placed his rehabilitation programme in the hands of his boyhood idols Flamengo and their medical staff. Having begun the process at previous club AC Milan, who made the decision not to renew his contract after it expired on 30 June, he continues to put in two daily physiotherapy sessions, six days a week, accompanied by his personal trainer and the Rubro-Negro medical team.

"," said the player's friend and physiotherapist Bruno Mazzotti. "He can already kick a ball now just seven months on, when at the beginning we didn't expect him to be able to do anything before the ten to 11-month stage."

He's very focused and is working well. His recovery is ahead of schedule

Bruno Mazzotti, Ronaldo's physiotherapist, on the player's recovery.

As part of his daily routine, mornings are dedicated to muscle-strengthening and afternoons to technical exercises, including slaloms and sprint work with the ball at his feet. Such is his progress that Ronaldo has even joined in training sessions with the Flamengo squad. "I'm not feeling any twinges in my knee anymore and that's what really matters," he said.

The muscles are still weak though and it's not easy to get a machine going that hasn't been used for so long. ," added the former Cruzeiro, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid player, who hopes to be back to full fitness within three months.

From now on it's about working on my physical condition - that's the trickiest part but I'm on the right track

Ronaldo on the latest stage of his recovery.

Happy ending?
"He's going to be successful, I'm sure of it," opined former Marseille and Hertha Berlin star Marcelinho, Flamengo's biggest signing this campaign. "He's motivated and based on what I see every day, once he's back to his ideal weight he'll be the player he used to be again. He's working hard without worrying about what people might think. He's in good spirits and you can see that his knee's not hurting him anymore."

And for O Mengão's chief doctor, the forward's current weight is of no great concern: "He just needs to lose five or six kilos and he'll be back to what he weighed before the 2002 World Cup. To be quite honest, nobody here is worried about his weight."

Nor does anybody in the Ronaldo camp doubt that his third comeback from serious injury will have a happy ending. Could it be that yet another serious injury, and the prospect of an end to his footballing career, has reignited Ronaldo's passion for the beautiful game? "Right from the first day he knew he'd be back and he's given it everything he's got. He's still as determined as ever," added Mazzotti.

This determination, Ronaldo is convinced, will help him return to the heights of the sport once again.