With the 2014 FIFA World Cup about to kick off, Nike have created a club for all the diehard fans and athletes alike – those out there that don’t just play football, but live it. Nike F.C. has a long string of ambassadors but there are few more loved than Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima. With the Beautiful Game’s most magical moment about to happen on Brazilian shores, Nike caught up with Ronaldo for a chat.
With the You achieved so much in the game but was there a moment as a footballer when you thought, ‘Yeah I’m good at this, I’m going to be one of the best in the world’?
I started playing football when I was a very young child and fell in love with it immediately. From that young age, it was clear that among my friends I was the best. I was always picked first when we chose teams so that told me that I could play the game well. I went onto play for my country aged just 16, and that was a dream come true and underlined how far I might go in the game. I was always so ambitious as a young footballer and that helped put in the hard work that had to be done to achieve my goals.
You were taken to America for the World Cup in 1994 aged only 17. How fearless were you being part of that amazing summer?
I was very afraid that summer but there could be no better way to learn. I always say that the summer of 1994 was my university, the time I learnt the most about football. There I was with some of the greatest players on the planet, training with them and watching them take on the world. To be amongst that at such a young age was an incredible opportunity and one that helped shape my own career. Some people wondered if I would play and whilst I was ready to do that, it wasn’t to be and so I just took everything in. It was an amazing chapter in my life. Nike gave me my first contract that summer and I began to realise my dreams.
What was it like moving to the Netherlands at that same young age?
It was cold! I was very excited to be there. I went to PSV not knowing what my life would be like in Holland but because I loved football and because I had dreamed of one day playing in Europe’s biggest leagues, I left home full of hope. Any fear I had was replaced by that sense that my dreams were coming true.
People immediately expected great things from you. Did that put difficult pressures on you or were you inspired by the confidence people had in your ability?
No, you use that expectation and pressure as a motivational tool. I used it to push myself. The more people talked about what I might achieve, the harder I worked to prove them right.
You scored goals, you won trophies, you played at the best clubs. If we could take you from this room right now and drop you in a single moment of your career where would you ask to go?
Tokyo in 2002. The World Cup final. I had watched Romario and Bebeto score goals to help win Brazil the World Cup in 1994 and hoped I might one day do the same. I never expected to go that far though. I was ambitious and had dreams but some people don’t achieve all their dreams, do they? So, to score the two goals in the final and make that dream a reality was just unbelievable. Much better in fact than I ever imagined.
That great goal you scored for Barcelona in 1996 against Compostela. You beat defender after defender before scoring. Was that moment like playing as a child in Brazil and how brave (team-mates are screaming for the ball and defenders are kicking at his ankles) does a striker have to be to score that goal? After all…’NO VICTORY WITHOUT RISK!’
I always tried to play with freedom but the pro game always throws up some pressures and tactics that don’t make that freedom possible. That goal though was different. It was all intuition. I won the ball and the game opened up for me and I took my chance to go at goal. You can’t really train for or plan goals like that. It was certainly the most beautiful one I ever scored.
You played with and against truly great players. Attackers such as Figo and Totti and defenders like Thuram and Cannavaro. When you get together is there still a competitive atmosphere amongst you?
No it is now just fun to be around these guys. It is great to have shared the most exciting times with players like Figo and when we all get together we are immediately laughing and talking about old games and moments. They are friends now and it’s always fantastic to get together with them.
Do you secretly take pleasure from knowing you were better than any of them?
No! I never felt like that. I always worked hard and tried to be the best I could be but the competition was never with anyone else, it was with myself. That expectancy I put on myself was what made me work so hard every day to improve.
Even as a teenager, you never seemed overawed by an occasion. How impressed are you with today’s youngsters who despite their age are taking the game by storm and what advice would you give them? Players like Jack Wilshere in England and Dani Osvaldo of Italy?
It’s a matter of focus and concentration. These young players have the opportunity to create their own moments and fulfil their dreams. They have the talent, that is obvious; now they have to put in the hard work if they are to enjoy wonderful moments.
And of course there is your fellow countryman, Neymar. He will have to show no fear if he is to deliver to an expectant nation this summer. Just how good is he and as someone who dealt with huge pressures what message would you give him right now?
Neymar has proven by going to Barcelona that he is not only a fantastic footballer but he can cope with big pressure. There will be huge pressure on him this summer. I know all about that but big players utilise it to make them perform at even higher levels. I know Neymar will do well for Brazil this summer.
How much would you like to be playing alongside him?
Oh wow! I would love to but the knees won’t allow it. I’m getting old!