How Good Was R9? Prime Years Examined


If you grew up as a football fan in the 1990s or 2000s, there’s a good chance you were inspired in some way by R9. A man of many talents (and nicknames), Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is one of football’s most likeable figures. Sometimes fans get carried away with their adulation of legendary players after they retire, but I can assure you that nobody is glorifying the talents of O Fenômeno.

At the peak of his powers, R9 was by far the best player on the planet. The two-time World Cup winner possessed lightning-quick pace and lethal finishing ability, making him a nightmare for defenders to deal with.

I grew up believing Ronaldo was the world’s best, closely followed by his 1998 World Cup final opponent Zinedine Zidane. Nobody else came close to matching the ability of those two titans of the game in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

When was R9 in his prime?

The fact that Ronaldo won the 2002 World Cup Golden Boot on the back of three injury-ravaged seasons shows how good he really was. Those eight goals in South Korea and Japan came at a time when the striker was back at the top of his game. However, his greatest and most consistent years, particularly in front of goal, came a few years earlier.

R9 was outstanding throughout the mid-to-late 1990s, but 1997 is when he really hit his prime. The striker claimed the Ballon d’Or that year after winning the Copa America and Confederations Cup with Brazil. His performances persuaded Inter Milan to pay Barcelona a world-record transfer fee of £19.5 million for his services.

Along with his Copa America success, Ronaldo scored 47 goals in 49 games for Barcelona in 1996-97 before moving to Inter. He also netted 15 goals in 20 games for Brazil in 1997, making him the overwhelming favourite for the Ballon d’Or. In the end, he beat second-placed Predrag Mijatovic and third-placed Zinedine Zidane to the prestigious award quite comfortably.

Who did R9 play for?

Ronaldo played for Cruzeiro, PSV, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, AC Milan and Corinthians. He also represented the Brazil national team at Under-17, Under-23 and senior level.

Although he won the World Cup in 1994 and 2002, R9 didn’t have the trophy-laden career at club level that you might expect for a player of his calibre. His only league title triumph on European soil came in 2002-03 when he won La Liga with Real Madrid. Granted, he lifted cups with every other club he played for (except AC Milan), but the lack of trophies in his cabinet is still quite alarming.

Thankfully, Ronaldo more than made up for his relatively underwhelming club silverware with one of football’s most decorated international careers. In total, he won five trophies with Brazil: the World Cup (1994, 2002), the Copa America (1997, 1999) and the Confederations Cup (1997).

How many goals did R9 score?

Taking club and international records into account, Ronaldo scored 425 goals in 631 games between 1993 and 2011. That’s a ratio of 0.67 goals per game.

At club level, R9 scored 352 goals in 518 games for seven different teams. He scored more goals for Real Madrid than any other club, finding the net 104 times in 177 appearances between 2002 and 2007.

Representing Brazil, R9 scored 62 goals in 98 games for the senior team. He also netted five goals in seven games for the Under-17s and six goals in eight games for the Under-23s. His most important international goals undoubtedly came in the 2002 World Cup final, where he scored twice in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Germany.