surinenglish

A LOOK AT LA LIGA

The Phenomenon

Ronaldo with Rob Palmer and the boot in 2003.
Ronaldo with Rob Palmer and the boot in 2003. / Guillem Balagué
  • At the peak of his powers, there was nobody better than Ronaldo Nazário

In this time of reflection, in my office sits a single football boot. It's not just any football boot... it's the only boot I ever scored a goal with - and it's not even mine.

I borrowed it from a footballer who I regard as the best there has ever been, when at the peak of his powers - Ronaldo Nazário.

Better than Messi? More talented than Cristiano? Surely, he can't compare to Pelé. The answer is yes. When he was on top of his game, he had elements of all of those mentioned and more.

He could go from the halfway line to a goal celebration as fast as Messi, had the body strength of Cristiano, the aura of Pelé and would match Kylian Mbappé in a foot race.

While interviewing Bobby Robson pre-match on the Camp Nou pitch, the then-Barcelona manager summonsed his slim centre forward towards our camera crew and said: "Focus on this fella tonight; he's out of this world - he's the next big thing."

Barcelona paid a world record fee to prise him away from PSV Eindhoven, where he'd scored 54 goals in 58 games and he was to better this percentage at the Camp Nou with 47 goals in his first season of 49 games. Statistics may be boring but his goals weren't.

A slalom run from the halfway line, making Compostela defenders look like extras from a Hollywood movie, resulted in a goal which had Bobby Robson looking up to the sky in disbelief.

World Player of the Year three times, Golden Boot as a 2002 World Cup Winner, uniquely played for Barça and Real Madrid, as well as both of the Milan clubs, earned a standing ovation at Old Trafford after scoring a hat-trick in the 1998 Champions League quarter final... he certainly earned the nickname "El Fenómeno" - the Phenomenon.

Sadly, a seizure on the eve of the 1998 World Cup final meant he sleepwalked through the game and his body couldn't match the footballing soul. Ravaged by injury, he started to gain weight.

So how come I ended up with his boot? On the weekend of a Madrid derby I was invited to play in an annual press game. Steve McManaman agreed to get me a pair of size nines and threw some Nikes at me. "He wants them back tomorrow. They're his spares," he said.

I couldn't believe that I'd borrowed a pair of boots with Ronaldo's motif sewn into them. Long story short, normally a goalkeeper, I was told to play up front. Respected Guardian writer, Sid Lowe threaded a pass to me, I tiptoed around the goalkeeper and magically finished in the fashion of the Real striker.

As promised, I gave them a shine and returned them the next day. Macca explained that I regularly raise money for charity, so Ronaldo allowed me to keep the boot, signed them and posed for the picture.

I did auction off the left boot to raise a thousand pounds and contributed to charity, so morally I could hang onto the boot I scored with.

It dawned on me that these boots were magic and could turn any man struggling with his body weight into El Fenómeno. Maybe not!