Former Brazil striker Ronaldo says tireless practice and a bottomless desire helped set him apart from other young footballers growing up.
Ronaldo is regarded as one of the finest footballers ever, having won two World Cups and two Ballon d’Or awards, and the ex-Barcelona man says his desire to be one of greatest players from a young age helped him make the grade at the highest level.
He told the Players’ Tribune: “For right then, I was still just one of the other little boys in our town known for playing football.
“And I mean playing all the time. Maybe, looking back, that’s what made me different from all the other kids in Brazil who wanted to be footballers. I wasn’t just dreaming of being the greatest, but actually, truly believing it. That I really could be … one of the best who ever played.”
“I laugh thinking about it, because I don’t know where it came from, or where that thinking started.
“It was just … life … from the moment I first kicked a ball.”
The former Real Madrid forward also revealed he practiced for hours in his family’s garden as he looked to fulfil his ambition of becoming a professional footballer.
He added: “I looked at every opportunity as a step toward becoming a professional football player. It was like a menace in my head. I couldn’t think of anything else — as much as my parents wanted me to focus on school.
“And after that first year playing futsal, all the other steps seemed to fall into place. Part of it was luck … a lot of it was dedication. I began training the next year with São Cristóvão football club. And by the time I was 13, clubs were already looking at me.
“So I went to Belo Horizonte to play for Cruzeiro. When I was 15, I got my first invite to train with the national team. When I was 16, I made my professional debut for Cruzeiro. And the next year, in 1994, I went to my first World Cup with Brazil. Like I said, it all happened so fast.
“And as much as I wanted all of it, every moment still felt like a surprise, in a way. I didn’t know what a timeline for becoming a professional was supposed to be like. There’s no plan or handbook. Sometimes it felt like I went from one day playing at school and in our backyard, to practicing with Bebeto.
“Then the World Cup came. How can I describe that 1994 World Cup? Or that team?”
The 40-year-old says his decision to retire in 2011 came after a whole host of injury and health problems made it difficult for him to play at the level he wanted to.
He said: “For me, football was always about seeing how far I could push myself and I feel I did that for as long as I could. I had made it through another knee injury and I joined Corinthians.
“But when other health problems made it difficult to not only play, but also to breathe, and stand up, and walk … I knew I had to stop. If I couldn’t be the player that I wanted to be on the pitch, if I couldn’t have the same feeling, then I couldn’t be out there at all.
“In 2011, I needed to make a decision. I knew that I needed to say goodbye to football. At least, to my time on the pitch.
“But football — it’s like an addiction. For players. For fans. For everyone. It’s why it just grabs so many people all over the world. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that since I’ve stopped playing. I think about what the sport gave to me.”