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Friday, Sept. 20, 2002

PREMIER REPORT

Ronaldo's greed becoming legend indeed


LONDON -- Next Wednesday -- thighs, hamstrings, knees and transfer request permitting -- Ronaldo will make his belated debut for Real Madrid when the European Champions play Belgium's KRC Genk in a Champions League tie at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Christopher Davies

The game could have been hand picked by the Spanish club's spin doctors. Roll up, roll up, here he is, the world's finest player (when fit) . . . come early to avoid disappointment (or the star going off injured).

Real is naturally delighted with its coup. Its president, Florentino Perez, collects footballers like others collect picture cards of their favorite stars.

He already had Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Raul. Next up was Ronaldo, who was everybody's darling when he helped Brazil win the World Cup final in Yokohama.

It was a fairy tale story. You know the tale -- buck-toothed boy from Brazil, makes it big in football, misses the 1998 World Cup final in suspicious circumstances and four years later is the hero.

We all loved him as he scored against Germany. The goodies beat the baddies and that's how life should be.

Just don't try telling anyone at Inter Milan that Ronaldo is a goody. Or Barcelona for that matter. They are more likely to say that Ronaldo and his entourage are mercenary and ungrateful, as far from Pele's vision of the beautiful game as is possible.

Inter Milan had paid Ronaldo's considerable wages (about $6 million a year) for almost five years in which time the striker spent more time watching the team than playing for it. In 2000-2001 Ronaldo did not play a single game because of injury.

He probably had his own table in the Inter physiotherapist's room. Some thought his name was actually Ronaldo Injured it appeared so often in newspapers.

Yet as if decided by a higher order, Ronaldo was fit to play in the 2002 World Cup where he ended up as the leading goal-scorer.

What was his response to Inter? Thanks -- I'm off.

RIP loyalty.

Ronaldo, how could you? We loved you in Japan. We were delighted you had come through the pain barrier to reach the very top in your profession. And Inter was looking for payback time on the millions it had forked out while you were a spectator.

We should have known, though. Ronaldo did it once before -- in 1996-97 -- when he was with Barcelona which splashed out $19 million for him from PSV Eindhoven. That was a nice little earner for the Brazilian because his contract with the Dutch club stipulated he was entitled to 15 percent of the fee, which is almost $3 million. Ronaldo had been given an eight-year contract by Barcelona which guaranteed him $2 million a year -- plus bonuses -- until 2004.

Nice but obviously not nice enough because after three months he asked his agent to extend the deal to 10 years -- oh, and double his salary. Why? Security. How secure do you want to be?

Barcelona was neither impressed nor keen on the new demands, not least because if Ronaldo played in all of Brazil's games during 1997 he would have been away for two and a half months -- at its expense.

But the moneymen behind Ronaldo -- he has a posse of agents looking after his, er, interests -- knew that if their client left Barcelona they could start working out what 10 percent of another fat sum was. In any currency it was a lot of nothing.

"His agents did everything possible to sabotage the agreement," said Barcelona's president at the time Josep Lluis Nunez. They didn't want him to stay, that was clear."

Ronaldo, curiously, said he was leaving "because of a question of personal dignity."

What many would call an undignified exit came when Inter paid the $30 million stipulated in Ronaldo's buyout clause with Barcelona.

Five years, 64 games and a few million dollars that Inter paid out in wages and medical expenses later, Ronaldo decided he'd had enough of Milan. Let's try Madrid.

But this time the Nike boot was on the other foot and according to Inter, there's no such thing as a free transfer. Massimo Moratti, the Inter president, claimed Ronaldo had to pay THEM to move on.

He said: "In economic terms Inter came out of the deal well because Ronaldo had to pay us $5 million out of his own pocket to compensate us for lost sponsorship money."

Yet Moratti still felt like Inter had been victims of a football mugging. "Inter did what they had to do but we were the victims. Ronaldo played a great World Cup and finished as a winner. Inter won nothing last season. That makes it difficult to forget what he did. However, it is Ronaldo who came out of it looking bad."

Real should beware. And so should Ronaldo when Real travels to Catalunya to play Barcelona toward the end of November.

If Luis Figo, another former Barcelona player, and Ronaldo are fit to play in the Nou Camp the boos will probably break the Richter scale.

More immediately Madrid awaits the debut of the new No. 11.

Genk must wonder what it did to deserve this. As if playing the best team in Europe in its own backyard isn't hard enough, the top goal-scorer on the best team in the world is gearing up to play against it too.

The Belgians must feel like the side that always lost to the Harlem Globetrotters though the ball is unlikely to go into their net quite so often, even with Ronaldo playing.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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