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Ronaldo hopes to shut mouths with goals

After being dogged by questions over form and fitness, Ronaldo plans to use the soccer stage as his platform to provide answers.

india Updated: May 24, 2006 12:18 IST

After a season dogged by questions over his form and fitness, Ronaldo is planning once again to use football's greatest stage as his platform to provide the answers.

Four years ago the Brazilian striker arrived at the World Cup as a spent force, a pale, injury-ravaged imitation of the player once known simply as 'The Phenomenon.' At least that's what the critics said.

Seven games, eight goals and a World Cup winners' medal later and the gap-toothed centre-forward was the toast of the Far East, leaving his critics to choke on helpings of humble sushi.

A successful transfer to Real Madrid and a third FIFA world player of the year award at the end of 2002 indicated that no one would write off Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima again in a hurry. Or would they?

Fast-forward to 2006, and it is deja vu all over again for Ronaldo, who has endured a miserable season in Madrid that has seen him jeered and booed by his own fans at the Bernabeu.

A goalscoring drought, injuries, a chaotic personal life and concerns over his ever-expanding waistline have again led people to wonder whether, at 29, Ronaldo is washed up.

"Ronaldo has too many pounds and too many years," said French legend Michel Platini dismissively earlier this season. Even Ronaldo's compatriot Pele joined the chorus of criticism.

Yet Ronaldo, and perhaps more importantly, Brazil's coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, are unfazed by the doubts.

"It saddens me that people have tried to take advantage," Ronaldo said.

"This has been one of the hardest years of my career. I have had to swallow a thousand stupid things. I just want to be treated with respect and that's not happening at the moment," he added, shrugging off concerns over his fitness.

"As soon as I start scoring goals no one will talk about my weight anymore. People only call me fat when things aren't going well," he added. "But I have been worse than this before, and I'm preparing to shut a lot of mouths."

Parreira, who first picked Ronaldo as a raw 17-year-old to be part of his 1994 World Cup-winning squad, is convinced that Ronaldo's difficult season will only make him more dangerous.

"When people start questioning Ronaldo it serves as an incentive for him," Parreira said.

"It will be a surprise and a disappointment if Ronaldo doesn't have a great World Cup. He is still one of the greatest strikers in the world."

The bare facts of Ronaldo's career at international level appear to justify Parreira's optimism.

With 58 goals in 91 matches for Brazil, Ronaldo remains a class apart. His scoring record is even more remarkable when set against the fact that injuries have sidelined him for around three years throughout his career.

He is also within touching distance of becoming the leading World Cup goal scorer of all time.

He currently stands on 12, two behind Germany's Gerd Muller on 14 and with first round opponents to include Japan, Australia and Croatia at the World Cup, only a brave man would bet against him equaling or bettering the record.

Ronaldo insists he is not motivated by personal glory but admits he has one eye on the record.

"I can't deny that the record is one of my objectives. It is not the principal objective - that's winning the World Cup - but I would be so proud to be top-scorer in history and it will be on my mind," he said.

"I hope to help my team win the tournament by scoring as many goals as possible. That way both objectives will be fulfilled."

First Published: May 24, 2006 12:18 IST