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The Enduring Appeal of Ronaldo, Soccer’s Original Phenomenon

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There’s, as an alternative, something deeper at play. Klosterman characterizes our view of the Nineties as a “good time that happened way back, though not as way back because it seems.” Lots of its cultural touchstones — “The Simpsons,” “Friends,” the German pop sensation Haddaway — remain so familiar as to feel almost (but not quite) current, while much of its reality seems impossibly distant. People didn’t have the web within the Nineties. They bought CDs.

That very same effect applies to soccer. Ronaldo and his peers are current in a way that Maradona, say, will not be; they featured in video games and had their very own special boot deals and struggled to flee the paparazzi.

But we weren’t nearly so exposed to those stars as we’re their successors. The Nineties, Klosterman writes, “were a decade through which it was possible to observe absolutely every little thing, after which never see it again.”

Watching Ronaldo play even on television was a comparatively rare occurrence, definitely before the waning days of his profession. His every appearance was not broadcast world wide. His iconic goals weren’t played on a loop, endlessly, from the moment they hit the online. There’s a fuzziness, a mystery, to him — and to the age through which he played — that subsequent generations don’t possess. There are, still, unanswered questions.

They’re vital ones, too, since it is in soccer’s long Nineties that we see the roots of the sport as we experience it today. It was not only the era through which soccer fully fused with celebrity for the primary time, when the ultimate vestiges of isolationism and national identity were abandoned, when transfer fees and salaries spiraled uncontrolled, when what had been sport became entertainment.

It was also, in a sporting context, when the ideas that may shape the sport’s future took hold. A few of that was administrative — the change within the backpass law, for instance, needed to occur for pressing to return into being — and a few of it was philosophical, because the considering of Johan Cruyff leached right down to Pep Guardiola, amongst others.

But a minimum of a part of it was embodied by Ronaldo. As his former teammate Christian Vieri puts it in “The Phenomenon,” soccer had “never seen a player like” Ronaldo when he first emerged: a player of the best, most refined technique, but one who also possessed a startling burst of speed, a ferocious shot, and a rippling, brutish power. Ronaldo was a forward line all by himself.

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