The most striking thing about Ronaldo's retirement press conference is that he breaks down in tears only when discussing his career at Corinthians from 2009 to 2011. As the conference begins, Ronaldo’s shoulders are loose and his voice is almost jocular in tone. He makes some summary remarks about his wonderful football career and longstanding history of injuries. He thanks all the clubs for which he played, the coaches and players that mentored him and the sponsors that supported him throughout his career: Cruzeiro, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Corinthians, Ambev and Nike. And then, all of a sudden, his tone changes when he comes to Corinthians and his decision to leave Europe and return to Brazil. His eyes light up and he breaks into a smile as he mentions a breakfast in Rio de Janeiro with Andres Sanches, the President of Corinthians. After that breakfast, when he and the President shook hands, Ronaldo knew he would be playing for Corinthians. Had there been a blank contract, Ronaldo tells us he would have signed it.
So far, Ronaldo's affect has been either upbeat or mechanical in cycling through the list of thank yous to clubs and sponsors. But now, he turns to the Brazilian fans who supported him throughout his career:
"I want to thank all of the Brazilian fans that vibrated with me and supported me, who cried when I cried, who fell with me when I did."
Of all the Brazilian fans, Ronaldo goes on to thank the Corinthians fans, in particular, for their passion and commitment to the club. At this point, Ronaldo begins to struggle in reading through his pre-prepared remarks. The Brazilian number 9 who raced past defenders with a degree of explosive power unparalleled in the modern game stares at his speech for seconds at a time.
“I have never seen such an exciting crowd,” he says of Corinthians fans, a claim all the more remarkable coming from someone who has played all over the world. Sometimes, their fervor renders them aggressive, he notes, in an apparent gesture of forgiveness to the Corinthians fans for their violence and anger after their exit from the 2011 Copa Libertadores. Amazingly enough, Ronaldo goes on to apologize for failing to win the Copa Libertadores, as if he had the superhuman status to claim responsibility for the loss suffered by Corinthians in a team sport marked by all kinds of contingencies. But what moves him most, is the passion of the fans and the feeling of friendship bordering on family between he, the club and the club President. I cannot imagine having lived without Corinthians, Ronaldo says, both here and in reference to other interviews about his experience after returning to Brazil. "You are my brother," Ronaldo says about the Corinthians President. He pledges to be with the club for life in any way it desires, as if his passion for Corinthians has transformed into a life-long love affair.
At this point, the tears begin flowing to the point where he covers his face:
"You shall see me many times in the crowd cheering for Corinthians. I was even more emotional back there when I went to speak with (Are you sleeping there? [to one of his sons on his left])…As I went to speak with my team mates…For every minute and second I have shared with them, as I have always done, from my first day here, on the toughest moments, I will stand by them and protect them from any trouble. Now I will do it off the pitch. Perhaps a bit weakened as my strength has always been to respond with my playing on the pitch."
Here, Ronaldo pledges to protect his Corinthians teammates from trouble, albeit from a weakened position off the pitch since his strength has come from playing. In the discussion about Corinthians, the depth of Ronaldo’s emotional engagement with the club’s fans, players and its management shines through. As he looks back over his career, not once does he mention his World Cup victories or 15 World Cup goals. The life experience that stands out for him hinges around the passion of the fans of Corinthians, the mentoring provided by the club’s President and the camaraderie of his teammates, amongst which he enjoyed a position of guardian, protector, mentor and friend. The tears do not stem from nostalgia about his days in Europe, and the times as a young man when he owned La Liga as it were his playground. Or later, in Italy, when even the best defenders in the world such as Allessandro Nesta said they had never encountered a player who rarely made a mistake in the final stages of his trajectory toward goal. Or his strike partnership with Romario. Or the elation of scoring two goals in the 2002 World Cup final and bringing the World Cup title home to Brazil for the fifth time. The tears revolve around Corinthians and his extraordinary, yet largely untold experience there, all of which began with a breakfast in Rio that took him on a life-giving footballing experience that makes it seem as if the glorious exploits of his youth, in his eyes, appear pale in comparison.
Given the depth of Ronaldo’s passion for Corinthians, “Bringing Back the Beautiful Game” would like to formally baptize Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima as “Ronaldo of Corinthians” alongside his other moniker, Ronaldo of Brazil.
The Biblical book “First Epistle of Paul to Corinthians” (First Corinthians) is famous for its reflection on love. Ronaldo’s retirement speech ironically turned into a reflection on his love for Corinthians, for the fans, the support and the game that he played and loved. The thirteenth chapter of Book I of Corinthians notes: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In this moment, First Corinthians is about the purity of love. Listening to Ronaldo’s comments on Corinthians, one cannot help but get a sense of the purity of his love for Corinthians fans, the team, management and its football.