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Ronaldo finally proves consistency

Ronaldo scored within 60 seconds of making his Madrid debut.

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Who was the best player of 2003?
Thierry Henry
Zinedine Zidane

Striker, Real Madrid and Brazil
Born: September 22, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
1990: Signs for local club Social Ramos after being rejected by Rio giants Flamengo.
1991: Moves to second division Sao Cristovao, scoring 36 goals in 54 games.
1993: Joins Cruzeiro and makes his name by scoring 58 times in 60 appearances.
1994: Makes his Brazilian debut aged 17 against Argentina and included in Brazil's World Cup-winning squad, although he doesn?t play. Signs for Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
1996: Suffers first major knee injury and undergoes surgery. Signs for Barcelona for a world record $19.5-million. Final record for PSV is 55 goals in 56 games. Makes an immediate impact in Spain and named FIFA World Player of the Year of 1996.
1997: Scores Barcelona's winner in a 1-0 victory over Paris St Germain in the Cup Winners' Cup final, his 33rd goal in 38 games. Signs for Inter Milan for a world $27.9 million and wins European and World player of the year awards.
1998: Suffers a mysterious illness hours before the World Cup final in France. After first being named as a substitute, he is then included in the starting lineup, but plays badly as Brazil lose 3-0 to France. Suffers a series of knee problems that keep him on the sidelines for Inter.
1999: Undergoes an operation on a ruptured kneecap tendon at a clinic in Paris.
2000: Six minutes into his comeback, but breaks down with a knee problem after just six minutes. Further surgery sidelines him for two years.
2002: Back to fitness in time for the World Cup, Ronaldo finishes as top scorer with eight goals, including two in the final against Germany. Signs for Real Madrid for $50 million and scores within 60 seconds of making his debut. Named World and European player of the year and scores the winner in the World Club Cup final.
2003: Helps Real Madrid reclaim the Spanish title.

Ronaldo  Real Madrid and Brazil
Zidane  Real Madrid and France
Henry  Arsenal and France

MADRID, Spain (Reuters) -- More than a few eyebrows were raised last December when Ronaldo was named World Player of the Year on the strength of just a handful of cameo performances following his return from a career-threatening injury.

Ronaldo's "year" had effectively boiled down to a sensational month at the World Cup, a sparkling debut for his new club Real Madrid and the opening goal in their victory in the World Club Cup.

In many ways the decision to give the Brazilian the award for the third time in his career was a sentimental one, a recognition that after three years of injury-plagued misery the sport had at last recovered one of its most exciting players.

The fairy-tale ending was completed with his stellar performance at the World Cup, firing Brazil to their fifth title with eight goals in seven games, including a magical double in the 2-0 victory against Germany in the final.

This year, however, Ronaldo has starred at Real Madrid over the full 12 months, proving beyond doubt that he is still the most consistently decisive player in world football.

Devastating form

Ronaldo began the year in devastating form, scoring the crucial goals in the big games against traditionally tough opponents such as Valencia, Celta Vigo, Deportivo Coruna and Barcelona to keep his side in the title race when Real Sociedad looked like running away with the championship.

Appropriately enough it was his expertly taken double in the 3-0 win against Athletic Bilbao that allowed Real to overhaul Sociedad and take the title on the final day of the season.

If it had not been for an injury that kept Ronaldo out of most of the semifinal second leg against Juventus, Real might even have been able to defend their Champions League title against AC Milan.

This season he has continued to terrorize opposition defenses, cracking in 12 league goals and four more in the Champions League and Spanish Super Cup to set himself well on the way to reaching his self-imposed target of 35 for the season.

He scored a sublime solo effort after just 15 seconds to set his side on the way to a 2-0 victory in the recent city derby against neighbors Atletico Madrid.

Three days later he helped to ensure Real's first league victory at the Nou Camp in 20 years when he drilled in the all-important second goal in their 2-1 victory over his former club Barcelona.

Teammate Zidane may bring an almost balletic quality to the game with his carefully choreographed movements in midfield, Henry may have the edge in terms of explosive speed but if there is one player who is guaranteed to set the pulse racing every time he gets the ball it is Ronaldo.

The Phenomenon

Just ask the Manchester United fans who gave the Brazilian a standing ovation after his stunning hat-trick in Real's 4-3 win in last season's Champions League quarterfinal second leg at Old Trafford.

Now 27, the player who was simply known as "the Phenomenon" when he first hit the world stage some nine years ago is still just that.

Ronaldo is heavier -- the less diplomatic might say fatter -- than before his devastating knee injury but as light-footed as ever on the ball and his dizzying stepovers still have the power to leave defenders sprawled helplessly across the grass.

He is now so strong that he can shrug off even the most powerful opponents. Give him a glimpse of goal and he invariably hits the target.

When he sets off on one of his mesmerising goal-bound runs it is almost predestined that the ball will end up in the back of the net.

As the man himself said recently: "I always enjoy myself on the pitch because I know that I can still score goals and win matches even when I'm not playing that well."

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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