As Barcelona have just released a new kit inspired by a classic look from 1996/97, it seems a good time to revisit that season. And more specifically, a good time to look back on Ronaldo’s time at Camp Nou.
The Brazilian legend spent just one season at FC Barcelona, playing under the guidance of Bobby Robson and his assistant, a young Jose Mourinho. Having arrived from PSV in the summer of ’96, a lot was expected of the young forward. A world record fee was paid for his services and, as all now know with the glory of hindsight, he was worth every penny.
Ronaldo was in his physical peak at Barcelona, all muscle and fibre. The incredible pace and even more remarkable acceleration was his trademark and, early on that season, defenders were caught out trying to catch him offside. Playing a high-line, the likes of Atletico Madrid found out the hard way that there was no way to stop Ronaldo once he was through on goal.
So often he would round the goalkeeper, too, showing exquisite dribbling and control even at high speeds. Every time that he trickled, smashed or passed the ball into the net, he would extend his arms like the Christ the Redeemer statue that looks over his hometown of Rio de Janeiro.
At age 20, he became the youngest ever winner of the FIFA Footballer of the Year and Spanish newspapers exclaimed the arrival of the new Pele. A Nike advert with Ronaldo in stated: “Imagine you asked God to be the best player in the world, and he listened to you.” Ronaldo was truly a phenomenon at this point and his 47 goals that season proved it.
Barcelona won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and Copa Del Rey that season, with Ronaldo crucial in both finals. The Barcelona president at this point declared that Ronaldo was ‘Barcelona’s for life,’ as negotiations on a new contract were in full flow. Confusion and an apparent ‘bizarre’ offer led to a change of plans before Inter Milan triggered his release clause and took him to Serie A.
Barca fans were left heartbroken, with this stunning sole season all they have to remember Fenomeno by.