Ronaldo moved to Barcelona while still a teenager in the summer of 1996 and had played his last game for the club by May 1997. In between, the Brazilian sensation scored 47 goals and played the game like nobody had played it before. He was named the world’s best player by FIFA in both years.

With the help of Ronaldo’s Barcelona team-mate Juan Antonio Pizzi, Adam Bate pieces together the story of that season — the story of a phenomenon…

Everyone remembers the goal against Compostela.

The date was October 12 1996, and the venue was San Lazaro. The crowd numbered 12,000. But the only detail that really mattered was that Ronaldo was on the move with the ball at his feet and that meant there was nothing that any defender in the world could do about it.

They tugged at his shirt near the halfway line. They tried to knock him off his feet. But he was too strong, too speedy, too skilful. Two were beaten by pace and power. Another two with some lightning quick footwork inside the box.

The finish was the easy bit.

Sir Bobby Robson, the new Barcelona manager, looked on in sheer disbelief but he was not alone. Nobody at Barcelona had ever seen a goal like this before.

But then, nobody at Barcelona, nobody anywhere, had ever seen a player like Ronaldo before.

“That goal against Compostela,” Juan Antonio Pizzi tells Sky Sports. “It was unmatched. But he scored all kinds of goals. I have shared a dressing room with many great players but he is undoubtedly the best that I have known. He was the best player in the world that season.”

There were supposed to be eight of those seasons when Ronaldo signed from PSV for around £13m. But his stay would last for only one glorious campaign as his representatives bundled him on to Italy before the Copa del Rey was even won.

Barcelona did not even win La Liga that season but when Paris Saint-Germain were beaten 1-0 in the European Cup Winners’ Cup Final, Ronaldo did deliver a European trophy with one of his 47 goals for the club.

He was still only 20 at the time. Continue reading…

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