Where does Ronaldo rank?

February, 14, 2011
02/14/11
10:11
AM ET
RonaldoMauricio Lima/AFP/Getty ImagesRonaldo has finally decided to hang up his boots.

News has broken that Brazil's Ronaldo, the best striker of the 1990s, will retire as of today, a decision that he had hinted at back in August. Here, with a few updates, is what we had to say about his impending retirement back then, and his place in the game's history:

When the U.S. took on Brazil in a friendly on Aug. 10, 2010, it came as no surprise that Ronaldo wasn't at the Meadowlands. The legendary hitman didn't feature in the World Cup in South Africa, and after an unrelenting string of injuries, he had announced earlier in the year that the upcoming season would be his last. And that's assuming he could stay healthy enough to make it through the grind of games.

At 34, Il Fenomeno finished his career for in-crisis Corinthians. It was a long way from his glory days in the 1990s and early 2000s at Barcelona, Inter and Real Madrid, but that doesn't change the idea that Ronaldo should be in the conversation as one of the all-time greats.

But where, exactly, does he rank? How do his accomplishments stack up against the likes of Pele?

Ronaldo won 56 individual awards and helped his club and national teams snag 18 trophies. He was on two Brazilian squads that won the World Cup, in 1994 and 2002 -- although he never came off the bench in '94. And he remains the World Cup's most prolific goal scorer with 15.

Ronaldo scored 247 league goals in the world's toughest competitions in just 343 games, giving him the improbable average of a goal in 72 percent of his games. He also scored 62 goals for Brazil, trailing only Pelé (77) for most all time. But you could make the case that Ronaldo scored his goals in an era when they were much harder to come by.

Of all the strikers who've dominated European club soccer in the past few decades, Ronaldo's scoring percentage of a goal in 72 percent of his games trails only that of 1980s and early 1990s Ajax and AC Milan striker Marco van Basten (76.4 percent), who had a much shorter career. Ronaldo comfortably outscored all the other greats of his era. Only Romario (68.8 percent), Ruud van Nistelrooy (60.1 percent), Gabriel Batistuta (56.5 percent) and Jurgen Klinsmann (52.6 percent) even came close, easily making Ronaldo the most prolific striker of the past 20 years.

Admittedly, Ronaldo's career trailed off considerably after he traded Real Madrid for AC Milan at age 31, when his knees could no longer support the rigors of professional football and his ballooning weight. But keeping in mind that his knee surgeries cost him three of his best years at a time when he was so quick and nimble that his own joints couldn't even keep up with him, Ronaldo still put up jaw-dropping stats.

The best player of all time? Maybe not. But the best pure striker of all time? Absolutely.

Leander Schaerlaeckens

Contributing writer, ESPN.com
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a contributing writer for ESPN.com. He has previously written for The Guardian, The Washington Times and UPI.

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