In the beautiful port city of Yokohama, there are three important high-rises collectively called the Three Towers. When referred to individually, they are the King, the Queen and the Jack. The King is the headquarters of the Kanagawa Prefecture; Queen, the Yokohama Customs building; and Jack, the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall. The three survived the massive Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and are the lucky mascots of the Japanese. They believe that seeing all three from one place (Osanbashi Pier is the best place to see them together) will bring you luck. It is just a 40-minute drive from the Three Towers to the Imperial Palace of the emperor. The emperor has no abode in Yokohama, but in 2002, a coronation took place in the economic and commercial hub of Tokyo.
On June 30, a new king of football was crowned in the city. At the Yokohama stadium, three towers stood tall as Brazil destroyed Germany in the final of the FIFA World Cup and emerged champions. They were Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Fans called them Ro-Ri-Ro. Those who have witnessed all three playing together are considered lucky, and I am one of them. As Brazil lifted the cup, wild celebrations broke out outside the stadium. Beautiful Brazilian women threw away their shape-wear, cupped their breasts and yelled: “One for Honaldo, one for Hivaldo.” (In Portuguese, R is pronounced as H.) Someone asked: What about Ronaldinho? Pat came the reply: “He is a kid.” Ronaldinho, at 22, was one of the youngest players in the championship team.
Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima aka Ronaldo aka The Phenomenon, with his shaved head with a patch of hair in the front, scored two blistering goals in the final. That night, hairdressers across the globe did double shifts. I first watched Ronaldo play in the 1998 World Cup. The world was shocked when Brazil released its start list in the final against hosts France. The name of Ronaldo, on whom Brazil’s hope rested, was missing! He was not there in the reserve list, too. He finally made it to the ground, but was a shadow of his pacy, powerful self. France, riding on Zinedine Zidane’s brilliance and artistry, eclipsed Brazil.
What happened to Ronaldo ahead of the final remained a mystery for a brief while. Finally, the truth came out: he had an epileptic attack hours ahead of the match and was unfit to play. The same man powered Brazil to victory in Yokohama 2002 and gave us one of the greatest comeback stories in football history. In his prime, Ronaldo could run 100 metres in 10.3 seconds. He had mind-blowing shooting skills and was a master at dribbling, too. But his goals overshadowed his other skills. He had immense physical strength, which enabled him to shake defenders off when sandwiched. It is a paradox that he used to wet his bed well past his teens.
Twenty years ago, when I interviewed him for the Malayala Manorama and THE WEEK, he proudly told me that his buck teeth were his identity. A few months ago, I saw him on television. The buck teeth had been straightened and the gap between the upper front teeth had been closed. Maybe the fashion sense of his fifth girlfriend prevailed. News from Brazil is that there is a successor to The Phenomenon. Person to person, no defender is a match for Endrick, as was the case with Ronaldo. His body balance, which is important for perfect dribbling, gives him that edge when dealing with tough tackles.
Endrick’s first touch in the air is exemplary and, in an instant, he could receive the ball, twist his body towards the goal, and shoot with pin point accuracy. At 173cm, he is slightly taller than Lionel Messi and shorter that Ronaldo. He is a better player than Ronaldo in the air, which makes him a real threat in the penalty box. His head stings the ball like a bee. Ronaldo could shoot with both feet effortlessly, while Endrick favours his left. So that is where he could improve.
You cannot score six goals in seven Copinha Cup games playing against kids five years older without being a serious talent. His Copinha performance also showed that he could shoot from any angle, and that he could out-run and out-think opponents. There are defenders who described Ronaldo as a bulldozer; Endrick is not one yet, but he could become one when he has stronger legs and hips. One factor that is common to both players is their ability to scatter a pack of defenders. They don’t feign, nor do they use trickery to do this. They depend solely on their superior skills and strength.
An interviewer once asked Ronaldo about one of his beautiful goals and this is what he had to say: “I was going one way and the goalkeeper came towards me. I went my way, and he went his.” He was a master at deceiving goalkeepers. Endrick is showing signs of that brilliance.
Ronaldo specialised in a dribbling move the Brazilians variously call the Joia, flip-flap, snake bite or elastico. He could force the defender to think one way and do the exact opposite. Playing for Inter Milan in the 1998 UEFA Cup final against Lazio—which has been described by football pundits as Ronaldo’s finest 90 minutes for the Nerazzuri—he unleashed an elastico move. Zidane would later say in an interview that it most impressed him. “It will remain in my mind forever,” he said. “George Weah used to do it well, Ronaldinho, too. But not while moving. Ronaldo did it while moving at top speed. It was against Alessandro Nesta, not against my grandmother.”
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Ronaldo was very good at the ‘dummy run’, which involves caressing the ball to make it move just enough so that it remains within your control, while making dance-like moves above or around the ball without actually touching it. It is one way to confound the defenders, who will have the tough job of watching the moving ball, the dancing legs, and the body to understand what the attacker has in mind. Endrick is also good at these tricks, but he has a long way to go.
Jose Mourinho famously said that The Phenomenon was the “best Ronaldo ever”. Zidane said he was the best he played with. Now Endrick is being described as the “best in the next generation”. Is he Ronaldo’s successor? You might be surprised that his favourite among Brazilian legends is not Ronaldo, nor Romario, or Ronaldinho, or the current demigod Neymar Junior. It is Rivaldo, an attacking midfielder who was the most skilful and creative player of his generation.
Yet, as a striker, Endrick is Ronaldo’s true successor. Their celebrations after scoring are similar, as both eschew ‘jumping in the air’ antics. Will Endrick join the Brazilian league of legends? Ronaldo was a temptation football gifted to my generation. Thanks to injuries, chiefly a dodgy knee, we could not have enough of him. I hope Endrick stays out of injuries, so that the world could see his full potential. Though people who are familiar with him say Endrick is mentally strong, his real test will come when he has to lift a team out the depths and lead it to glory. Ronaldo did so several times with the national team and clubs he played for.
Football is a good school that teaches you a lot of things about life, the game, fame, money.... Ask Diego Maradona, though that is not possible now. Endrick has been a good student, nay, the best student so far. His fans would be hoping that he becomes a master soon.