"Ronaldo did things nobody had seen before. He, together with Romário and George Weah, reinvented the centre-forward position. They were the first to drop from the penalty box to pick up the ball in midfield, switch to the flanks, attract and disorientate the central defenders with their runs, their accelerations, their dribbling."
Ronaldo is regarded as one of the greatest and most complete forwards of all time. Dubbed Il (or O) Fenomeno (the phenomenon), he was a prolific goalscorer, and despite being more of an individualistic attacker, he was also capable of providing assists for his teammates, due to his vision, passing and crossing ability. He was an extremely powerful, fast, and technical player, with excellent movement, as well as being a composed finisher. Highly regarded for his technical ability, Ronaldo was able to use both feet, despite being naturally right footed, and is considered one of the most skilful dribblers in the game. Along with Brazilian compatriot Romário and Liberian star George Weah, Ronaldo was seen as a new breed of striker in the 1990s who would also operate outside the penalty area before running with the ball towards goal. Often positioned near midfield, once in possession of the ball he would waste no time in making a beeline towards goal, with Rob Smyth writing, "he played like every attack had a 10-second deadline.. he would explode into life with no warning for defenders." He frequently beat several players when dribbling at speed, and excelled in one on one situations, due to his ball control, acceleration, agility, balance and nimble footwork in his prime.
"I've never seen a player able to show such precise control at such high speed. Watching him was like watching a character in a video game."
His coach at Barcelona, Bobby Robson, commented: "Ronaldo could start from the halfway line and the whole stadium would ignite. He was the fastest thing I've ever seen running with the ball. Had he managed to stay free of injury, he had every chance of becoming the best footballer ever." In one on one situations, Ronaldo often used elaborate moves to trick and beat defenders and goalkeepers; he popularised the use of many football tricks and skills, such as the elastico and the step over. Sid Lowe of Sports Illustrated writes, "When he was one on one with the goalkeeper, you knew — just knew — that he would score. He was so natural, so cool, so utterly in control. He would dip the shoulder, step over, and bang!."
"There were two Ronaldos: the one that returned after long-term injury in 2002 was a great goalscorer, but the 1990s version was a great everything. At his fearsome peak for PSV, Barcelona and Inter Milan he was arguably the most dangerous striker the world has ever seen."
—Rob Smyth, The Guardian.
His Barcelona teammate Óscar García observed, "I'd never seen anyone play football with such technical ability, creativity and precision at that incredible speed. What stood out to all of us, from the moment we met Ronnie, was that he could do things which other players found very difficult and make them look easy. But he could also produce those things while running at an unbelievable, explosive pace." With his combination of speed, skill and finishing Ronaldinho called Ronaldo "the most complete striker there has ever been", a view echoed by Zlatan Ibrahimović, who stated, "as a football player, he was complete. There will never, in my view, be a better player than him." The goalscoring idol of Lionel Messi, the Argentine states "Ronaldo was the best striker I've ever seen. He was so fast he could score from nothing, and could shoot the ball better than anyone I've seen." The outstanding influence for a generation of strikers, from Karim Benzema to Sergio Agüero, with Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku stating "he changed the dimension of a striker" and could "dribble like a winger, run like a sprinter", Zlatan added, "nobody influenced football and the players who emerged as much as Ronaldo".
Ronaldo, as so many of those who looked up to him acknowledge, changed what it is to be a centre-forward. Every time you see a striker who is expected to hold the ball up, beat players, win headers, shoot from range, drop deep, do everything a striker can possibly do – it might be worth remembering him. He shifted boundaries, challenged convention, just as much as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have altered our perceptions of what a winger might be. Ronaldo, the original Ronaldo, inspired a phalanx of imitators, players we see on our screens every weekend. But he also turned the game so that it will always look just a little bit like him. More than most, he made that No. 9 his own.
Emilio Butragueño stated, "Ronaldo creates a goalscoring opportunity where it doesn't exist. Most strikers need the midfielders and their teammates, but he does not." On his speed of thought, Kaká said "For me the best players are those who are able to think of a play and execute it quickest and in the best way possible, and Ronaldo was the best at that. The speed of thought he had – and the speed he had to carry out his actions – were perfect." Ronaldo was also a strong and powerful player who could shield the ball from the opposition, with former Italian defender Alessandro Nesta (who faced Ronaldo in a high-profile one on one duel in the 1998 UEFA Cup final which was billed as "the best attacker against the best defender in Serie A") stating: "It was the worst experience of my career. Ronaldo is the hardest attacker I've ever had to face. He was impossible to stop." Asked who was the toughest opponent of his career, 2006 world player of the year Fabio Cannavaro responded, "I have no doubt, Ronaldo, the phenomenon. For my generation he was what Maradona or Pelé were for the previous ones. He was unmarkable. At the first check you passed, the second burned you, the third humiliated you. He looked like an extraterrestrial." With his quick reactions and anticipation, Ronaldo often beat defenders to the ball, and as a finisher he was effective with his head as well as either foot, and could finish well both inside and outside the penalty area. In addition, he was an accurate free-kick and penalty kick taker.
Ronaldo holding his ankle in 2010. The injury was the latest for a striker who suffered serious knee injuries which hampered his career in the 2000s.
Comparing his natural ability to Roger Federer, Paul MacDonald of Goal writes, "there's a joy to be had watching something we know to be extremely difficult executed with considerable ease. Ronaldo in his prime was able to do that better than anyone who has ever played the game." Displaying an effortlessness in his game, a reliance on his superior innate ability is given as a reason for his application in training often not being as high as his teammates – though his knee issues may also have been a factor – with his Brazil teammate Emerson stating "Ronaldo felt he didn't need to work as hard as us, that he could do in two days what the rest of us would take ten days to do. And usually, he was right". On his precocious talent – a talent which saw him become the youngest FIFA World Player of the Year at age 20, and youngest Ballon d'Or recipient aged 21 – Rob Smyth of The Guardian wrote in 2016, "Ronaldo is easily the best of the past 30 years, possibly ever. The other Ronaldo and Messi were brilliant teenagers but had nothing like the same impact at that age. Only Pelé, Diego Maradona and George Best can really compare." Asked to name the best player of his lifetime, José Mourinho said, "Ronaldo, El Fenomeno. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi have had longer careers. They have remained at the top every day for 15 years. However, if we are talking strictly about talent and skill, nobody surpasses Ronaldo."
At his physical peak in the 1990s, Ronaldo became severely affected by the knee injuries he suffered from late 1999 onward and the subsequent weight gain during his inactivity, which limited his speed, fitness, and mobility. According to his physiotherapist Nilton Petrone, Ronaldo was vulnerable to injury due to a medical condition combined with his explosive running. "Ronaldo had a problem called trochlear dysplasia. This makes the relationship between the kneecap and the femur a bit unstable. There is no direct surgery for that so the kneecap keeps, for a lack of a better word, "dancing" on the femur. Ronaldo's injuries weren't because his body was weak, but because of his explosive capacity. He didn't just run fast in a straight line, he also changed direction at incredible speed. Ronaldo moved from left to right very fast…so it was obvious, by the way that he played, that injuries were always a possibility". Acknowledging "he was never quite the same" after his knee injury in 2000, with "his pace and sheer brute force diminished in comparison to The Phenomenon" in the 1990s, FourFourTwo magazine ranked him the best player at the 2002 World Cup, adding "he was still a cut above the rest" in the tournament.
In September 2018, Ronaldo became the majority owner of La Liga club Real Valladolid after buying a 51% controlling stake in the club for €30 million. At his unveiling as the club's new owner at Valladolid city hall, Ronaldo stated, "I have gone through many stages in my training in football to prepare for this. Football is all about passion. We want to build the best team possible to compete while also giving information about our management with transparency."