Sao Paulo hails goal-den boy Ronaldo
Twelve years after he fired this year's World Cup hosts to glory, former Brazil star Ronaldo basked Sunday in the after-glow of Sao Paulo's Carnival celebrations.
The 37-year-old's career was the theme of the Gavioes da Fiel samba group, founded by fans of his former club Corinthians, where he hung up his boots three years ago after a stellar career with Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
Clad in a golden suit and tie, Ronaldo, the top scorer in World Cup finals history with 15 goals, waved joyously to the crowd and tried out his samba legs as the giant float moved through the streets.
"It was all very moving," said Ronaldo, a member of the organizing committee of this year's World Cup, which kicks off on June 12 in Sao Paulo itself.
The star was accompanied by his parents as he took the acclaim of thousands of Carnival-goers at the city's Sambadrome, while his group's float made its way along the streets, music blaring.
"I was hoarse by the end from singing so much," he said.
"Seeing the reaction of supporters was very emotional."
As Brazil's business hub, Sao Paulo is far more staid than Rio, where Carnival celebrations are considerably more hedonistic.
But tens of thousands came out to revel and salute Ronaldo, whose two goals saw off Germany in Tokyo to win the 2002 World Cup final.
"Ronaldo is a phenomenon -- he is our phenomenon," spectator Daniel Pereira, 35, told AFP.
"I adore him. He is such a fighter. He came through several setbacks and he is a winner," added Pereira, referring to the star's many battles with knee injuries.
- Phoenix rising from the ashes -
The Ronaldo parade, five floats long, showed off in song and dance aspects of Ronaldo's career with one representing a phoenix rising from the ashes -- portraying his recovery from injury to win the World Cup.
Ronaldo rose to fame and glory after being born in a poor Rio de Janeiro suburb.
He was scouted as a young teenager by PSV Eindhoven, then had a year under former England coach Bobby Robson at Barcelona, before Inter Milan came calling.
He became one of Real Madrid's famerd 'galacticos' thereafter and teamed up with David Beckham at the Bernabeu before heading to AC Milan, though by then he had clearly passed his peak as weight issues became a problem.
World player of the year in 1997 and 2002, he then headed home to Corinthians, one of Brazil's most popular clubs, to wind down his playing days.
"Ronaldo wrote a page of Corinthians's history," enthused 20-year-old Carnival-goer Marcos Vianello.
"He wasn't just any player in our team. Even if he hails from Rio he considers himself a 'corinthiano' and he showed that today."
The samba celebration of Ronaldo's life skipped over one incident which brought him severe embarrassment in 2008, when he found himself at a police station after refusing to pay for the services of three transvestites.
He claimed he was unaware the trio were not women when he took them to a Rio motel.
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