Football: Book Review - Life and strife of the boy wonder

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The main problem with writing a biography about a 21-year old footballer, albeit the most famous one in the world, is that he is only 21. Ronaldo Nazario De Lima - better known to millions as Ronaldo - has hardly achieved enough in his career so far to fill an entire book.

This obvious drawback did not unduly concern Wensley Clarkson. Instead, he set about recounting, in chronological order as well as in great and over-elaborate detail, the life and times of the Brazil No 9.

Early indications that the book might verge towards the melodramatic are confirmed in the introduction: "All of this is here - the abject poverty, the escape from the slums, the rise to super-stardom, and the mystery of those heartbreaking 90 minutes that changed the face of world soccer."

This sensationalist approach is unnecessary. First, it is not unusual for Brazilian stars to emanate from poor city suburbs - indeed, most of the present national team were discovered while playing on beaches or wasteland. Second, although the World Cup final incident was strange, it is highly debatable whether it "changed the face of world soccer". Hungary demolishing England 6-3 at Wembley in 1954; Pele bursting on to the world scene as a 17-year-old in 1958; or the Munich air disaster in the same year. These are all footballing events which stick in the mind and really shaped the game's history.

Broken up into a rather excessive 28 chapters, and written in an equally inappropriate chatty style, the book (Blake, pounds 16.99) mixes irrelevant trivia with excessive sex references. This is a Jackie Collins novel, without the plot. The first five chapters deal with Ronaldo's life as a child, his parents' various struggles with poverty and substance abuse, not to mention coping with their son's budding career.

Then come endless chapters, all headed with the kind of Latin titles usually associated with late-night adult thrillers on Channel Five. "Escape from Gringoland; Last Dance in Rio; Blondes Have More Fun". Nearly 150 pages are dedicated to Ronaldo's time in Europe, his flings, his apparent home- sickness (though his mother was at his side at all times) and his on- off love affair with Suzanna Warner, the woman who caused the normally immovable Des Lynam to skip a beat.

When Ronaldo's progress on, rather than off the pitch, is eventually discussed, it is done without much thought. His moves from PSV Eindhoven to Barcelona and then to Internazionale are reported as if the player was an imbecile. The author gives the continuously conflicting impression that Ronaldo had a poor relationship with the Catalan fans, struggled with his fitness and had a poor scoring record. The facts, stated by Clarkson himself, prove the contrary to be true: 45 goals in 48 appearances, as well as scoring in nine consecutive matches (thus superseding a 53-year-old record) hardly suggest Ronaldo failed.

The transfer negotiations between Alexandre and Reinaldo (Ronaldo's agents), Barcelona and Inter do make for more interesting reading. Though the whole saga is old news, it is a detailed insight into the murky world of big- money deals.

The book is at its best, though, when recounting the day of the World Cup final. The short and snappy diary style is finally appropriate, and highly effective when describing how stressful a day it was.

If you are going on holiday and have no trashy novels, consider it. If not, don't even read the prologue.