FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Ronaldo, the Brazilian soccer legend who recently became a part-owner of the NASL’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, wants to come out of retirement and play again for the team at age 38.
At least that’s what he told SI.com on Tuesday night in his first interview since becoming part of the team’s leadership. “I will try to play some games,” he said with his trademark smile. “This year I want to train a lot. The last three years I didn’t because I was too busy in other stuff … Maybe if we get to the final and I’m feeling good, why not? I will put my name in the NASL as an option.”
How serious Ronaldo is about playing again remains to be seen, of course. He last played professionally in 2011 for Corinthians, and while his weight has come down considerably, he still has some work to do to get in playing shape.
As for his off-field role, why would one of the greatest players in the history of soccer, the winner of two World Cups and the No. 2 goal scorer in World Cup history, want to become a minority owner of a second-division U.S. soccer team?
“It’s a good question,” Ronaldo said, speaking in English that has improved dramatically after two years of living in London. “I can’t be a manager, because I think it’s too tough managing 30 players thinking in different ways. I think being an owner is a good way to teach our players now the way I won … It’s a new challenge for me. I’ve been working a lot in different things. Last year I was involved in the World Cup as a member of the organizing board, and I was also commentating matches during the World Cup for TV Globo. And now it’s a great opportunity to manage as an owner of a great team.”
“The Fort Lauderdale Strikers is a team with history, tradition,” he continued. “Soccer in America is growing, so I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Reports in Brazil say that Ronaldo has a 10 percent stake in the Strikers, who reached the NASL final last season before losing to San Antonio. Back in the 1970s, the NASL Strikers fielded some of the biggest names in the history of U.S. club soccer, including Gerd Müller, George Best, Teófilo Cubillas, Gordon Banks and Elías Figueroa. The reincarnated NASL of today is starting to gain a foothold despite having second-division status. Under new Brazilian ownership, the Strikers have started to become more ambitious, joining the NASL’s reincarnated New York Cosmos, which has signed veteran Spanish standouts Raúl and Marcos Senna.
Regardless of whether he ends up playing for Fort Lauderdale, Ronaldo says he’s committed to his ownership role. He plans to start a youth academy in the U.S., and he says he will spend significant time each year living in South Florida. “It will be a lot [of time],” he said. “I’m moving back to São Paulo [from London]. I will spend my time between São Paulo and Fort Lauderdale.”
Ricardo Geromel, the Strikers’ ambitious 27-year-old managing partner (and one of three principal owners), did much of the work to help bring Ronaldo on board. “In one meeting we were defining the team’s strategy,” Geromel explained. “And he said, ‘Ricardo, I will go sell season tickets on the beach if that’s what it takes to make this successful. You can count on me.’”
Geromel put together the group that bought the Strikers in September, which includes himself, principal owner Paulo Cesso and board chairman Rafael Bertani. (The latter two are Brazilian education entrepeneurs.) But Geromel also wanted to have a big name involved, and through his brother, Pedro—a center back who’s played in the top divisions of Portugal, Germany, Spain and now Brazil with Grêmio—he met Ronaldo.
“When I bought the team, I said, ‘Let’s get together and see if there’s anything we can do,’” Ricardo Geromel explained. “[Ronaldo] put a lot of thought into it.”
Geromel himself is something of a swashbuckling character who has already worked in several fields by the age of 27. He grew up in São Paulo and earned a soccer scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson, where he played with U.S. national team midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, whom he considers a good friend. Geromel said he graduated in three years and went on to become a soybeans commodities trader in Switzerland, Hong Kong and Latin America.
He said he later earned a business graduate degree in Paris, worked for a French mining logistics company in Africa and became a writer for Forbes covering emerging markets and, eventually, global billionaires. He can tell you that Brazil currently has 66 billionaires in the country. He also has big plans for the Strikers, which he said included a new stadium, Ronaldo’s academy and the use of emerging technologies, including drones to provide a new angle on games and bring a beer to your seats.
It’s a lot to digest, and there will be plenty of skeptics. But Geromel can now point to his success landing Ronaldo, who was there in the flesh on Tuesday night, flashing the grin that’s familiar to fans around the world.
“I’m very glad to be here,” said Ronaldo the soccer team owner. “This is a dream come true. I think it’s an amazing project and very exciting.”
Look for more from SI’s interview with Ronaldo in additional installments on Planet Fútbol
GALLERY: Rare photos of Ronaldo