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
Rare Photos of Brazil Soccer Great Ronaldo
Ronaldo chose to join PSV after the 1994 World Cup, for which he was selected despite being just 17, but did not play. Ronaldo scored 30 league goals in his first season in the Netherlands.
Ronaldo presents his FC Barcelona jersey to fellow Brazilian Alex Barros at the Montmelo circuit outside Barcelone in 1996. This was only the beginning of Ronaldo's interest in racing. Since 2005, Ronaldo has been the co-owner of A1 Team Brazil, a Brazilian Grand Prix racing team.
Ronaldo of Barcellona is escorted by Italian policemen out of Pisa's airport in 1997. Barcellona played Fiorentina of Florence in a Champion's League semifinal soccer match held in Florence.
Ronaldo cuddles up to former girlfriend Susana Werner in 1997.
Ronaldo, accompanied by his mother, Sonia Nazario De Lima, presents Pope John Paul II with a Brazilian national team jersey and an Inter Milan jersey at the Vatican in 1998.
French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez charges into Ronaldo during the 1998 World Cup final between France and Brazil. France won 3-0.
Ronaldo stands dejected after the 1998 World Cup final with his silver medal.
Ronaldo gives the thumbs-up on a tour of the falls at Foz do Iguacu National Park, Brazil, in June 1999. The Brazilian national soccer team was training nearby in preparation for the Copa America tournament.
Rivaldo and Ronaldo lounge by the pool in Buenos Aires. The two played on the Brazil national team from 1994 to 2003 and the tandem scored 96 goals in 171 combined appearances.
Ronald and his then wife, former Brazilian soccer player Milen Domingues, make a toast during their wedding in 1999.
Ronaldo tries his hand at golf during the 2001 Pro-Am at the Brazilian Open in San Paolo.
F1 racer Michael Schumacher of Germany douses Ronaldo with champagne after a friendly match for UNICEF in Rio de Janeiro in 2001.
Ronaldo, sporting his famous triangle haircut, celebrates on the pitch after Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win its fifth World Cup in 2002.
Ronaldo honors Brazil in the 2004 Olympics by carrying the Olympic Torch through Rio de Janeiro.
Ronaldo celebrates with Real Madrid teammate David Beckham after he scored a goal during their La Liga match against Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2004.
Ronaldo, donning a sleek pinstripe suit, attends the GQ Awards 2004 in Madrid with his then girlfriend Daniela Cicarelli.
Real Madrid's Ronaldo and David Beckham chat during a lunch in 2004.
Brazilian soccer fans will forever remember Ronaldo (pictured here in 2005) for his fun-loving antics, dominant scoring ability, mesmerizing dribbling skills and leadership on two World Cup-winning teams.
Ronaldo joined AC Milan, the sixth of his seven career teams, in February 2007. Here, he poses with AC-Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani.
Ronaldo joined the Corinthians in March 2009. The stint was the last professional team of his soccer career. After the Corinthians were eliminated from the 2011 Copa Libertadores de America, Ronaldo announced his retirement while citing nagging injuries that have stalled his career.
Ronaldo presents Hugh Jackman with a Corinthians jersey embroidered with the name Wolverine and the number 'X' to promote Jackman's movie 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine.'
In a long standing soccer tradition, Ronaldo exchanges his Corinthian's jersey with Israel's president Shimon Peres' Israel national soccer team jersey.
Ronaldo joins Rogerio Flausino of Jota Quest, a Brazilian rock band, on stage at the Monange Dream Fashion Tour in Rio de Janeiro in April 2010.
Ronaldo leaves Nello's restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York City in 2011.
Michael Phelps, Natalis Chan and Ronaldo attend a press conference at the Mission Hills Golf Club in Haikou, China, in 2012.
Ronaldo Nazario de Lima and then girlfriend Paula Morais walk along the streets of Madrid in 2013.
Ronaldo attends the 2013 European Poker Tour in Barcelona.
Ronaldo waves from a float as he takes part in Gavioes da Fiel samba school performance during the second night of carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in March 2014. Gavioes da Fiel's theme for the carnival was an homage to Ronaldo.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter welcomes Ronaldo at the 2014 Football for Hope Festival at Vila Olimpica Mane Garrincha Caju in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Ronaldo attends the men's final on day 15 of the 2015 French Open 2015 at Roland Garros Stadium in Paris, France.
Ronaldo brings out the trophy ahead of the final at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.