Former Cruzeiro idol Ronaldo booed as team’s owner, as fans call for the debt-ridden club to make statement signings

IT was in 1993 that a teenage striker called Ronaldo started to make a name for himself in the blue shirt of Cruzeiro.

On Saturday, three decades later, Ronaldo had to put up with something he had never heard before from Cruzeiro supporters – boos, jeers and insults.

EPARonaldo faced boos for the first time as Cruzeiro owner on Saturday[/caption]

Cruzeiro fans are baying for big transfers – but the club are still riddled by debt

Where once he was the centre forward, now he is the owner. Changes in the legislation in Brazil have allowed football clubs to transform themselves into businesses, and at the end of 2021 Ronaldo became the majority shareholder. The buck stops with him.

And so, as the team lost the first leg of a local semi final 2-0 to America, a team with traditional but nothing like the popular appeal of Cruzeiro, the fans vented their anger at the former idol.

It hurt. “Today was a sad day for me,” said Ronaldo on social media. “Not just because of the result on the field, but because of the reaction of part of the fans and the press.”

And he appealed for fairness. “It’s never too much to remember the situation in which I found Cruzeiro and the painful process we are going through. We’ve taken the club out of intensive care, and I’ve already said that we are going to take it out of the hospital.”

Here he has a point. From the city of Belo Horizonte, Cruzeiro are one of Brazil’s giants. They won the league title in 2013 and 14, and followed up by winning the cup – a huge trophy in Brazil – in 2017 and 18. But the next year they imploded, on and off the field.

All kinds of financial irregularities were revealed, massive debts had been incurred and Cruzeiro plunged into the second division. Two years later they were still there when Ronaldo took over.

He was greeted as the saviour, the multi-millionaire who was going to carry the club back to its rightful place. The new owner, though, was very clear. There would be no mad spending spree.

The idea was to implement a down to earth model, low on costs and high on common sense. The club had previously turned to some big name coaches to get them out of trouble.

Ronaldo’s choice was Paulo Pezzolano, a low profile young Uruguayan who came cut price, and who got them promoted at the end of last year as second division champions.

Now comes the real test. The next first division campaign kicks off in just over a month. Last year was a triumph for Pezzolano’s high energy, high pressing game. This time round the quality of the opposition will be much higher.

Does the club need big name reinforcements? Saturday’s defeat would seem to indicate that it does. But they will not be coming.

“I might want better players,” said Pezzolano after the match, “but Cruzeiro can’t bring them in. Ronaldo wants better players, but he can’t sign them, because the club’s debt is still very big.

“The fans want stars, and I do too, but we’re not going to have them. This is the moment that we are in.”

This, then, is a crisis of expectations, and in Brazilian football it is by no means limited to Cruzeiro. In recent decades the focus of the Brazilian game has shifted from the local to the national and the continental.

EPACruzeiro legend Ronaldo is running a tight ship at his former club[/caption]

Paulo Pezzolano, right of Ronaldo, was hired and got the club promoted to the first division

Organising the game in a country this size has never been easy, and a genuine national league was only launched in 1971. And so for decades the battle revolved around being top dog in each city, with Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte all having their own separate championships.

These still exist, but they declined massively in prestige, meaning that there are simply not enough titles left on the table for all of the clubs to retain the giant status which they are so proud of.

Even with more money flowing into the game, and rich owners dipping into their wallets, there is no way that everyone’s expectations can be met. And the resulting anger does not even spare a true great like Ronaldo.

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