Having been listed in Guinness World Records, Ronaldo stated, "I am proud of my career and of the records I set. But I know that one day they will be broken." Ronaldo and Klinsmann's shared record of at least three goals in three separate World Cup finals was broken by German striker Miroslav Klose, who has a record of at least four goals in each of three tournaments, having netted five at both the 2002 and 2006 finals, and four at the 2010 tournament. Ronaldo finished with fifteen goals in nineteen World Cup matches, for an average of 0.79 per game. His teammate Kaká reflected, "Ronaldo is the best player I have ever played with. I have seen il Fenomeno do things nobody else has ever done."
Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima was born on 18 September 1976 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the third child of Nélio Nazário de Lima, Snr. and Sônia dos Santos Barata. Ronaldo has a brother, Nélio Jr. His parents separated when he was 11, and Ronaldo dropped out of school shortly afterward to pursue a career in football. He played on the streets of Bento Ribeiro, a suburb of Rio de Janeiro. His mother states, "I always found him on the street playing ball with friends when he should have been in school. I know, I lost my battle." He joined Social Ramos athletic indoor futsal team at the age of 12, and led the city youth league in scoring with a record 166 goals in his first season which included scoring 11 of his team's 12 goals in a single game. Crediting futsal for developing his skills, Ronaldo has said, "futsal will always be my first love." Spotted by former Brazilian player Jairzinho, who was coaching São Cristóvão, Ronaldo played for the São Cristóvão youth team where he showcased his talents on the field. Ronaldo's agents in Brazil, Reinaldo Pitta and Alexandre Martins, signed him as a 13-year-old. Pitta stated, "We saw right away that he could be something different than most other players." Recognized as a child prodigy, Jairzinho recommended the then 16-year-old to his former club Cruzeiro.
In 1993, Ronaldo began his football career playing for Cruzeiro. Aged 16, he made his professional debut on 25 May 1993 against Caldense in the Minas Gerais State Championship. Ronaldo came to national public attention on 7 November 1993, scoring five goals in the game against Bahia.
Ronaldo scored 44 goals in 47 games with Cruzeiro, leading them to their first Copa do Brasil in 1993, and the Minas Gerais State Championship in 1994. Before joining Cruzeiro, he was turned down by Flamengo, the team he supported as a boy, after missing practice due to an inability to afford the fare for the hour-long bus ride, but Jairzinho saw Ronaldo's potential and helped get him the move to Cruzeiro.
Ronaldo made his international debut for Brazil on 23 March 1994, in a friendly match in Recife against Argentina; his first senior goal for Brazil came on 4 May 1994, in a 3–0 friendly win over Iceland. He went to the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States as a 17-year-old, but did not play, as Brazil went on to win the tournament. He stated he was "overjoyed" at the experience. He was then known as Ronaldinho ("little Ronaldo" in Portuguese), because Ronaldo Rodrigues de Jesus, his older teammate on the tournament, was also called Ronaldo and nicknamed Ronaldão ("big Ronaldo") to further distinguish them. Another Brazilian player, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, now widely known as Ronaldinho, was called Ronaldinho Gaúcho when he joined the Brazilian main national team in 1999.
Nick Miller, match reporter for The Guardian, writes, "What’s striking about Ronaldo in that first year at PSV is how complete he looks, even as a skinny teenager. Everything that would come to define him – the lightning pace, the blurry stepovers, the implausible impression that he was faster with the ball than without it, even the exceptional upper-body strength – was all there." Rob Smyth added, "In many ways Ronaldo was the first PlayStation footballer. His stepover was a form of hypnosis, and his signature trick, the elastico, could certainly have come from a computer screen." Ronaldo's second season was marred by a knee injury which kept him out of most of the campaign, but he still averaged nearly a goal a game, scoring 19 goals in 21 appearances. With PSV, Ronaldo won the Dutch Cup in 1996 and he was Eredivisie top scorer in 1995. During his two seasons at the club he scored 54 goals in 58 games.
Ronaldo has been sponsored by sportswear company Nike since the early part of his career. In 1996, Nike signed Ronaldo to a 10-year contract and to a lifetime endorsement deal worth over $180 million. He is closely associated with the original Nike Mercurial R9 that was designed for him for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. To celebrate 15 years of the boot, Nike created a Mercurial Vapor IX inspired by the 1998 design, with Phil McCartney, VP of Football Footwear for Nike, stating; "Ronaldo’s impact on the game 15 years ago was immense, and in the run up to 2014, we wanted to celebrate that boot and the man himself. We thought a modern construction of his 1998 boot would be a great commemoration of that moment." In 2018, Ronaldo's R9 Mercurial boots inspired the Nike Mercurial Superfly VI boots commissioned for Kylian Mbappé. Unveiled in 2000, a bronze statue of Ronaldo is located next to Ronaldo Field at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
Comparing his natural ability to Roger Federer, Paul MacDonald of Goal writes, "there’s a joy to be had watching something we know to be extremely difficult executed with considerable ease. Ronaldo in his prime was able to do that better than anyone who has ever played the game." Displaying an effortlessness in his game, a reliance on his superior innate ability is given as a reason for his application in training often not being as high as his teammates – though his knee issues may also have been a factor – with his Brazil teammate Emerson stating “Ronaldo felt he didn’t need to work as hard as us, that he could do in two days what the rest of us would take ten days to do. And usually, he was right”. On his precocious talent – a talent which saw him become the youngest FIFA World Player of the Year at age 20, and youngest Ballon d'Or recipient aged 21 – Rob Smyth of The Guardian wrote in 2016, "Ronaldo is easily the best of the past 30 years, possibly ever. The other Ronaldo and Messi were brilliant teenagers but had nothing like the same impact at that age. Only Pelé, Diego Maradona and George Best can really compare." Asked to name the best player of his lifetime, José Mourinho said, "Ronaldo, El Fenomeno. Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi have had longer careers. They have remained at the top every day for 15 years. However, if we are talking strictly about talent and skill, nobody surpasses Ronaldo."
Arguably Ronaldo's most memorable Barcelona goal was scored at SD Compostela on 11 October 1996. Having received the ball inside his own half, he evaded a cynical tackle of the first opponent with a drag back, before running away from another and ran towards goal where he went past two more defenders in the box with close ball control, and then slotted the ball into the bottom corner of the net. The camera then cut to Barcelona manager Bobby Robson who had got up off the bench and clasped his head in disbelief at what he had seen. The footage of the goal was later used in a Nike advert with a voiceover asking: "Imagine you asked God to be the best player in the world, and he listened to you". The day after the goal, the headline in the Spanish newspaper AS read: 'Pelé returns'. A hat-trick against Valencia, the third goal of which saw him dissect two Valencia defenders before striking the ball into the net, saw Barcelona fans waving white handkerchiefs as an expression of admiration for an exceptional performance. Such was the manner Ronaldo ran through opposing defences, former Real Madrid forward Jorge Valdano commented; "he's not a man, he's a herd". Sid Lowe of Sports Illustrated states, "That season Ronaldo was unstoppable. He was slim and powerful, skillful, fast and deadly. He was ridiculously good." At the end of 1996, aged 20, Ronaldo became the youngest player to win FIFA World Player of the Year.
During his spell at PSV, Ronaldo attracted the attention of both Inter Milan and FC Barcelona. It was Barcelona that was willing to pay the then world record fee of $19.5 million. During the 1996–97 season, Ronaldo scored 47 goals in 49 games in all competitions, with his goal celebration invariably the same with his arms outstretched like the statue of Christ the Redeemer that watches over his native Rio de Janeiro. He led the Catalan side to UEFA Cup Winners' Cup triumph where he capped the season with the winning goal in the cup final, and to Copa del Rey and Supercopa de España wins. He also won La Liga top scorer award in 1997 with 34 goals in 37 games, and the European Golden Shoe. Until the 2008–09 season, Ronaldo remained the last player to score more than 30 goals in La Liga.
In the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ronaldo played with the name Ronaldinho on his shirt, since centre back Ronaldo Guiaro, two years his senior, was one of his teammates. Brazil went on to win the bronze medal. Ronaldo also represented Brazil in the 1995 Copa América (finishing in second place), and won both the 1997 and the 1999 editions of the tournament. He was named player of the tournament in 1997, was the top scorer in 1999, and he scored in the finals of both – against Bolivia in 1997 and Uruguay in 1999. He also took part in the friendly Tournoi de France in 1997, preceding the 1998 FIFA World Cup, scoring a goal as Brazil finished in second. Ronaldo starred alongside Romário, dubbed the Ro-Ro attack, in the 1997 FIFA Confederations Cup, helping Brazil win their first ever Confederations Cup title where he finished as the third highest scorer with 4 goals, scoring a hat-trick over Australia in the final.
Ronaldo entered the 1998 FIFA World Cup billed as the world's greatest player by reporters in the sport. Jacob Steinberg of The Guardian writes, "In 1998, no one was as ferociously talented as Ronaldo, whose supernatural mixture of power, pace and skill had made him the player every child in the playground wanted to be; at the age of 21, the hopes and dreams of a nation rested on his shoulders." He scored four goals and made three assists en route to the final. Hours before the final he suffered a convulsive fit. At first, Ronaldo was removed from the starting lineup 72 minutes before the match, and the team sheet (with Edmundo as his replacement) was submitted to the FIFA delegate. The starting line up without Ronaldo was released to a stunned world media. The BBC's John Motson stated, "The scenes in the commentary box have been absolute mayhem and chaos." However shortly before kick off, after pleading that he felt fine and requested to play, Ronaldo was reinstated by Brazil coach Mário Zagallo.
Prior to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Ronaldo had barely played since rupturing the cruciate ligament in his right knee in April 2000, and he missed Brazil's entire qualification campaign where, in his absence, the team had been poor. Tim Vickery writes, "Without Ronaldo, Brazil were a shambles, fortunate even to get to the tournament. With him, it was a different story." In a remarkable comeback from injury that had threatened his career, Ronaldo led Brazil to their record fifth World Cup title, receiving the Golden Boot as top scorer with eight goals. Many publications regarded his personal triumph as "redemption" for what occurred at the previous World Cup. Ronaldo spoke about his obsession with lifting the World Cup trophy, having missed out in 1998. "I used to visualise the trophy in front of my eyes and imagine what a wonderful feeling it must be to hold it up in the air. It was a fabulous feeling actually to hold it in my hands and kiss it." Dubbed the "three R's", Ronaldo starred in a formidable attack alongside Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, and the trio were named in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team.
Ronaldo has appeared in a series of Nike commercials. He starred in the 1996 Nike commercial titled "Good vs Evil" in a gladiatorial game set in a Roman amphitheatre. Appearing alongside football players from around the world, including Paolo Maldini, Eric Cantona, Luís Figo, Patrick Kluivert and Jorge Campos, they defend "the beautiful game" against a team of demonic warriors, destroying evil by winning the match. In 1998, he featured in a Nike commercial set in an airport with a number of stars from the Brazil national team, including Romário and Roberto Carlos. In the run-up to the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan, he starred in Nike's "Secret Tournament" commercial (branded "Scopion KO") directed by Terry Gilliam, appearing alongside football players such as Thierry Henry, Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti, Ronaldinho and Hidetoshi Nakata, with former player Eric Cantona as the tournament "referee". In the run-up to the 2014 World Cup, Ronaldo starred as a mentor in Nike's Risk Everything animated commercial with a host of current players in the Nike stable.
On 13 February 2008, Ronaldo suffered a severe season-ending knee injury while jumping for a cross in Milan 1–1 draw with Livorno, and was stretchered off and taken to a hospital. The club confirmed after the match that Ronaldo had ruptured the kneecap ligament in his left knee. It marked the third such occurrence of this injury, which he suffered twice to his right knee in 1999 and 2000. Teammate Clarence Seedorf stated, "My heart stopped beating because it was like watching a repeat of the injury he suffered playing for Inter Milan against Lazio [in 2000]. His reaction was the same." Silvio Berlusconi told Italy's RAI TV, "He fears for his career. I called him last evening and told him to believe in himself. He has enormous physical potential." Ronaldo was released by Milan at the end of the season, as his contract expired and was not renewed.
In April 1999, Ronaldo married female Brazilian footballer Milene Domingues, at the time pregnant with the couple's first son, Ronald, who was born in Milan, on 6 April 2000. The marriage lasted four years. In 2005, Ronaldo became engaged to Brazilian model and MTV VJ Daniela Cicarelli, who became pregnant but suffered a miscarriage; the relationship lasted only three months after their luxurious wedding at the Château de Chantilly. The ceremony reportedly cost £700,000 (€896,000).
After two seasons with Inter, A. C. Milan defender Paolo Maldini viewed Ronaldo and Diego Maradona as the two best players he ever faced, stating, "Ronaldo during his first two years at Inter was a phenomenon." Inter had high hopes going into the 1999–2000 season with their attack including Ronaldo and Italian stars Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri. However, on 21 November 1999, during a Serie A match against Lecce, Ronaldo felt his knee buckle and was forced to limp off the field. A medical examination confirmed that the striker had ruptured a tendon in his knee and would require surgery. During his first comeback on 12 April 2000, he played only six minutes during the first leg of the Coppa Italia final against Lazio before suffering a complete rupture of the knee-cap tendons. As Ronaldo fell to the ground clutching his knee, Lazio players including Diego Simeone ran over to help him, and fans of both teams applauded him as he was stretchered off the field. News of his injury met with almost universal despair among people in the sport.
Ronaldo's recurring injury problems forced him to miss the entire 2000–01 season and much of the two seasons either side of it. Since Ronaldo's teammate Javier Zanetti had replaced him as the team captain during his absence, he eventually inherited the captain's band in late 2001. After two operations and months of rehabilitation, Ronaldo came back for the 2002 World Cup, helping Brazil win their fifth World Cup title. Later in 2002, he won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the third time, and transferred from Inter to Real Madrid. Ronaldo was given his most recognizable nickname, Il Fenomeno, by the Italian press while playing there. His Inter teammate Djorkaeff stated, "when we were training, we would practically stop to watch him. It was extraordinary." Prior to his November 1999 injury Ronaldo had registered 42 goals in 58 Serie A games, in what was the hardest league to score in with the most advanced defensive strategies and the world's best defenders. After five years he had played 99 games and scored 59 goals for Nerazzurri. Ronaldo's performances at the club – especially the first two seasons before injury – saw him named among the four inaugural inductees into the Inter Milan Hall of Fame in 2018.
At his physical peak in the 1990s, Ronaldo became severely affected by serious knee injuries he suffered from late 1999 onward and the subsequent weight gain during his inactivity, which limited his speed, fitness, and mobility. While acknowledging “he was never quite the same physiological masterpiece” after his knee injury in 2000, with “his pace and sheer brute force diminished in comparison to The Phenomenon” in the 1990s, FourFourTwo magazine ranked him the best player at the 2002 World Cup, adding “he was still a cut above the rest” in the tournament.
Ronaldo was chosen as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2000 as he had the highest global appeal among sportspeople, and he accepted the role as he saw it as "an obligation" to help with causes around the world. Ronaldo played in the UNDP's 11th Match Against Poverty on 4 March 2014 against a Zidane XI in Bern, Switzerland, with proceeds raised helping the recovery efforts in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan. Joined by Didier Drogba in attack, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick in the next year's match on 21 April 2015 in St Etienne, France, with proceeds going towards the African countries most affected by the Ebola epidemic.
Having signed for Real Madrid for €46 million, his jersey sales broke all records on the first day. Ronaldo was part of the Galácticos era of global stars signed by the club every summer, which included Zinedine Zidane, Luís Figo, Roberto Carlos and David Beckham. He was sidelined through injury until October 2002 which added to the fans anticipation. Ronaldo scored twice on his debut against Alavés, the first 61 seconds after coming on, and he received a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabéu as he left the field. That same reception was observed at the final game of the season against Athletic Bilbao, where Ronaldo scored to finish his first season with 23 league goals and seal La Liga title for 2003. He also won an Intercontinental Cup in 2002 and Spanish Super Cup in 2003, scoring in both finals.
In December 2010, Ronaldo and his family moved to a new mansion in São Paulo. Also in December, Ronaldo took a paternity test and was confirmed to be the father of a boy named Alexander, born in April 2005. The boy was born after a brief relationship between Ronaldo and Michele Umezu, a Brazilian waitress who Ronaldo first met in Tokyo in 2002. After the confirmation of his fourth child, Ronaldo stated on 6 December 2010 that he had had a vasectomy, feeling that having four children was enough.
Ronaldo scored against every opponent in the tournament except in the quarter-finals against England. The match-winner against Turkey in the semi-final, with the winning goal a toe-poke finish with little back-lift while on the run – a finish he learned while playing futsal in his youth – the final whistle saw fans behind the goal hoist huge white letters to spell out his name akin to the Hollywood sign. Much attention was on his haircut – only part of his head was shaved – done as a deliberate distraction to shift media attention away from a leg injury. He revealed, "when I arrived in training with this haircut everybody stopped talking about the injury". In the final against Germany in Yokohama, Japan, Ronaldo scored twice in Brazil's 2–0 win and tied Pelé's Brazilian record of 12 career World Cup goals. Ronaldo was the first player to seek out German players to offer his condolences, before he was congratulated by Pelé when receiving his World Cup winners medal. Gérard Saillant, the French surgeon who operated on Ronaldo's knee, was in the crowd as his guest, and stated after the game; "This gives hope to everyone who is injured, even those who aren't sportsmen, to see that by fighting you can make it. He's back to where he was; it's hugely satisfying and I am very moved." Ronaldo received a number of accolades for his achievement, including the Laureus World Sports Award for Comeback of the Year and the BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year, and in December 2002 he dedicated his third FIFA World Player of the Year award to the medical team which helped him recover. In a 2017 interview with Fox Sports, Ronaldo stated, "the best team I played in was the Brazilian one in 2002, we felt that we could always score. It was a team without any vanity, or individuals. The collective was important."
Despite tremendous success over the past decade, Ronaldo has never won the UEFA Champions League in his club career. FourFourTwo magazine named him the best player never to win it. Paul Wilson in The Guardian writes, "Ronaldo was unlucky in his timing or his choice of club – for there is no doubt that at his very best he would have walked into any club in the world. During the 2006–07 season, though Milan won the 2006–07 title, Ronaldo was cup-tied with Madrid and ineligible to take part. The closest that he has been to Champions League success was in 2003 when he helped Real Madrid to the semi-finals, in which they lost to Juventus.
On 13 December 2011 Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane played a charity match with their friends against former and current players of the German team Hamburg in the ninth edition of the Match Against Poverty series, which Ronaldo and Zidane established in 2003. In December 2012, Ronaldo and Zidane reunited for the Match Against Poverty in Porto Alegre, Portugal, with the field littered with World Cup winners from France and Brazil, which also saw 1982 World Cup legend Zico (Ronaldo's boyhood idol) turn out for Ronaldo's team. In January 2013, Ronaldo was named one of the six ambassadors of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
In the second leg of Real Madrid's Champions League quarter-final, Ronaldo scored a hat-trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford, knocking the English team out of the competition. Ronaldo was substituted on 80 minutes and was given a standing ovation from both sets of fans. Reflecting on the ovation given to him from the opposition's fans, Ronaldo stated, "For me it remains a very beautiful, very special moment." He scored in a 2–1 home win over Juventus in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals, but injury crucially kept him out of most of the second leg defeat where Real were eliminated. In the 2003–04 season, Madrid were on track to win the treble, until Ronaldo was injured towards the end of the season; they subsequently lost the Copa del Rey final, were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals to AS Monaco, and suffered a league form breakdown. During that second season at the club, Ronaldo scored one of the fastest goals in the club's history when he netted after 15 seconds in a league match against Atlético Madrid at the Bernabéu on 3 December 2003. Three days later he helped to ensure Real's first league victory over Barcelona at the Nou Camp in 20 years when he scored the second goal in a 2–1 victory over his former club. He finished the season as La Liga's top scorer with 25 goals and received the Pichichi Trophy for a second time, despite Madrid losing the league title to Valencia.
While past his 1990s prime, Ronaldo still drew praise from his Madrid colleagues, with Zidane stating, "Without hesitation, Ronaldo is the best player I ever played with or against. He had such an ease with the ball. Every day I trained with him, I saw something different, something new, something beautiful." Michael Owen, who joined Madrid in 2004, acknowledged that he never got the chance to play with Ronaldo in his prime when "he had absolute blistering speed and strength, mesmerizing foot speed, he was just a blur, he’d be that fast", before adding, "even in training, he showed more than enough to convince me that I would have loved to play with him at his peak." Teammates for six months, Van Nistelrooy said, "Ronaldo was the best natural talent I ever played with. His innate ability went beyond anything that I’d ever seen or played alongside."
On 2 June 2004, Ronaldo scored an unusual hat-trick of penalties for Brazil against arch-rivals Argentina in a 2006 World Cup qualifying match. With 10 goals in 15 games, including a goal against Venezuela in the last game to secure first place, Ronaldo was the South American top scorer in Brazil's qualifying campaign.
In his final two seasons at Real Madrid, Ronaldo missed a number of games with injuries and weight issues, and with the acquisition of Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2006, he grew further out of favour with the manager Fabio Capello. Speaking in 2017 on Ronaldo's weight issues and lack of fitness at Madrid, in addition to his ability, Capello summed up the conflicting emotions he has with the Brazilian, "the most difficult player to handle was the best I coached: Ronaldo, il Fenomeno." In four and a half seasons at the club, Ronaldo scored over a century of goals, becoming the fifth foreigner at Madrid to achieve the feat after Argentine Alfredo Di Stéfano, Hungarian Ferenc Puskás, Mexican Hugo Sánchez and Chilean Iván Zamorano. Although the knee injuries before 2002 meant he "was robbed of the explosiveness of his early years" by the time he signed for Real Madrid, Ronaldo was named by Marca as a member of the "Best foreign eleven in Real Madrid's history".
In February 2011, after Corinthians were eliminated from the 2011 Copa Libertadores by the Colombian team Deportes Tolima, Ronaldo announced his retirement from football, concluding an 18-year career. In an emotional press conference on 14 February, he cited pain and hypothyroidism as the reasons for his premature retirement. He discovered he had hypothyroidism – a condition which slows down metabolism and causes weight gain – during tests with Milan in 2007. Ronaldo admitted his body had finally succumbed to the crippling litany of injuries that had blighted his career: "It's very hard to leave something that made me so happy. Mentally I wanted to continue but I have to acknowledge that I lost to my body. The head wants to go on but the body can't take any more. I think of an action but I can't do it the way I want to. It's time to go."
—Alexandre Pato on meeting Ronaldo at A.C. Milan in 2007.
On 18 January 2007, it was reported that Ronaldo agreed terms with A.C. Milan for a transfer of €8.05 million. Departing Real Madrid having been the club's leading goalscorer for all of his four full seasons, Ronaldo thanked everyone except Capello, "I would like to thank the fans who've supported me all the time and thank all the teammates that I've had here and all the coaches I've had – except one". Capello, who dropped him due to weight issues, commented, "I wish him the best of luck in doing what he used to do which is being a great player." On 25 January, Ronaldo flew from Madrid to Milan, with statements on the club's website stating Ronaldo was in Milan for a medical, and that a meeting had been arranged with Real Madrid officials to discuss and finalize his transfer to the Milanese club. On 26 January, Ronaldo successfully completed his medical tests at the Milanello training complex under the supervision of club doctors, and the transfer was completed on 30 January. Wearing the number 99 jersey, he made his debut as a substitute on 11 February 2007 in the 2–1 victory over Livorno. The next game at Siena, on 17 February, Ronaldo scored twice and assisted on a third goal in his first start for Milan, as they won 4–3. In his first season, Ronaldo scored seven goals in 14 appearances.
Ronaldo appeared in The Simpsons season 18 episode "Marge Gamer" broadcast in April 2007. Simon Crerar of The Times listed Ronaldo's performance as one of the thirty-three funniest cameos in the history of the show. In Father Ted, the simple minded Father Dougal McGuire’s escape-prone, cycling hamster was named after the Brazilian striker. Ronaldo made a cameo appearance in each film of the Goal! film trilogy, Goal! (2005), Goal II: Living the Dream (2007) and Goal III: Taking on the World (2009). Archive footage of Ronaldo features in the music video "We Are One (Ole Ola)", the official song of the 2014 World Cup by Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez.
In April 2008, Ronaldo was involved in a scandal involving three travesti prostitutes whom he met in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro. Ronaldo claimed that upon discovering that they were legally male, he offered them $600 to leave. One of the three, however, attempted to blackmail Ronaldo, demanded $30,000 and exposed the case to the media. Ronaldo's engagement to Maria Beatriz Antony was immediately halted as a result of the scandal, but resumed shortly after. Maria Beatriz Antony gave birth to their first daughter, named Maria Sophia, in Rio de Janeiro, on 24 December 2008. In April 2009, the family moved to a new penthouse in São Paulo. On 6 April 2010, Maria Beatriz Antony gave birth to their second daughter. The girl, born in São Paulo, was named Maria Alice. Coincidentally, Maria Alice was born exactly 10 years after her older brother Ronald.
Ronaldo played his first match for Corinthians on 4 March 2009, a Copa do Brasil match against Itumbiara at Estádio Juscelino Kubitschek, in which he came as a substitute for Jorge Henrique. Ronaldo scored his first goal for Corinthians on 8 March 2009 in a Campeonato Paulista match against Palmeiras. Scoring eight goals in nine matches, his form led to calls for his return to the Brazil national team – nearly 70% of respondents in a poll for the Globo newspaper voted that he should be reinstated, with the country's president Lula also calling for his immediate return. He scored twice in a 3–1 win against local rivals Santos in the first leg of the state championship final, with Santos idol Pelé looking on from the stands. His second goal, a chip over the Santos goalkeeper from 30 yards out, sent the Corinthians fans into hysteria. Ultimately, he helped Corinthians win the Campeonato Paulista with 10 goals in 14 games.
Ronaldo scored in Corinthians 4–2 aggregate defeat of Internacional in the final of the 2009 Copa do Brasil, helping the club win the trophy for the third time (the second of his career), thus earning a spot in the Copa Libertadores 2010. Following an injury lay off he returned on 20 September in a match against Goiás, and a week later scored for Corinthians in a draw against São Paulo FC. He finished the Brazilian Serie A 2009 with 12 goals in 20 matches. In February 2010, Ronaldo signed a contract extension with Corinthians that would keep him with the club until the end of 2011, and said he would then retire.
In February 2011 it was announced that Ronaldo would be given one last match for Brazil, a friendly against Romania in São Paulo on 7 June 2011, five years after his last match with the national team. Despite it being almost unheard of in international football for players to be given a farewell match for their national side, Brazilian Football Confederation officials stated that given the stellar career of Ronaldo, it was only fitting that his final game should take place in Brazil while representing his nation.
Ronaldo was the co-owner of A1 Team Brazil, along with former F1 driver Emerson Fittipaldi. Ronaldo co-owns the sports marketing company 9INE, with his friend, mixed martial artist Anderson Silva, one of his clients. A keen poker player, in April 2013 Ronaldo became a member of PokerStars SportStar, and in 2014 he played a charity poker tournament against tennis star Rafael Nadal. On 11 December 2014, Ronaldo became a minority owner of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the North American Soccer League. In 2015, Ronaldo opened eight new branches of his youth football school – the Ronaldo Academy – in China, the U.S. and Brazil, with 100 expected to be opened worldwide by 2020. In 2017, Ronaldo's son, Ronald, was selected for the junior football team representing Brazil in the 2017 Maccabiah Games. The Maccabiah is described as "the Jewish Olympics"; Ronald is not Jewish, but some participating countries have more relaxed rules about eligibility and Ronald is a member of a Jewish football club.
Ronaldo was at his physical peak at Barcelona, and many of his 47 goals involved him rounding the goalkeeper before slotting the ball into the net. Óscar García, Ronaldo's teammate that season, stated, "Back then, he was all fibre and muscle. He was a perfect physical specimen. Such incredible power matched to his technical skills could make him unstoppable." Atletico Madrid's Quinton Fortune, who played against Ronaldo three times that season – Ronaldo scored eight goals – including having to mark him once, stated, "I saw him after the match finished, and that’s the nearest I was to Ronaldo on the night. As a kid, I wanted to be Pelé. I bought all the books, all the videos and I studied what it could be like to be the best. I set off on that path. Then I met Ronaldo. Some players were technical, some were quick, some were strong, some were smart...Ronaldo was all of those. He was a beast; it was unfair to everyone else." José Mourinho, who worked as an interpreter at Barcelona, referred to Ronaldo as "the greatest player I have ever seen in my life", adding, "I have no doubts. Ronaldo is the best my eyes have seen", and in 2014 regarded him as the best player post-Diego Maradona.
Ronaldo has appeared in various commercials, from Snickers chocolate bar to Pirelli tyres. Ronaldo’s usual goal celebration of both arms outstretched – especially from his early career – was the basis for Pirelli’s 1998 commercial where he replaced the figure of Christ from the Christ the Redeemer statue that towers over his home city of Rio de Janeiro while in an Inter Milan strip. It was controversial with the Catholic Church. In 2017 Ronaldo was added as an icon to the Ultimate Team in EA Sports’ FIFA video game FIFA 18, receiving a 95 rating along with Brazilian compatriot Pelé, Argentine playmaker Diego Maradona, former Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin and former French star Thierry Henry. Ronaldo also appears as the cover athlete on the Icon edition of the game.
On 14 June 2018, Ronaldo featured at the 2018 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony held at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia. He walked out with a child wearing a Russia 2018 shirt at the beginning, and returned at the end of the ceremony with the official ball of the 2018 World Cup – Adidas Telstar 18 – which was sent into space with the International Space Station crew in March and came back to Earth in early June.
In September 2018, Ronaldo became the majority owner of La Liga club Real Valladolid after buying a 51% controlling stake in the club for €30 million. At his unveiling as the club's new owner at Valladolid city hall, Ronaldo stated, "I have gone through many stages in my training in football to prepare for this. Football is all about passion. We want to build the best team possible to compete while also giving information about our management with transparency."