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April 6, 2006
Red Bulls interested in Ronaldo and vice versa

Ronaldo (above) joining the Red Bulls would "be interesting, not just for Ronaldo, for us, for the world, for the American people," forward Youri Djorkaeff says.
Ronaldo (above) joining the Red Bulls would "be interesting, not just for Ronaldo, for us, for the world, for the American people," forward Youri Djorkaeff says.
Photo by Tony Quinn
By Michael Lewis Editor

A generation or so after the great Pele helped boost the Cosmos into a higher orbit, another Brazilian World Cup star could wind up doing the same thing for the New York Red Bulls.

Ronaldo, the star of the 2002 world champion Brazil, has spoken to representatives of the New York Red Bulls about the possibility of playing for the MLS team, has learned.

Ronaldo, who performs for Real Madrid in Spain and who is expected to play for Brazil in the World Cup in Germany this summer, is interested in joining the team, according to sources close to the club and sources from around the league. There is even some scuttlebutt that Ronaldo already has agreed to join the team, but that has not been confirmed. had first reported that the club had interest in Ronaldo.

If the Red Bulls can obtain the services of the 29-year-old Ronaldo, it would make them a much bigger drawing card and place them in a much higher orbit in terms of recognition for the team and even the league.

Ronaldo, three-time winner of FIFA's player of the year, recently spoke with Red Bulls forward Youri Djorkaeff, a member of the 1998 French national side that defeated Brazil, 3-0, at the France '98 finale. Djorkaeff said that they are good friends, having played two seasons together at Inter Milan in Italy's Serie A.

Asked if he thought Ronaldo would be interested in playing for the Red Bulls, Djorkaeff replied: "Yeah. It will be interesting, not just for Ronaldo, for us, for the world, for the American people."

Djorkaeff said that Ronaldo has been following the Red Bulls, formerly the MetroStars, who were purchased by Red Bull, the Austrian energy drink producers last month. The club was re-branded and has been spending money hand over fist, using radio, print and television ads to promote the team.

"He asked me how was the team, how many goals I scored," he said after practice at Giants Stadium yesterday. "We talked about life in New York, about the team."

Further pursued about Ronaldo, Djorkaeff replied with a laugh: "I don't want to talk a lot."

Ronaldo last month told the Associated Press that this season with underachieving Real Madrid "had been one of the most difficult years" of his life. There is speculation in the Spanish and international press that Ronaldo is looking elsewhere to play.

Despite an all-star and world-class player at every position, Real has grossly underachieved this season.

Ronaldo has said before that the 2006 World Cup could be his swan song from international soccer, if not from professional soccer itself.

Talking about acquiring Ronaldo is one thing, trying to corral one of the highest paid players in the world could be something else. Ronaldo's contract with Real runs through the 2008 season and it probably would take a hefty transfer fee to buy him out.

When he moved from Inter to Real in 2002, Ronaldo's transfer fee was $42 million. After enduring several injuries through the years, the transfer fee probably wouldn't run as much today. But he obviously won't come cheap (in contrast, the total combined salary cap for the 12 MLS teams is about $21.6 million).

But with Red Bull spending money to promote the team prior to this Saturday's home opener at Giants Stadium,, the new owners want to make a splash and a major impact in the country's most important media market. So money from Red Bull billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz might not be an issue.

Ronaldo, along with teammates David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, earn $8.25 million annually from Real. That makes the trio the world's highest paid soccer players, according to France Football magazine.

It is likely that Ronaldo would earn in the neighborhood of $1 million with the Red Bulls, although the league's $1.8 million per team salary cap or money apparently wouldn't be an issue with him.

Ronaldo's salary would be exempt under the proposed Beckham rule -- one mega-star per team.

And Ronaldo certainly won't be going to he poorhouse with all the endorsements he has (the U.S. would open up a new frontier for him). He earns $25 million -- second to Beckham's $37 million -- when you include salary, commercial endorsements and image rights, France Football reported last year.

"I hope Dietrich and Red Bull can pull it off because it would be wonderful," Red Bulls coach Mo Johnston said.

Then the coach quipped with a laugh: "I don't think we can afford his hairdresser, and Ronaldo doesn't have any hair."

Ronaldo, who is one goal shy of German Gerd Mueller's all-time World Cup scoring record (13), has scored 57 times in 90 international appearances through October.

Internationally, he is best known for his performances at the past two World Cups.

In 1998, Ronaldo was ineffective in the final, after taking injections of a painkiller to alleviate pain in his right knee, which caused a fit prior to it. The injections entered the bloodstream, which raised his heart rate and sent him into convulsions.

In 2002, he connected for a tournament-high eight goals, including two in the final as the Brazilians bested goalkeeper Oliver Kahn and his Germany teammates, 2-0, in a personal comeback for the ages.

Michael Lewis can be reached at
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