Nearly three decades ago, Ronaldo was a skinny teenage striker making his name with Cruzeiro, from the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte. All these years later, broader in the beam and broader in his horizons, he has returned to buy a controlling interest in the club.
For a while now, Ronaldo has been interested in the business side of football. A little more than three years ago, he acquired a controlling interest in Spanish club Valladolid. He has always been sceptical about investing back in Brazil -- he has been scathing on the subject in the past -- but changes are afoot.
A new law has made it easier for Brazil's clubs to be transformed from the traditional social association -- where members who pay a monthly fee elect the president -- to a fully fledged business. This law can be vague, and it took complex negotiations before Ronaldo was convinced that he will have effective control of the club in return for his money. And it is plenty of money, although the weakness of the Brazilian currency has doubtless improved things from his angle.
A traditional giant of the Brazilian game, Cruzeiro have imploded under the strains of poor management and financial crisis, facing their third season in the second division. Their debts stand at more than $200 million, which Ronaldo will take care of in the course of the next 10 years, and he is also expected to invest around $70m into strengthening the team.
An expert in Brazilian football finance, Rodrigo Capelo sees the deal as a greater risk than Ronaldo has taken with Valladolid. The financial position of Cruzeiro is considerably worse, and the pressures will be far bigger. Valladolid are provincial also-rans, Cruzeiro are a club with a mass following who expect to be in contention for serious silverware. The patience of the fans is not limitless, and could be limited further by the overly optimistic view that many have around the transformation of the club into a business.
Chilean football went down this path a decade and a half ago; the results on the pitch have been very disappointing ever since. In the past nine years, only three times have Chilean clubs qualified for the knockout phase of the Copa Libertadores, one of the worst records on the continent. Colombia also has clubs structured as businesses, and in recent years the country's league has a dreadful record. Since Atletico Nacional won the Libertadores in 2016, only once has a Colombian side reached the last 16 -- a disastrous performance from the country with the second largest population on the continent.
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Even Valladolid's performances do not make for easy viewing. Last year they were relegated to the Spanish second division.
Football sits uncomfortably in the business world. Is the objective to make a profit or to win matches and titles? There is no doubt which one the fans are expecting, which can make this type of experiment all the more difficult when the club has a Cruzeiro-size support base. The much more modest Red Bull Bragantino have made solid progress in Brazilian football since following a business model, but no one doubts that they will sell their best players.
Quite apart from any sentimental considerations, Ronaldo clearly sees Cruzeiro as an example of untapped potential, a club that has fallen far below where it should be and that has the capacity to perform much better. However, much of this also applies to Brazilian football as a whole, and changing those circumstances will take far more than the efforts of one club.
There are two major impediments, one internal and the other external.
The domestic problem is the balance of power within Brazilian football. Control of the CBF, Brazil's FA, rests with the state federations -- Brazil is made up of 27 states. The state federations make their income from their own local championships, held in the first few months of the year. These tournaments clutter the calendar with meaningless games.
Are the big clubs prepared to break away, form their own league and install a much better, more rational calendar with fewer, but better games? This is a big question, especially as such a plan meets with resistance in Sao Paulo. Brazil's economic powerhouse and most advanced state, Sao Paulo is able to stage a regional championship that is much better and more lucrative than those in the other states, handing the Sao Paulo clubs a competitive advantage that they are reluctant to give up.
However, even a fully rational and efficient running of Brazilian football runs into a ceiling. Where else can they go?
Some are already seeing the Brazilian first division as the Premier League of South America -- but the Premier League has opposition. Its clubs have to do battle with giants from Spain, Germany, Italy and France for the big European titles. In South America, Brazil hardly seems to have rivals any more. The country is now exerting complete domination on the Copa Libertadores.
This year bordered on embarrassing.
Brazil has three super clubs who have broken away from the pack: Palmeiras, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro. In this year's Libertadores, the three of them combined played 38 games, and lost just two of them. One was the final, when Palmeiras beat Flamengo. The other was a group game of little relevance, when Palmeiras fielded a reserve side.
The financial limitations of South American football make it hard for anyone else to compete, and in turn place limitations on the profitability of the continent's football. The dream is to get hold of some of the revenue made by Europe's Champions League, but the enlarged Club World Cup is not yet up and running. Can it work? The tournament as it exists today is little more than an afterthought for the European clubs and for the global audience.
Perhaps instead of looking across the Atlantic, Brazilian football might push north for greater exposure and revenue. The logistical problems of a Pan-American tournament are huge -- the Americas are enormous -- but the synergies of, say, the big South American clubs and MLS, with Mexico in the middle, are enticing.
Getting something like that started might give Ronaldo a handsome return on his investment in Cruzeiro, but it will take much more than Cruzeiro to force a change in the global architecture of football.