No match was played on 25th July 1997, however, hundreds of fans still had reason to invade the city centre in Milan. Appearing on a balcony at Inter’s headquarters was the club’s new Brazilian striker, joining Inter from Barcelona for 51 billion lire. They called him the Fenomeno and it wasn’t an exaggeration. At that point in time, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima was the best player in the world and the impact he had on Serie A was certainly in line with his nickname – an apparition.
It was almost as if an alien had landed in the Italian league, capable of lighting up matches at will and overcoming his opponents with incredible skill. The San Siro swiftly fell in love with his incredible ability, his glue-like control and his lavish dribbling. Out left gasps of wonder every time Ronaldo touched the ball, as he created scenes of jubilation with every one of his goals. The Curva sang ‘we have the Fenomeno’ and Ronie’s Ballon d’Or triumph in January 1998 sent the Nerazzurri support into ecstasy. Even former vice-president Peppino Prisco, who’d seen a whole host of top-class players in his lifetime, said: “I must apologise to my parents, as in between photos of them I always also have one of Ronaldo.”
Considering his popularity at the time, Ronie may well have won should he have put himself forward for election in Milan. Fan allegiance was often stripped away when watching him, and it wasn’t rare to see Rossoneri fans turn up at the San Siro to catch a glimpse of Inter. The 1998 UEFA Cup was the moment when the world sat up and took notice, focusing on a player who was undoubtedly the best in the world at the time. Despite terrible injuries, a Scudetto lost on the last day and further spells with different clubs, the emotions from that five-year period will never be forgotten. It was a time when we all fell head over heels with a player who we instantly embraced from his very first appearance during a friendly against Manchester United.