Can Ronaldo prove us wrong again?
It is one of the ancient battles of sport, the struggle between talent and the ravages of time. And it's being fought out as the Brazilian Championship reaches a thrilling finale.
With eight rounds to go - and at least four clubs still in contention - one of the big questions is this: Can he really do it again? Is Ronaldo capable of staging yet another extraordinary comeback?
The previous one came when he joined Corinthians of Sao Paulo, the most popular team in South America's biggest city. Surely now he had suffered one knee injury too many. He was all washed up, a bloated figure living on his reputation. But then he proved us all wrong once again by spearheading Corinthians to last year's Brazilian Cup.
But that was supposed to be the aperitif. The main course was to come this year.
Winning the cup qualified Corinthians for the Copa Libertadores, South America's equivalent of the Champions League. All their local rivals had won it but Corinthians had yet to reach a final. Putting that right in 2010, the club's centenary year, was the dream of every Corinthians fan.
Ronaldo in action for Corinthinians during the Copa Libertadores in May. Photo: Getty Images
But they were knocked out early, losing on away goals to Flamengo of Rio. Rescuing the centenary year - and centenary years are taken very seriously in South America - would mean winning the domestic championship, or at least finishing high enough to ensure qualification for the 2011 Libertadores.
And they would have to do the hard work without Ronaldo. He played - and scored - in the opening round of the championship back in May but then did not reappear until managing an hour in a match at the end of August. Then 45 minutes - and a goal - on 8 September. Then nothing.
His body was in rebellion. Some, especially in Europe, labelled him a dilettante. But this is the man who has scored more World Cup goals than anyone else in the history of the competition - 15 - many of which have come after he forced his way back from injuries that threatened to end his career.
I am reliably informed that Ronaldo's current weight problem is, in part, a consequence of the medication he needs to soothe his battered knees.
As far as Corinthians were concerned, the absence of Ronaldo hardly seemed to matter. They were even able to shrug off the loss of coach Mano Menezes, who took charge of Brazil shortly after the World Cup. They were on top of the table, apparently in a two-horse race for the title with Fluminense. A place in the Libertadores seemed certain.
But then the wheels fell off. A big part of the problem was the sheer number of games. Out of sync with the rest of the planet, Brazil's ludicrous football calendar is especially insane in World Cup years. While everyone's attention was on South Africa, the local championship shut down for five-and-a-half weeks, leaving a backlog of fixtures to plough through in August and September.
Brazilian squads are not deep enough to permit the kind of rotation practised by European clubs, so, after 15 rounds in seven weeks, players are exhausted, overworked and picking up injuries.
Corinthians suddenly collapsed. In six games, they picked up just two points from two draws and four defeats. They slipped to third - and would have been lower were it not for the fact that their rivals also dropped points.
Coach Adilson Batista was sacked. Delegations of supporters went to the training ground to either encourage or intimidate the players into greater efforts.
Come the crisis, send for Ronaldo. He has always thrived on this type of pressure.
The 2002 World Cup is perhaps the greatest example. Injury kept him out of the entire qualification campaign. Without him, Brazil were a shambles, fortunate even to get to the tournament. With him, it was a different story. He happily took on the responsibility for leading the attack. Rivaldo, so lost without Ronaldo, blossomed in his shadow as Brazil won all their games.
Ronaldo in his prime at the 2002 World Cup. Photo: Getty Images
But that was more than eight years ago. Ronaldo still wants the responsibility and will gladly take the burden off his team-mates. But is he still physically capable of doing so?
The evidence of Sunday's comeback match was inconclusive but promising. Despite intense heat - over 33 degrees - he managed to play the full 90 minutes away to Guarani. It was not the most mobile performance you will ever see from a centre forward but the striking thing about late-career Ronaldo is that when it matters he consistently manages to get in front of the defender.
He was unlucky to have two early goals disallowed. The first, forcing home after a Roberto Carlos cross, was presumably not given for hands. The other, a gorgeous first-time finish with his left foot, was wrongly ruled out for offside.
In the second half, Ronaldo produced a superbly timed run to latch on to a Danilo cross from the left but, with the goal gaping, put his header just wide.
Heading was never Ronaldo's strong suit but laying off intelligent passes for midfield runners is part of his skills set. It is something he has developed during his career, especially when playing alongside Cristian Vieri at Inter Milan forced him to learn how to drop deeper and supply through balls. At Corinthians, he works well with new international midfielder Elias, who likes to break into the box.
Despite Ronaldo's presence, the game with Guarani finished goalless - and Corinthians have now gone seven matches without a win.
Next up is the derby against traditional rivals Palmeiras followed by the trip to Rio to face Flamengo, the club Ronaldo grew up supporting and where the fans feel betrayed by his decision to sign for Corinthians.
These are occasions which Ronaldo will relish - as long as he can show that the battle between talent and the ravages of time can still be decided in his favour.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) I was wondering if you watched the Mexico-Venezuela friendly this week. Venezuela pulled out a 2-2 draw, even though they played most of the match a man down. Seeing as the last time these two teams met Mexico ravaged them 4-0, is this result a sign of good things to come from La Vinotinto or just more signs of decline from El Tri?
Mexico might not have been great post-World Cup but this as an excellent result for Venezuela. They didn't create too much - both goals were long-range free kicks from Juan Arango - but, as you say, they were down to 10 men after 23 minutes. Lots of positives - defensive discipline, the handling of new keeper Hernandez. Seems to me that they are getting an interesting squad together with a number of options and they are growing in confidence. It is amazing to think how much progress they have made.