Ronaldinho: A Forgotten Hero?

When considering the top players in football the name Ronaldinho does not instantly spring to mind. However, it was not that long ago that he was the most talked about and recognisable player in the world. His demise was sudden and clear for the world to see and they have not looked back since. Messi, his former teammate and Cristiano Ronaldo have since filled the void. Whilst between them, they have broken pretty much every individual record there is, neither of them are Ronaldinho.  

That is not to say that Ronaldinho can be considered a better player, it means only that they are different with different attributes. Messi has the ability to glide past players and posses an uncanny accuracy when shooting and Ronaldo has the pace and ball control to confuse any defender in the modern game, as well as a physique that is the pinnacle of modern athleticism. However, Ronaldinho’s ability to beat a man due to pure skill and trickery is unmatched by any in the modern era. Although there are a number of notable players that could do similar skills, such as Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane and Garrincha, which would enable them to beat defenders, none before him have been able to consistently bring that ability on to the pitch and incorporate it into their game as successfully. Ronaldinho’s repertoire of skills that he would regularly use to bamboozle the opposition is unequaled. Ronaldinho’s ability to entertain and perform on the biggest stages should never be forgotten. 

The Football History Boys are currently doing a countdown of the top 250 players of all time, obviously Ronaldinho makes the cut but in which position will he be voted?

Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, commonly known as Ronaldinho (In Portugese the suffix ‘inho’ means little), was born and grew up in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil and began playing football from a young age. ‘I come from a family where football has always been very present’.1 Ronaldinho had a particular interest in futsal and beach football, which is where he was able to develop such good ball control, skills and trickery, as these are the key qualities needed for these types of football, size and physicality are not as important. Ronaldinho excelled at these games and, at the age of 8, was able to transfers his futsal skills onto the 11 a-side pitch. 
"My ball control is pretty similar to a futsal player’s control" – Ronaldinho.15 
His youth spent playing futsal and beach football enabled him to perfect his ball control and his skills that would enable him to beat defenders. His first notable performance came at the age of 13 where he scored 23 goals in a 23-0 victory in a futsal match against a local team.2 Ronaldinho idolized former Brazilian greats such as Pelé, Rivelino and Ronaldo. He joined the Gremio youth team at the age of 7 and in 1997 was selected to play for the Brazil Under 17 national side for the world championships in Egypt. 
A young Ronaldinho at the 1999 Confederations Cup
He was named as the tournaments best player and shortly after he signed his first professional contract at Gremio and made his debut appearance in the first team during the 1998 season. Ronaldinho played at Gremio for three years making 52 appearances and scoring 21 goals during that time. His performances earned him a call up to the senior national team in 1999, aged just 19, for the Confederations Cup hosted by Mexico. Ronaldinho made an instant impact winning the golden shoe award and the golden ball award. These performances put him on the world stage and it was not long before big European football clubs were in the hunt for his signature. 

It is widely thought that Arsenal were close to signing Ronaldinho in 2001 only for the transfer to fall through due to his failure to gain a work permit. However, he did not have to wait long for his move to European league football. He signed for Paris Saint-Germain in a €5million transfer on a five year contract despite reported interest from Milan, Barcelona and Lazio.3 Ronaldinho was instantly put into the PSG team alongside the likes of Mikel Arteta and Jay-Jay Okocha. 

In his first season he alternated between a starting role and being used as a substitute. However, he made 48 appearances in all competitions scoring 13 goals and making 10 assists. Ronaldinho returned to his second season in Paris amongst rumours of a rift with the manager, Fernandez. He was accused of being too much of a party animal and not taking his football seriously enough, as well as prolonging his holidays past the arranged return date.4 Even though his second season was generally considered underwhelming compared to his first, in 38 appearances he scored 12 goals and made 8 assists. He also made a number of notable displays, such as his match winning performance against Bordeaux in the Coupe de France semi-final for which he earned a standing ovation from the Parisian crowd. PSG finished a lowly 11th that season and Ronaldinho proclaimed that he wanted to leave the club in search of Champions League football.

Following David Beckham’s rejection of Barcelona for Real Madrid in the summer of 2003, they turned their attention to Ronaldinho and outbid Manchester United with a €30million bid for his signature.5 "I am very happy to have the chance to be part of this team and to be in this lovely city, and I am going to do all I can to give the fans something to smile about".6 Part of the reason for Barcelona breaking their transfer record for Ronaldinho was for his performances in Brazil’s victorious 2002 World Cup campaign. He scored 2 goals in 5 appearances, including that remarkable free kick against England that sent Brazil through to the semi-final. Ronaldinho started the final against Germany, at the age of just 22, which Brazil won 2-0. 

Despite sustaining an injury during the first half of his debut season in La Liga, Ronaldinho scored 15 goals and made 11 assists in 32 appearances as his new side finished second to Valencia, whilst beating arch rivals Real Madrid to a higher place finish. He contributed a further 7 goals and 3 assists in other competitions, including 4 goals and 2 assists in 7 Europa League appearances. Ronaldinho won the FIFA world player of the year award at the end of 2004 for his ever-improving displays at Barcelona. However, his second season would prove to be far greater. He was an integral part of Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona that won La Liga that season, creating 16 goals and scoring 9. Ronaldinho also contributed 4 goals and assisted 4 in 7 champions league matches, although it was a relatively disappointing campaign for the team, as Chelsea knocked them out in the last 16. That did not stop Ronaldinho from winning a host of individual awards in 2005.
At the peak of his powers: That goal vs Chelsea
He won the inaugural FIFPro World Player of the Year, as well as being named in the FIFPro World XI. He also won the European Footballer of the Year award (which is now known as the Ballon d’Or) and the FIFA World Player of the year award for the second consecutive year at the end of 2005. He did not stop there, his third season in Barcelona got even better. Not only did Ronaldinho score 17 goals and make 15 assists on the way to winning La Liga for the second consecutive season, but also he scored 7 goals and made 5 assists in 12 games as Barcelona won the Champions League. However, it was not just these impressive statistics that made Ronaldinho stand out. 
"Fast, brash, skillful, tricky, an uninhibited playmaker" who provides "a mix of goals, assists, skills and a large repertoire of crafty moves". – ESPN Magazine.13
The sheer brilliance of some of his performances left football fans and pundits in complete awe of his talents. One of the greatest examples of this was his performance against Real Madrid in November 2005. He was absolutely mesmerising during this game, scoring 2 goals and orchestrating the Barcelona team to his own rhythm. On a field consisting of world-class players, Ronaldinho was head and shoulders above the rest; he bullied a Real Madrid back line that comprised of Salgado, Ramos, Helguera and Roberto Carlos. He was so good during this match that he received a standing ovation from a capacity crowd at the Santiago Bernabeu. Barcelona and Real fans alike stood and applauded the Ronaldinho master class. So rare is it that Real fans pay homage to a Barcelona player that Diego Maradona was the only previous recipient of such a tribute.7 "I will never forget this because it is very rare for any footballer to be applauded in this way by the opposition fans".8 

That performance vs Real

Despite a poor 2003 Confederations Cup and being left out of the Brazil side for the Copa America squad (this was due to Carlos Parreira’s, the coach at the time, decision to rest a number of high profile Brazilian players for the tournament) Ronaldinho captained Brazil in the 2005 Confederations Cup. He scored 3 goals on route to winning the tournament including a goal in the 4-1 victory over Argentina in the final. Ronaldinho was named man of the match in this game and became the tournament’s joint all time top scorer alongside Cuauhtémoc Blanco. 

Brazil went into the 2006 World Cup with great expectations and Ronaldinho was the central figure to the hopes of the team and the nation. However, their star studded team disappointed and Ronaldinho was the greatest disappointment of the group. He started all 5 matches for Brazil, failing to score a single goal and contributing just 1 assist, as Brazil was eliminated in the quarterfinal by France, in a game that saw them produce just 1 shot on goal.9 He was greatly overshadowed by the dominance of Zinedine Zidane, the French midfield maestro who won the golden ball award. Many attribute the poor performances displayed in this world cup to the beginning of Ronaldinho’s fall from grace.

Amid accusations of his partying antics costing him and Brazil a decent world cup run, Ronaldinho started the 2006-07 season back at Barcelona. Although he totalled 24 goals and 16 assists in 49 appearance during the campaign Barcelona were left disappointed by a trophy haul of just the Spanish Super Cup and the Copa Catalunya. Ronaldinho came third in the 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year but was picked for the UEFA team of the year, receiving the highest number of votes, for the third consecutive year. 

Despite a disappointing World Cup Ronaldinho continued to show his brilliance on the pitch for Barcelona including that incredible overhead kick against Villarreal at the Camp Nou. He continued to show the world his magical abilities with a football. ‘A lot of moves I make originate from futsal’.10 His style of play has very rarely been matched, no one in the modern game possess the same technical ability and trickery when it comes to skinning players, certainly not on the same level of consistency. Spain’s young star Thiago Alcantara is just one of the many admirers of Ronaldinho, "He was my childhood idol, I admired him. I still do. It would be special to play against him. He was and is a showman”.11 The perfect description for Ronaldinho: a showman. He was every sense of the word but could perform at the highest level, entertaining 90,000+ Catalonian fans inside the Camp Nou on a regular basis. At his peak his style of play was and still is unequalled. It is often claimed that he peaked too soon; the samba star fell from his lofty perch.

During the 2007-08 season Ronaldinho made just 26 appearances as he was plagued by injuries (he still managed 9 goals and 9 assists). Barcelona did not win a single trophy during this season and finished 18 points off Real Madrid who won La Liga. It proved to be a season of great change for the club. Ronaldinho’s disappointment during this season was widely publicized and it was often claimed that he needed a new challenge to regain his magic. It was becoming more popular to query Ronaldinho’s ability and for the first time he was being criticized by an ever growing number. Ronaldinho was sold to Milan at the end of that season for a reported fee of between €20-25million (it is reported that he turned down an offer from Manchester City). 
"There are not many players who can offer goalscoring passes like he can. He is just marvellous. He is a rare case of an assist man who can provide the ball from anywhere. He is one of the only players to have perfected the elastico (flip-flap)." – Rui Costa.14 
Although he never recaptured the sort of form that saw him win the Ballon d’Or he was arguably Milan’s best player during the 2009-10 season, scoring 15 goals and making 17 assists, topping the Serie A assists chart for that season. He did not win any trophies whilst at Milan and in January 2011 he moved back to Brazil joining Brasileirao side Flamengo. He immediately won the Campeonato Carioca with Flamengo and played 52 matches during 2011, scoring 21 and making 8 assists. He took legal action against the club in 2012 over claims that he had not received payment and ended up making a switch to Atletico Mineiro. He won the Brazilian Golden Ball award as he helped his new team finish second in the league. In 2013 Ronaldinho won the Campeonato Mineiro and the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro, as well as being voted South American footballer of the year. 

From me to you

Although he never managed to reproduce the dizzying heights of his time at Barcelona Ronaldinho continues to be an influential player. His fall from grace was well documented as the media all over the world had a frenzy dishing the dirt on Ronaldinho’s partying lifestyle and other factors that they claimed were the reasons behind his loss of form. Pictures of his prominent front teeth and of him carrying some weight around the midriff were a common occurrence at one stage and for many he will always be remembered for that. However, his style of play is what really set him apart from every other footballer in the world. 

He is generally regarded as the most skillful player of his generation and he would regularly amaze players and spectators alike with his silky skills and unbelievable ability on the ball. ESPN described him as being "skillful by nature, his tricks are unparallelled and he is wonderful with the ball at his feet, one of the coolest players in pressure situations".12 He is a rare type of player, one that plays the beautiful game truly beautifully and that is why he should never be forgotten. 

"Football is about joy. It's about dribbling. I favour every idea that makes the game beautiful. Every good idea has to last" - Ronaldinho

Forgotten Hero?
Don't believe me? Head over to YouTube and watch some clips of the great man in action - he might just change your mind!

By Ollie Jackson (@Ollie_Jackson



Notes:

1 "Ronaldinho," The Biography Channel website, 2014, http://www.biography.com/people/ronaldinho-16636081 [accessed Feb 07, 2014].

2 Andy Mitten, ‘The Master’ in Four Four Two (January 2006) pp.72-74.

3 ‘PSG sign Ronaldinho’ accessed from http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/1123095.stm (accessed 07/02/2014).

4 Keir Radnedge, ‘The priceless prince of Barcelona’, World Soccer, January 2005, pp. 8–9
5 ‘Barca break bank for Ronaldinho’, accessed from http://www.uefa.com/uefaeuropaleague/news/newsid=82904.html (accessed 07/02/2014).

6 Ibid.

7 Patrick McCurdy, ‘Real Madrid 0 Barcelona 3: Bernabeu forced to pay homage as Ronaldinho soars above the galacticos’, accessed from http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/european/real-madrid-0-barcelona-3-bernabeu-forced-to-pay-homage-as-ronaldinho-soars-above-the-galacticos-516202.html (accessed 08/02/2014).

8 Ibid.

9 Ronaldinho no factor in Brazil defeat, Sports Illustrated, accessed from http://web.archive.org/web/20060705053643/http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/soccer/specials/world_cup/2006/07/01/ronaldinho.brazil.ap/index.html (accessed 08/02/2014).

10 “Ronaldinho," The Biography Channel website, 2014, http://www.biography.com/people/ronaldinho-16636081 [accessed Feb 07, 2014].

11 Mark Doyle, ‘Thiago: I want to be the Best Like Ronaldinho’, accessed from http://www.goal.com/en/news/12/spain/2013/12/14/4477972/thiago-alcantara-i-want-to-be-the-best-like-ronaldinho?ICID=PP_1311 (accessed 08/02/2014).

12 Ronaldinho, accessed from http://espnfc.com/player/_/id/20128/ronaldinho?cc=5739 (accessed 08/02/2014).

13 Ronaldinho, accessed from http://espnfc.com/player/_/id/20128/ronaldinho?cc=5739 (accessed 08/02/2014).

14 Ronaldinho, accessed from http://espnfc.com/player/_/id/20128/ronaldinho?cc=5739 (accessed 08/02/2014).

15 "Ronaldinho," The Biography Channel website, 2014, accessed from http://www.biography.com/people/ronaldinho-16636081 (accessed 07/02/2014)

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