Legends of Football: Ronaldinho Gaucho

Growing up and watching football we as football fans might have tried to copy some tricks or shots of some players. I tried to do the Dennis Bergkamp trick and ended up with a fractured ankle, tried a David Beckhamesque dipping free kick broke a neighbor’s wind pane. But one player’s trick I never copied or was smart enough to know that I can’t do it was Ronaldinho. It wasn’t a case of not my cup of tea rather it was more of let the master do what he is born to do.

Growing up in a football fanatic family, Brazil was the team which my father always supported and he still does it passionately. But he always rated the likes of Romario and Ronaldo higher than most ‘seen’ Brazilian players. As a kid with a lot of questions I was told by my father “oh that Ronaldinho, he is a trickster someone who thinks just tricks and flicks wins you games typical Brazilian flavor”.

Early Life

Ronaldo de Assis Moreira (Ronaldinho) was born on March 21, 1980, in Porto Alegre, Brazil to a poor, soccer-loving family. His Father, João, was himself a soccer player but worked in the shipyard to bring in some extra income as his soccer playing did not bring in a large salary. His older brother, Roberto, also showed young talent on the soccer field, and he now works as Ronaldinho’s manager. Young Ronaldinho took a quick interest in beach soccer. This was probably where he first took the name Ronaldinho, which is Portuguese for “Little Ronaldo”. A very famous troll football pic where it’s said that his team won 23-0 against a local team and he scored 13 and set up remaining 10 is actually a true story. He was soon signed on for FC Grêmio and starred on their youth team. He quickly began to be spotted by the public eye and admired for his skill.

Ronaldinho said of his earliest years playing street soccer in an interview with the London Observer’s Justin Webster. “I preferred to dribble. But then my father said no. This was when I was seven. My father—who could be very hard, very correct—forced me to play with only two touches of the ball each time. This took all the fun out of it for me and, at that age, made me very angry. I cried. I didn’t understand. But now I understand what he wanted.”

Ronaldinho’s Brother Roberto, several years his senior, turned professional first, signing with Porto Alegre favorites Grêmio FC. In an attempt to keep him from defecting to a European team, Grêmio provided the family with a new house that included a swimming pool. A party was scheduled for later in the afternoon, but as Ronaldinho recalled, “suddenly everybody was looking for my father, but he was nowhere to be found,” he told Grant Wahl of the Sports Illustrated. “Then I saw some people carrying him to a car. It turned out that he had drowned in the pool.” Ronaldinho was eight years old, and his father just forty-one. Roberto stepped forward to serve as a father figure, but his own earning potential was eventually cut short by injuries.

Journey to Paris

Like many of the world’s best players, he was lured by the lucrative offers from overseas organizations looking for new talent and fans across Brazil asked him to not join any top European club immediately. He heeded their advice waited for a season won the title and he decided to take the plunge straight to Paris where he was signed by Paris Saint-Germain. In 2001, he signed a five-year contract with French side Paris Saint-Germain and played a key role in the 2001–02 edition of the Coupe de la Ligue, helping his team reach the semi-finals where they were eliminated by Bordeaux. Ronaldinho eased himself into the European style of play over three seasons with the French outfit but returned regularly to the Brazilian national team for international tournaments.

Slingshot of 3R’s

Modern day football watchers claim that MSN (Messi, Suarez, and Neymar) as the most deadly trio ever. But ask little older football fans they will say the 3r’s (Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho) scared the hell out of a team forget defenses. Those 3 stepped on to the football pitch with a smile and opposition never shed tears but it was all respect for these 3 lads. They ran, passed and scored as if you were playing Fifa with your grandmother in Amateur mode. The other two were already stars in Europe as top kickers for Italian or Spanish teams but Ronaldinho had his moment of fame. Seeing David Seaman off his line, he just volleyed the ball as if he knew exactly what he wanted to do. Half of the media criticized that it was a fluke goal but his team mate and former Manchester United player Kleberson said in an interview to MUTV on being asked which was his favourite goal where he was a part of and he said “people say that it was just a fluke goal or you know a ghostly goal but he told me before he took it. Watch him he will come off the line and I will go for top corner”. He did and did it in style catching a 6 ft. 3 inches goal keeper of his line and celebrating as if there was no tomorrow oh yes dad that’s just some Brazilian style.

FC Barcelona’s Catalyst

If Eric Cantona was Manchester United’s catalyst or someone like Bergkamp was the game-changer for Arsenal then Ronaldinho was the spark which led Barcelona to some fabled success. President Joan Laporta and Rijkaard had made public admiration for David Beckham but ended up with the rabbit tooth genius as media proclaimed. But sometimes media tend to go overboard on a guy whose performances helped his previous team PSG finish only 11th in the league. Amidst interest from Manchester United and other big clubs in Europe he opted for Spain and signed a five-year, $25 million contract in July 2003. His arrival in the city was greeted by several thousand joyous supporters of Barcelona, as the team is affectionately known, who poured onto the streets to greet him.

During Ronaldinho’s first season with Barcelona, the team finished second in La Liga, the Spanish national league, but Ronaldinho’s stellar performance earned him the FIFA World Player of the Year title for 2004. At the close of the 2004-05 season, Barcelona won the La Liga championship and narrowly missed out on the postseason coup of winning the European Cup, otherwise known as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League title. In 2006 Barcelona defended its La Liga against archival Real Madrid and then ousted England’s Arsenal FC for a European Cup victory that May. Ronaldinho’s career-high twenty-four goals in both season and postseason play helped him earn the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year honors for 2006.

What goes up, must come down

In 2006, he joined the Brazilian World Cup squad again, joining another Brazilian super star, Kaká. This time the team was somewhat of a disappointment as they were knocked out of the tournament by France in the quarter-finals. Though his performance up to 2006 was exceptional, Ronaldinho slumped throughout the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. He was accused of not being fit (these accusations were not without a base as he was no longer in the kind of shape he had formerly been in) and was down with injuries for a portion of the 2007-08 season.

The World Cup is such a major event that it can only disrupt the lives of soccer fans around the world every four years. Brazilians hoped that Ronaldinho and his national teammates would once again bring another victory, but the 2006 tournament, hosted by Germany, fell far short of expectations. Ronaldinho turned in a lackluster performance, and Brazil was ousted by France. Angry fans even set fire to a twenty-three-foot-tall fiberglass and resin likeness of Ronaldinho in the town of Chapecó in western Brazil. Early the next year he was criticized for becoming a naturalized citizen of Spain. Toward the end of the 2008 season, he was transferred to the large Italian club, AC Milan, for €21 million.

The rise of a Phoenix

Ronaldinho began to pick his pace up again, once at his new club, though he never quite achieved the level of play which he had performed during his better years at Barcelona. However, his presence with the team was and still is much appreciated by his teammates, and continues to lift the spirits of fellow club members as he entered the later years of his career. With 2 goods seasons for Milan, it was time for one last hurrah and he went back to his homeland, not a fabled story but went to Flamengo and then Atletico Mineiro to another jump back to Mexican club Queretaro. His life has been a bit of struggle and why wouldn’t it be? As my father said typical Brazilian flavor defined by a streak of madness. That’s how genius is, something magical defines them and that same magic pulls them down.

Cult status

Whatever happens, he will be remembered in football forever as one of the legends who made this game even more beautiful. Ask those 50000 and more crowd who were present at Santiago Bernabeu what happened when this genius turned on the heat all they did was, in the end, stood up and just applauded. Ronaldinho for some will be a trickster or a trick pony but for some, he was someone who got the game moving and moving in an upward direction. Sitting down and having my coffee it makes perfect sense to me what Rijkaard said: “He is the man that makes the difference between a team that plays well and another that is really memorable and he alone can decide one game”. I wish we all could see an encore beyond human imagination.

Thank you, Ronaldinho, you made my childhood absolutely wonderful.

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