Monday, January 17, 2011
Ronaldinho: Au Revoir to Europe
Ronaldinho began his segment of his European Soccer career in 2001 at Paris San Germain and ended in 2011 with his return to Flamengo. Over that 10 year career, much was accomplished.
Ronaldinho was born in a football family. His father, Joao, played for the local team in Port Allegre but his father died when Ronaldinho was still a tender age. The family moved out of the favela when his brother, Roberto, signed a professional contract with the Club Gremio. Roberto’s career was cut short when he suffered a knee injury. Ronaldinho’s unique talent for the game was discernable from the early years. Playing for a local Under 13 team, he managed to score 23 goals as his team won 23-0.
He played on the Under 17 Brazilian World Cup team in 1997 and showed his artistic prowess on that world stage. On his return, he began playing for Gremio and his quality meant that the clubs in Europe with the mega-bucks began hunting the playmaker. At one stage, Arsenal negotiated a contract but his few caps for the Brazilian national team prevented him from obtaining a work permit. He eventually went to play in the French League but when he sought a bigger stage, Manchester United made a bid for his services but lost out to Barcelona.
It was at Barcelona that Ronaldinho attained his zenith in the world of soccer. He led Barcelona to the top of La Liga and the coveted Championship League. In 2004 and 2005, he was proclaimed FIFA player of the year.
In the 2002 World Cup he was sensational, destroying England in the knockout round and spearheading the Brazilian national team to victory. That would not be the case in 2006 when the Brazilian National Team seemed to party excessively and was knocked out of the World Cup by France.
From his early days at PSG, Ronaldinho had developed the reputation as both a footballer and a nightlifer. His poor training habits resulted in a falling out of favour with his Barca coach, Frank Rijkaard and his eventual transfer to A.C. Milan.
Ronaldinho started sprightly at A.C. Milan but the then Milan coach, Ancelotti, was troubled by his lack of effort in training. He fared better under Leonardo the following year and looked intermittently that he was returning to his old scintillating self but under Leonardo A.C. Milan finished third in the Seri A. In recent years perhaps due to a lack of fitness, Ronaldinho would perch on the left wing and swings in dangerous crosses to his strikers. At his zenith he held center stage and played as the advance playmaking mid-fielder.
Under Allegri, Ronaldinho’s nocturnal habits continued to plague him. He was photographed on the town breaking curfew. He never saw much playing time as Allegri gave preferential treatment to players who ran until the cows came home.
What is paradoxical is that the new Brazilian coach, Mano Menezes, recalled Ronaldinho to the Brazilian national squad after Dunga shunned him for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Ronaldinho has said au revoir to European football and has returned to his native land at a time when the Brazilian economy is booming and Brazil is now regarded as a major force in world politics. As the Brazilian economy expands, more and more Brazilians will be inclined to play at home. Ronaldinho’s substantial salary will in part be subsidized by sponsors. His drawing card was evident when 20,000 spectators showed up for his Flamengo signing.
Ronaldinho achieved the football pinnacle at an early age and professional footballers play so much football that they burn out at an early age. When Ronaldinho takes the field for his new club, Flamengo, he will still sparkle and there will still be the love of the game. At the age of 31, I would imagine his dream is to win another World Cup in 2014, a World Cup that will be played on Brazilian soil. There is no national team that is more competitive than the Brazilian national team. If Ronaldinho wants to go out in a blaze of glory, for the next couple of years, he must party less and ensure that his physical structure is in superb condition.
Whatever is Ronaldinho’s fate in the next three years, he will be remembered as one of the truly charismatic figures who ever played the game. He has entered a new phase of his soccer career. He has returned home to Brazil. We shall see if this segment of his career will be as successful as were the early years at Paris San Germain and at Barcelona.