The magic. The showmanship. The skills. The athleticism. The technical ability and the adoration of millions: Ronaldinho had the lot. Everything he touched seemed to turn into gold with the numerous individual and team awards. But sadly the magic somehow didn’t last forever. Where did it all go wrong?
His 2003 transfer to Barcelona was a win-win situation for both club and player. Even though David Beckham was Barça’s first choice signing that summer (he eventually went to rivals Real Madrid), in the end it was Ronaldinho that became Barcelona’s number 10. He brought excitement and – more importantly – results back to a team that had been in recent seasons simply lacking the magic that Barcelona are famous for. You couldn’t go anywhere in Catalonia without seeing ‘Dinho being advertised on something. Tickets to see Barça were being snapped up far more rapidly than in previous seasons. The Brazilian has been ascribed with the global rise in Barcelona supporters during his time at the club. It seemed like he could do no wrong.
Standing ovations from rival supporters and Balon d’Or’s weren’t always on the menu like they once were, and by 2008, Ronaldinho was very much on a downward slope. Many blamed his party lifestyle for this, which in turn made him appear to lose his hunger and gain some unwanted pounds. At this time he was 28 and should be at the peak, not turning up late for training and playing very averagely during important games. When his brother, who is also his agent, announced to the press “The possibility of Ronaldinho leaving Barcelona is always there”, it was Man City and AC Milan that quickly took notice.
Turning down the rain of Manchester for Milanese sunshine, ‘Dinho signed for AC Milan for €18.5 million in July 2008 – a fee worthy of any twice World Player of the Year, but generous considering the Brazilian’s form over the previous 12 months. He was greeted with a massive reception in the San Siro. His time at Milan was not a total failure. He scored 26 goals in 95 games, giving 25 assists in the mean time. Not too shabby, but nowhere near the glory he had been producing just a few short years prior. However by 2010 he was deemed surplus to requirements. Again his late night party lifestyle did him no favours. How was the Brazilian going to show the world his magic and rediscover that famous smile?
It was Blackburn Rovers that first put in a serious bid for ‘Dinho, but the Brazilian favoured a move back to his homeland. Having been heavily linked with a move back to his childhood club Grêmio, Ronaldinho joined Flamengo on 11 January 2011, immediately earning him back his favourite number 10 jersey (he previously wore number 80 at Milan as Clarence Seedorf was the Rossoneri’s no. 10). But things began to turn sour a little over 12 months later with the Rio-based club (and with some questionable performances). The 32-year old cancelled his contract with Flamengo, claiming that he had not been paid for the previous four months.
And with that brings us up to present day. Earlier this month, ‘Dinho signed for Atlético Mineiro, a club considered to be one of the more inferior sides in the Brazilian league, and with a major pay-cut to boot. What gives? On reputation alone, the Brazilian could quite likely take his pick from a lot of clubs. Does he simply want nothing more than to remain in his home country? Or does he lack confidence to test himself one more time?
Now at the age of 32, Ronaldinho is entering the final stages of his illustrious career. It certainly looks like the much-loved Brazilian won’t be leaving his native country before he hangs up his boots, testing himself in much stronger leagues again. And that’s a shame. But for a while and not long ago, the great Ronaldinho regularly produced magic on the pitch that we see only once in a blue moon.