Ronaldinho: One of the greatest entertainers of all time

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Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, known the world over as Ronaldinho, is still just 40 years old.

A 5′ 11″ attacking midfielder or striker, born in Porto Alegro, Brazil. Starting his career at Gremio in 1998, his 72 goals in 145 games brought him to the attention of world football, not least Arsene Wenger.

Arsenal would likely have signed him in 2001 but for work-permit problems. It is also said, however unlikely it may seem, that he considered playing on loan at St Mirren after a move to PSG, just to get some playing time under his belt. This didn’t happen because he somehow got involved in a fake passport scandal, which was to become a bit of a theme.

So after a €5million transfer in August 2001, our man made his debut in Paris. He played two seasons at the Parc des Princes and while he frequently impressed, he rather fell out with the coach Luis Fernandez, who, in what would become another common strand throughout Ronaldinho’s career, complained the Brazilian was more interested in the nightlife of France than he was on dedicating himself to football. He also took holidays that saw him return to the club late.

However, he was now five years into his international career and had won the World Cup in 2002, famously lobbing David Seaman from half a mile away in the quarter-final. When PSG finished mid-table in Ligue Un he got a big move to Barcelona where he would build and cement his legend as one of the most entertaining and ludicrously talented footballers ever to pull on a pair of boots.

His €30million transfer is widely credited as a transformative force for the Catalan club. As Lionel Messi once said: “Ronaldinho was responsible for the change in Barça. It was a bad time and the change that came about with his arrival was amazing.”

Although his first season was affected by injury, he helped them to a second-place finish.

Perhaps the 2005/2006 season was his finest, being instrumental in a La Liga/Champions League double and winning the Ballon d’Or after finishing third the previous year. In a legendary game against Real Madrid in the Bernabeu, he scored two in a 3-0 win and was applauded off the pitch by the home fans, so devastating had his performance been.

He played in Spain until 2008 when he moved to A.C Milan, rejecting an offer from the newly-minted Manchester City, probably feeling the nightlife was better in Milan than Manchester. In his first season he struggled with fitness, looking noticeably heavier.

Carlo Ancelotti was his manager. “The decline of Ronaldinho hasn’t surprised me,” he said. “His physical condition has always been very precarious. His talent though has never been in question.”

His reputation as a party animal grew as his form declined. However, his second season had more ups than downs, finishing top of the Serie A assist charts. He left midway through his third season in Italy and although still aged only 31, he moved out of the European limelight and went home to Brazil spending the last years of his career playing for Flamengo, Atlético Mineiro, Queretaro and Fluminense, finally retiring in 2018 after playing futsal in India for a couple of years.

He finished his career playing 719 games and scoring 280 times in club games and 33 goals for his country across 97 games.

There was another bit of paperwork trouble in July 2019 and 57 properties he owned, along with his Brazilian and Spanish passports, were confiscated because of unpaid taxes and fines. Then in March 2020 he was questioned by police in Paraguay after he was alleged to have used a fake passport to enter the country. The reason he was there? To launch an online casino and a book. Of course.

As a result, he and his brother were slammed in chokey in Paraguay. Naturally, while in jail he played in a prison futsal tournament and his team won 11–2 in the finals, with our man scoring five goals and assisting the other six.

Dinho just gotta Dinho.

Why The Love?

Ronnie played football for the joy of it. He played to entertain. With that came trophies and great riches, but those were always secondary to having fun. And now that we live in an era of football so dominated by geo-politics, financial chicanery and soulless statistical analysis sometimes substituting for understanding, looking back 15 years to see a player just extracting maximum joy out of kicking a ball seems not just exotic but positively revolutionary. There was nothing cynical about his game; everything was dedicated to the spirit of partying.

For all Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s brilliance, they’re serious about their game; they are dedicated and work hard to stay at the top. They want to be winners more than anything else. And while he shares the same laissez-faire attitude to paying tax, that was never Dinho’s style. Unlike those two stellar performers, everyday was a party for him.

Even aged 13 he was making a huge impression by scoring, almost laughably, all the goals in a 23-0 win.

The fact he absolutely bloody loved the game with an unbridled passion was wonderfully infectious. Think of him now… you’re smiling aren’t you? His wild celebrations showed us that football was there to make both him and us happy. His was an unrestrained way of playing, unencumbered by self-consciousness, unafraid to try and do anything and everything all. This is how and why he scored so many different sorts of goals. There wasn’t a risk he wouldn’t take.

Was he left-footed or right-footed? Who knows? He seemed to be able to do anything with either. He made the no-look pass all his own, as he did with the backheel volley pass. And while he had a grab bag of tricks and flicks, he was also really fast at his peak. His running style, arms pumping as his feet flew over the ground, often made him appear a mere blur as he accelerated past defenders.

His ability to change direction and sit a defender on his backside was second to none. He could chest a pass, he could turn and let the ball hit his back, thus playing it forward and assisting in a goal. Pick any reel of his greatest hits on YouTube and all you see is an absolute genius. Literally nothing seemed beyond him, perhaps except scoring headers. But then when you have quicksilver feet, who needs that skill?

All fans of football loved him because he was Joga Bonito made flesh. But beyond that, he was lovable. This wasn’t a supermodel of a man destined for the catwalk and his off-pitch antics which, in the great louche Brazilian tradition of Garrincha et al., seemed to have revolved around wine, women and song, coupled with occasionally treading the wrong side of the law and even ending up behind bars, makes him stand out from the crowd like few footballers ever have. In some ways it is hard to think he is 40. He seems frozen in time in a Barcelona or Brazil shirt sometimes around 2005, so burned into our synapses is he from a time when he was the best player on the planet by a country mile.

What now?

Hard to say as he’s currently not a free man. After spending 32 days in jail, he paid a $1.3million bond and is under house arrest in a luxury hotel in Paraguay that is owned by Barcelona. Is there anything more Ronaldinho than that?

He’s talked about coming out of retirement to play under Diego Maradona at Gimnasia, but coming five years after his last game, this seems, to say the least, unlikely. But then, nothing would surprise us about Ronnie.

Whatever the future holds – and who would bet against it involving a few more ‘mix-ups’ over tax, visas, work-permits and passports? – his place in our hearts is secure as simply one of the greatest entertainers of all time.

By John Nicholson

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