Written by Rhys Paul
Ronaldinho recently announced that he is planning to retire from professional football at the end of the season. The 36 year old has been away from the European limelight since 2011 and, in his absence, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have taken over as the leading lights of the sport and both are frequently discussed as the best to have ever graced a football pitch. It is because of this that people forget just how good Ronaldinho actually was in his prime. Between 2004 and 2006, he was the best player in the world. Nobody else came close and, at times, he was literally untouchable on the pitch. His best years came at an interlude between the Zinedine Zidane & (Fat) Ronaldo years and the Messi & (Cristiano) Ronaldo years. He played a big part in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win as well as Barcelona’s La Liga and 2006 Champions League success.
Eight clubs in an eighteen year career, including spells at PSG, AC Milan and, of course, Barcelona is impressive and even more so when you consider the level of popularity he reached in that time. Whilst he has been without a club since parting company with Fluminense in September 2015, he hasn’t been short on offers, but it remains to be seen whether there will be one final swansong for the Brazilian. Before that happens though, let’s take a look back on the career of a true legend.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira became affectionately known as ‘Ronaldinho’ from an early age and, like many Brazilian footballers, his interest in the sport began on the beach. Football was in his blood with both his father and brother having professional careers in the sport, albeit ones that came to an untimely and premature end. Despite following his brother, Roberto Assis into the Gremio set-up, it didn’t take long for Ronaldinho to start making his own name. The most famous story of a 13 year old Ronaldinho involves a youth match in which the opposition were defeated 23-0 with all 23 goals scored by the future superstar. Four years later he impressed during Brazil’s 1997 under-17 World Cup success and the following year he made his debut for the first team.
In his second season as a professional, Ronaldinho scored 23 goals in 48 appearances (an all competitions) in a season where he was also rewarded with a first call-up to the national team. He featured at the 1999 Copa America a mere three days after earning his first cap, but it was at the 1999 Confederations Cup where a 19 year old Ronaldinho really made a name for himself. Finding the scoresheet in every game except the final – including a hat-trick in the semi-final demolition of Saudi Arabia – he finished as both the joint top goalscorer (with 6) and as the tournament’s best player with the Golden Ball award. His final season at Gremio in 2000 saw him cement his status as the hottest property outside of Europe. 41 goals in 49 appearances remains Ronaldinho’s best goal-to-games ratio and it meant there were plenty interested in his signature by the end of the season.
The Rise of a Superstar
After a move to Arsenal fell through, Paris Saint-Germain won the race for Ronaldinho’s signature for a fee of €5 million. He initially struggled to break into the first-team and it was not until the second-half of the season when he started to find his feet at the club. His most notable contribution of the 2001/02 season came in the French League Cup (Coupe de la League) where he played an influential role in their run to the semi-finals before they were knocked out by eventual winners, Bordeaux. Despite an encouraging first season at PSG, it would be the first time that concerns over his partying lifestyle were aroused and this would become a reoccurring theme for the remainder of his career. On the pitch, his exploits earned him a place in the 2002 World Cup squad.
Alongside Ronaldo and Rivaldo, big things were expected of Brazil. Ronaldo stole the headlines as the tournament’s top goalscorer, but it was Ronaldinho who truly made himself a headliner. England fans became all to familiar with the then 22 year old following his man-of-the-match display in the quarter-finals. Had it not been for his influential performance, a fifth World Cup might have alluded Brazil. As it stood, he set up Rivaldo’s equalising goal before his infamous 40 yard free-kick lobbed over the head of David Seaman and secured a 2-1 win for Brazil, who subsequently went on to win the 2002 World Cup. It was his first major taste of success, but unfortunately it was the last he was to enjoy in a Brazil shirt.
He failed to reach the heights expected of him (particularly from PSG’s manager Luis Fernandez) in the 2002/03 season, but scored several notable goals as well as starring again in PSG’s run to the cup final. His time at PSG had seen Ronaldinho materialise into a greater team player as he became more renown for his assists than the number of goals he was scoring. As a whole, the team finished a disappointing 11th and failure to qualify for Europe signalled the end of both Fernandez and Ronaldinho’s PSG careers.
See Part 2 HERE
What is your favourite Ronaldinho moment? Let us know in the comments below!