The letting go: The trials and tribulations of Ronaldinho Gaúcho
Palmeiras v Atlético Mineiro, in the apathetic early going of the Brazilian Serie A season. Two of Brazil’s best supported clubs, though both starved of success in recent years. A dank, chilly Saturday night at the Pacaembu in São Paulo, with only a few thousand hardy souls huddled on the terraces.
For a two time Fifa World Footballer of the Year, hardly the most glamorous of occasions. For Ronaldinho Gaúcho, however, perhaps a last shot at redemption.
Few of the world’s great athletes can have tumbled so far, so fast. A few short years ago, Ronaldinho was in his pomp at Barcelona, and even after an injury plagued spell at Milan, there was huge excitement when the player returned to Brazil last year with Flamengo, as evidenced by the cheering throng of 25,000 that turned up at his unveiling.
Not for the first time, however, Ronaldinho was to leave his followers with a sense of opportunity squandered. A brief purple patch midway through his first season quickly fizzled out, and by the end of the year the headlines were more to do with extracurricular capers than on-pitch glories.
Much of the drama revolved around the player’s enormous contract, with a chunk of Ronaldinho’s wages due to be paid by sports marketing company Traffic. The thinking was that sponsors would queue up to make “R10” the face of their brand, as had been the case with Ronaldo at Corinthians a couple of years before. But Ronaldinho engenders nothing like the same goodwill as Ronaldo, and the sponsors failed to materialise. When Traffic reneged on their payments, Flamengo assumed full responsibility for Ronaldinho’s contract. It was to prove a fateful decision.
At the same time, rumours intensified that Ronaldinho was once again more interested in caipirinhas and a certain kind of female company than winning trophies. Vanderlei Luxemburgo, his Flamengo coach, ran out of patience when the player allegedly spent the night with just such a toothsome companion at the club’s pre-Libertadores training camp hotel.
A Yosemite Sam to Ronaldinho’s Bugs, Luxemburgo made it clear that the Gávea (Flamengo’s famous headquarters) wasn’t big enough for the both of them. He was soon proved right, when Flamengo president Patricia Amorim relieved him of his post. Meanwhile, Ronaldinho’s performances continued to grow ever more listless, reaching a nadir when Flamengo failed to progress beyond the group stage of this year’s Libertadores.
By now it was public knowledge that Flamengo hadn’t paid the player’s wages in months. Rumours spread that the team was trying to offload him, but before they could, Ronaldinho’s lawyers announced plans to cancel the player’s contract and sue Flamengo for around £12.5 million. The courts agreed, at least over the first part, and Ronaldinho’s time in Rio was over.
And for now, at least, all roads lead to Belo Horizonte. Ronaldinho has signed with Atlético until the end of the year, for a much reduced salary. Despite all evidence to the contrary – jaded, overpaid superstar wheels up to underachieving team for one last payday – the fit might just be a good one.
Atlético are a proud club, winners of the first official Campeonato Brasileiro in 1971, and possess a big, passionate fan base, willing to clasp Ronaldinho to their collective bosom should he bring success. Neither will he lack for willing assistance. From excellent zagueiro Réver to erstwhile Man City striker Jô up front, along with a decent collection of talented younger players such as Bernard and Guilherme, Atlético have a strong squad.
And away from the carioca media circus, Ronaldinho may find the time to remember why it was he started playing football in the first place. Belo Horizonte is hardly the sticks, but the gaudy temptations of Rio de Janeiro are unlikely to be offered up quite as easily in Minas Gerais.
Opinion remains divided. Pelé has said that “Ronaldinho is no longer a decisive player. He’s just one of the squad these days,” while Atlético president Alexandre Khalil has hit upon a simple enough way of motivating his wayward star, stating that Ronaldinho “is going to play well because he’s going to get paid.”
On Saturday, the early signs were encouraging. Those dazzling bursts from the halfway line are long gone, but Ronaldinho puttered around to reasonable effect, working hard as Atlético, who have started the season well, took the three points with a neat header from Jô. Whether R49, as he will be known at Atlético, has the hunger to make it last, remains to be seen.Tagged in: Barcelona, flamengo, football, Ronaldinho
Recent Posts on Football
- PSG and the French league must be more proactive in dealing with hooliganism
- The ghost at the feast: Luiz Felipe Scolari hopes that dropping Ronaldinho for the Confederations Cup won't come back to haunt Brazil
- Anthony Knockaert and other examples of sporting justice
- The feel good factor in Belo Horizonte may not extend to the Brazil national team
- Surprise package St Etienne clinch first major trophy for 32 years
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter