Brazil – a nation of prodigal footballing talent. From the great Pele, to the current pretender to his crown – Neymar; the South American country is full of great players, or at least fans who seem to think that the boys they see, all of 15, running out to score hat-tricks and play with confidence and skill to be the ‘Next Pele’
Some of them are undoubtedly talented, for example Santos’ current prodigy – Neymar is so good that one particular FC Barcelona might just pay 50 million euros for him if not more. An amazing feat considering he’s no older than I am and I don’t get paid a truck load of my currency of choice for working. The talent in Brazil then, I have established is mind-blowing. Ultra-mega awesome players all over the pitch in defence, midfield and attack.
However, since the glory days of O Rei, no one has quite captured our imaginations. No one that is, apart from one weird tall guy from Gremio, with buck teeth and some outrageous ball control. Yes, you guessed right. I’m talking about Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, better known to you and me as Ronaldinho Gaucho.
From an early age in Porto Alegre, Ronaldinho was a great trickster. His friends knew playing against him was only fun if he didn’t turn up because he had such spectacular ball control and such an amazing vision and range of passing. Coupled with his near-6 foot height and searing pace, Gaucho was a future star.
He went from playing at Gremio to a 5 million euro transfer to Paris St.Germain in virtually no time. One of Europe’s lower rung sides had seen his potential. He played well in his two seasons at the Parisiens, and impressed many. In particular a lot of sides in the Spanish first division.
The story of Ronaldinho arriving at FC Barcelona is a tale of deceit and was weird, to say the least, for us fans. In 2003, with Joan Laporta almost becoming president, he confirmed the signing of David Beckham – one of football’s great poster boys – to ensure his campaign was the one that won through. Once installed however, Beckham moved to arch-rivals Real Madrid. Fans everywhere felt betrayed and hence the hubbub and noise surrounding the arrival of Ronaldinho was much more subdued.
In his first season at the Catalan giants though, Gaucho showed why he was the better player. A master trickster, along with the likes of Deco, Gio Van Bronckhorst, Samu Eto’o and Puyol he lead the club to a 2nd place finish in his debut year and largely inspired Barca to the title in 2004-05. September 2005 saw him winning the FIFPro World Player of the Year award among many other accolades in a near-perfect season.
[embedplusvideo height=”370″ width=”608″ standard=”http://www.youtube.com/v/awWz8c3_p1k?fs=1″ vars=”ytid=awWz8c3_p1k&width=608&height=370&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&autoplay=0&react=1&chapters=¬es=” id=”ep9859″ /]
But all these are just statistics, because the memory of Ronaldinho is so much more. The very presence of the man on the pitch made defenders moan and sigh in sadness. They didn’t have an answer to his devilish trickery, just as his friends didn’t when he was a child in Porto Alegre.
From an audience of a few to an audience of a few billion, Ronaldinho had come far and had smiled all the way. With his chips, outside-of-the-boot passes and amazing dribbling abilities keeping the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta out of the Barca set-up. Ronaldinho helped shove Barca into the 21st century and the team was built around him. A team so brilliant, with a man so amiable at its center that when Barca demolished their arch-rivals 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ronaldinho got a rapturous standing ovation from the Madrid faithful.
Such was his guile and his finesse, such was his brilliance that even opposing fans couldn’t help but marvel at the man in the red and blue where white was worn with a symbolic pride and hatred for all things Barca.
Ronaldinho Gaucho – he may not have won as many trophies or scored as many goals as O Rei, but he did touch my heart and the hearts of millions of others. He inspired a generation to be and to think freely and to do, not just contemplate.
Ronaldinho Gaucho – a legend in every sense.