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Friday, August 20, 2010

It's a friendship saga... and I luv it... Ronnie and Lionel

Ronaldinho’s departure made Messi grow up

The Joan Gamper Trophy is coming up and this year FC Barcelona will meet AC Milan, which means that ex-Barça player Ronaldinho will return to the Camp Nou. Ronaldinho left the club in the summer of 2008 and the drama surrounding his departure is surely still clear in minds of many culés. But what many might not know is that the departure of Ronaldinho also could have led to the departure of Lionel Messi. Happily for us Barça fans, it instead became the reason for Leo to grow up, as described by Ronald Reng in Swedish football magazine Offside.

For three seasons, FC Barcelona was Ronaldinho’s magic show. But during his last two seasons in the club, something happened and Ronaldinho was no longer the fantastic player he once was. Some say it was because of women and partying, others say that he simply burned out.

The new coach, Josep Guardiola, felt that changes were needed when he took over, and star players like Deco and Ronaldinho had to leave. But what many don’t know was that Lionel Messi was heartbroken by the decision.

When Lionel Messi joined the first team at the age of 17, he was shy–so shy that his youth teammates that he had played with for three years had hardly heard him speak. He was the one who didn’t own a pair of jeans but always wore his training outfit. But when he joined the first team, Ronaldinho decided to take care of the young boy and invited him to his house in Gavá. They talked and played football with Ronnie’s three dogs. Then it didn’t take long before even little Leo had a pair of jeans. Deco even took him to the hairdresser, but in the end Leo didn’t dare to cut his long hair off. Lionel and Ronaldinho became best friends and when everyone was convinced that Leo was the best player in the world, he would still insist that honour remained with Ronaldinho.

Leo took the departure of Ronnie very hard. He started to think about leaving the club and following his best friend to Italy. This happened in the summer of 2008 and the Olympics were rapidly approaching. Barcelona wanted to keep Leo for the USA tour and Argentina wanted him to join the national squad for the Olympic games. When Leo kept quiet about the topic, Maradona came out saying, “It is time for Leo to start acting like a man. To get Barça to release him for the Olympics, he needs to put his feet down. But he doesn’t have the character required to do so. I pray to God that his character will change, but I can not see him as a leader.”

For Leo, it felt like the whole world had turned against him. On the pre-season, he started to treat the young striker Bojan Krkic with silent contempt. He went on attacking Rafael Márquez with swearing and pushing after an unfortunate tackle during training. Leo was starting to lose it and Guardiola understood that something had to be done. He had a long discussion with the young star. Among the things he told Leo was how wonderful it had been to play the Olympics in 1992 and that if it was something he would like to do, he should say so and everything would be fixed.

When Messi came home from the Olympics, happy with his gold medal, he decided to show the world that he had grown up. He went to the hairdresser and cut his hair short. Then he asked for the number 10 shirt that had previously been worn by Ronaldinho. Lionel Messi then went on to win everything in the upcoming season, both for club as well as individually. But he had not forgotten about his best friend. “I miss him a lot! He was my best friend and he will always be my friend,” he told Offside after the record breaking 2008/2009 season.

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