It was with a tinge of sadness that I watched another of Barca’s former Brazilian world-beaters head back home recently, knowing as I did that such a move was a certain signal that yet another fantastic career was slowly drawing to a close. In this instance I am talking about the man who placed Barca back on the footballing map, Ronaldinho, but of course you could have been mistaken for thinking I meant Rivaldo or even Deco, so strong seems to be the pull back to the league of their homeland for so many of the old Brazilgrana. (Yes Deco played for Portugal but the point still stands.)
As we currently live through arguably the greatest prolonged period of success the club has ever known, it is easy now to forget just how important Ronaldinho was for Barca, and just how his utter greatness forced everyone around the globe to sit up and take notice of our club once again. After many years of mismanagement and under-achievement, it seemed Ronaldinho almost single handedly pulled the club into its maturity; bringing with him, as he did, not only tantalizing tricks and fancy footwork but also trophies. Oh yes the trophies.
In the five years he spent at the club Ronnie helped Barca lift five trophies, including that all important second European Cup, and while by today’s standards such a haul may seem small pickings, we have to remember that it was the Brazilian’s dynamism and outright contagious love of the game that brought so many new fans to the club, their hearts seemingly swollen by the pure joy of seeing Ronaldinho do his stuff.
Here was a player who played the game with the utmost flair and creativity, a smile (for the most part) cemented on his face. He brought that simple samba rhythm back to the game at a time when football seemed to be falling on its own sword of bloated egos and even heavier wage packets. And whilst the likes of Michael Owen, David Beckham and fellow countryman Ronaldo were all smiling for the camera Ronnie was smiling for the stands – his utter enjoyment apparent for all to see.
Okay it didn’t end well but there has been more than enough written about all of that. For now let us remember the good times. As his one time partner in crime Deco recently said of him, “Ronnie has left his mark on the club and we should remember the good things.” So while we could dwell on the fall-outs and in-fighting, the partying and later day lack of commitment, it seems unfair that the player who made the Bernabeu stand and applaud should have his reputation tarnished in such a way that we can no longer look back on his time with us without instantly thinking of the sad ending.
After all, what went before was so, so good, and made so many of us very, very happy.
Along with the amazing memory of seeing the Madrid faithful rise to their feet to applaud his magic, my overriding memory of Ronaldinho is of him forever tormenting Chelsea. I don’t know if my dislike of Chelsea has anything to do with this but for some reason I just keep seeing John Terry and Co. standing stock still, like shadows stranded in the early evening gloaming, the darkness filling their hearts as they realise once again – He’s come back to finish us off for good this time!
As someone based in England I can’t tell you how wonderful it was on those occasions when Barca would head to Stamford Bridge, the press talking up the ‘greatness’ of Lampard and Terry and Joe Cole, etc., and how this time that darn Brazilian wouldn’t make a mug of them. Only to find their mediocrity exposed as Ronaldinho ran riot, the ball seemingly stuck to his feet. I loved these moments more than anything and although I do think I have allowed my nostalgia and sentimentality to somewhat get the best of me, there is no denying that it was during this period that the man from Porto Alegre really was at his best.
So even though all good things must pass, such movement does not make what went before any less significant or cherished. And while there are many who would pledge their allegiance to little Leo and his not unmentionable talents, it is worth baring in mind that at one time no-one foresaw an era whereby Ronnie would ever be over taken as the game’s greatest, so well loved was he by so many. Today many no longer consider the Brazilian to still be worthy of such a mantle, but personally I think they are writing off his legacy with far too much haste, and with no where near enough hindsight.
Just like the great novelists and poets of their age can only be judged by their last piece of work, great footballers must also suffer the indignity of seeing their entire career defined by that most restrictive of eras – the end. And while his output has been frequently underwhelming of late, we must remember that at his best Ronaldinho represented what everyone loves about football – creativity, excitement, amazement and joy. The kind of things that can make age old enemies relent in their hatred and stand up and salute.
Such things do not happen often in football, so stubborn and hard wired are we as fans, but when they do we should take them as the true compliment that they are – true greatness touches us all. I hope for history’s sake that football soon reassesses just how wonderful a player Ronaldinho truly was and just how sad it is now to see him preparing his exit from the game. A game he helped to reinvigorate and one that would have been a hell of a lot less enjoyable without his presence.
Brazil finally has one of its greatest sons back within her bosom. And while we wish him well it is safe to say he will be missed.
He was the reason I started watching football differently... and I will truly miss him... viva Ronaldinho... viva Football