Saturday, September 26, 2009


The other day AC Milan coach, Leonardo, said of the twenty nine year old Ronaldinho that today he is no more the player he was. Two days after, the great footballer said that was not thinking of retirement at the end of this season. All this is sad, very sad indeed; just about three or four years back he was the darling of the connoisseurs of "the beautiful game” all over the world.

I took note of this Brazilian genius in Brazil’s quarterfinal match against England in 2002 World Cup. What a creative pass he gave Rivaldo to score the equalizer for Brazil! And what a spectacular goal he himself scored soon after from a free kick from about forty yards! The winning goal! Let football experts debate whether Ronaldinho’s hit his target or the ball just happened to land in the net. For us, the goal remains imprinted in our memory. That World Cup did not see a better free kick.

He was red-carded soon after, perhaps a bit too harshly. In any case, he had already won the match for Brazil. The English football scribes still haven’t gotten over the fact that England could not beat the ten men Brazilian squad in that quarter final match.

The two times World Footballer of the Year played such artistic, masterly football for Barcelona. He was the happy face of football then; there was always a cheerful grin on his face as he played. His energy seemed to be endless. When he played, the whole field was his territory. On the eve of a crucial Barcelona-Chelsea Champions League match, the redoubtable Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho, not known for complimenting the opposition, said of a not-fully fit Ronaldinho that he could be dangerous even if he was only seventy percent fit!

Brazil, for ever the favourite to win the World Cup, was expected to walk away with the Cup in 2006, with such attacking players as Ronaldinho, Kaka, Adriano, Ronaldo, Robinho, and Roberto Carlos in the team. But it was going to be Ronaldinho’s World Cup. That under-prepared and overconfident team under an overconfident coach played unattractive football and were out of the World Cup in the quarterfinals. For the first time in twelve years Brazil was not playing a World Cup final match. The one who disappointed most was Ronaldinho. His passes were abortive and awful, and his free kicks sailed well over the bar. He did not score a goal, but more importantly, he played unimaginative and unappealing football.

World Cup finals create and destroy reputations. In the more recent years, his two headers in the 1998 World Cup final made Zinadane Zidane. World Cup 2006 harmed Ronaldinho’s reputation, and probably undermined his self-confidence. He of course had a successful 2006-2007 season with Barcelona, but Dunga, the new coach of Brazil, was not impressed. Ronaldinho has played for Brazil under him only a few times, and when he did, he hardly figured in the starting eleven. He was not picked for the Confederations Cup. It looks like 2006 was his last World Cup.

One heard of his injury, his late night parties, his petulance, absence during training, indiscipline, differences with the Barcelona coach Rijkaard, and his colleague Eto’o. Some held him responsible to an extent for Barcelona’s poor performance in 2008. There wasn’t much sympathy for him when he was virtually shown the door.

It is always sad when not merely a great footballer, but a supreme artist like Ronaldinho fades into the background too suddenly, and so quickly. I for one would like to think that his unexpected and inexplicable decline is due, to a considerable extent, to his feeling responsible for Brazil’s poor show in the World Cup 2006. It looks like I will miss – sorely miss - his endearing grin in the football stadiums of South Africa next year.

No comments: