Ronaldinho still proving the doubters wrong

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At around 4:25 on Thursday morning British time, Olimpia's Matias Gimenez had just sent his penalty careering into the right hand post of Victor's goal which crowned Atletico Mineiro Copa Libertadores champions and with it entered one of the most infamous footballers to ever grace the game into a select group of only six members.

Ronaldinho, after finally adding the Copa Libertadores to his winners repertoire, had joined the likes of Walter Samuel, Carlos Tevez, Juan Pablo Sorin and Dida to name just four, in the list of players to have won both the European Cup and the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores.

Much has been said about Ronaldinho throughout his career, from the outrageous footwork that created what is now known as the 'Elastico', to the recurring party lifestyle which Barcelona eventually decided would be too much of a bad influence on a young and impressionable Lionel Messi. However Ronaldinho Gaucho's quest for honours can never be called into question with the Brazilian having contributed significantly to a number of club's successes over the course of his career.

After spells in Europe with Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona and AC Milan, Ronaldinho had amassed a total of six European based honours including a European Cup and two La Liga titles.

At the age of 31 he returned to the country of his birth, Brazil, to play for Flamengo in the hope of adding the Copa Libertadores to his list of honours. A spell with Flamengo ended on somewhat of a sour note with the Brazilian club and Ronaldinho coming to a disagreement over unpaid wages and bonuses which saw the iconic playmaker leave and join fellow Brazilian team Atletico Mineiro who were making strides under head coach Cuca.

Once joined up with Galo, Ronaldinho was entrusted with the task of not only contributing to the team's success on the field but also to be a role model to young prodigy Bernard in a very similar way to how he was in Lionel Messi's early days at Barcelona.

As only a 19-year-old at the time of Ronaldinho's arrival it was already clear that Bernard had the talent to be a success not only with Mineiro but eventually like his new mentor, in Europe.

But there was still a need for Bernard to be guided in terms of developing a more rounded game on the pitch and how to deal with the pressures of international football.

Mineiro in the 2012-2013 season with Ronaldinho in tow were simply fantastic with Bernard and Ronaldinho in an attacking midfield three along with Diego Tardelli. Former Manchester City striker Jo was positioned just ahead as a lone striker.

This system worked fantastically well with Bernard on the left and Ronaldinho pulling the strings in the central position with the two even on occasions swapping positions to spark confusion amongst an opposition defence.

This benefitted Bernard's overall game significantly as the young winger learnt how to play just off a centre forward, bringing him into play using reverse passes as well as creating space by beating a man with a skill and pace.

Mineiro under Cuca were on cloud nine with the club finishing second in the 2012 edition of the Brazilian Serie A which saw Mineiro qualify for the 2013 Copa Libertadores. Ronaldinho contributed nine goals and 11 assists whilst Bernard offered eleven goals - it was a partnership destined for success.

Atletico Mineiro then took to the continent in the Copa Libertadores hoping to keep the Brazilian dominance in the competition going. However the general consensus was that whilst Galo had a real chance of reaching the latter stages of the competition with the quality going forward, they would probably come unstuck against a team more worldly wise so to speak, more in tune with the requirements of the Copa Libertadores.

However Cuca's side, with a perfect blend of youth, experience and explosive talent, worked through their group with ease, dropping only three points out of six games taking them to a knockout fixture against Sao Paulo.

And they won that with surprising ease at an aggregate score of 6-2.

Once into the quarter-finals things became tougher for Atleti with the club being drawn against Tijuana of Mexico with Cuca's side only just scraping through on away goals after Tijuana missed an injury time penalty. Here, the first signs of pressure on the team began to show.

Mineiro would then scrape through to the final on penalties following a dramatic comeback from a two goal deficit against Gerardo Martino's Newell's Old Boys.

The final against Olimpia of Paraguay was yet again a tense affair with Mineiro without Bernard for the first leg through suspension, and Olimpia would take a 2-0 lead to Brazil for the second and decisive leg.

Normally such a jovial figure on the pitch with the iconic grin, we saw a different Ronaldinho on Thursday morning. We saw Ronaldinho, a man to whom football brings so much joy, cut a forlorn figure throughout Thursday morning's second leg with the former Barcelona man for the most part disconsolate at his teammates inability to find him with passes.

This was not a Ronaldinho anyone was accustomed to seeing and it certainly surprised me but such was the focus and sheer determination within Ronaldinho to fulfil his goal upon returning to Brazil and add the Copa Libertadores to his long list of successes and prove the doubters wrong.

After the match, which Mineiro won on penalties following an 88th minute equaliser from Leonardo Silva, Ronaldinho looked relieved - gone was the anxious look and back was the stereotypical happy-go-lucky grin.

And what followed were words that simply captured Ronaldinho's drive for success not only over the past 120 minutes but also the last three years.

"Everyone said that I was finished and that my time was over," said Ronaldinho.

"Let them talk now."

And with that Ronaldinho joined the illustrious aforementioned list of now seven players to have achieved continental glory both in Europe and in South America.

He also joins his 2002 World Cup winning teammates, Cafu, Dida and Roque Junior as the only four players to have won the hat trick of the World Cup, European Cup and Copa Libertadores.

With Ronaldinho finally adding the Libertadores to his honours many are left contemplating 'Dinho's' future. With little hope of making it back into the Selecao fold under Luis Felipe Scolari and with Mineiro's prodigy Bernard expected to move to Europe this summer, much richer for the experience of having played with Ronaldinho, there is little left for the enigmatic Brazilian to achieve.

One wouldn't be at all surprised if Ronaldinho was to call time on his illustrious, trophy laden career at the end of this season.

However people have said Ronaldinho was finished before...


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