It’s a testament to how strong Ronaldinho’s legacy is that he still finds himself adored by footballing neutrals all over Europe.
The Brazilian maestro’s spells at Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan fell either side of an incredible five-season tenure with Barcelona, in which he enjoyed an era of personal dominance reminiscent of the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona. With a trademark grin on his face Ronaldinho single-handedly conquered Europe with his sparkling influence and unparalleled ability on the ball.
The Ronaldinho effect
Perhaps the most likeable thing about the forward’s regular masterclasses though, and what’s endeared him to virtually every neutral football fan in the world, is the fact that he oozed pure passion for the game with every kick of the ball.
In many ways Ronaldinho was a throw-back to heroes of decades gone by; one who inspired others with his feats on the pitch and yet retained an aura of normality as he went about his business. He was classy, unbelievably talented and as unconventional as you can be possibly be if you’re the best footballer on the planet.
Comparisons to current day
When he’s compared to the current pair fighting it out for that crown, there’s more than just a hint of difference. Of course I’m referring to Ronaldinho’s former protege, and the man who managed the impossible task of replacing him at Barcelona; Lionel Messi, and his eternal rival; Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldinho’s move to Milan in 2008 signalled the end of his reign as the undisputed king-pin of world football, and in his place rose Messi and Ronaldo, both vying to pick up the mantle. Yet despite the millions of fans who adore them and fawn over their respective record-breaking feats, neither man will ever be as popular as the Brazilian.
The main problem surrounding the Messi and Ronaldo clash, with regards to their popularity on the world stage, and albeit one that neither can help, is the fact that they split opinion almost down the middle. Half the planet find Ronaldo’s arrogance intolerable, whilst half the planet celebrate his awe-inspiring attributes. Much in the same way there’s just as many people who play down Messi’s claim to being the greatest ever as there are people who endorse it.
Ronaldinho had no such qualms during his time on the throne. The main reason? He played with a carefree attitude that even rival fans found impossible to lambast.
There was a barely a minute on the pitch when the 34-year-old didn’t exude confidence and brilliance in equal measures, and he did it all with an effortless mantra that was infectious. He was a far cry from the superstars currently cut from the same cloth.
Ronaldo and Messi maintain their pristine reputations through excellent athleticism, acute professionalism and the myth that whichever one can prove themselves the better of the two, will go down as history’s best ever.
In contrast Ronaldinho was famous for his wild nights out, appearances drunk on the Copacabana beach in his native country and appearances in rap videos. He was reprimanded more than once by Barcelona for his behaviour off of the pitch and yet was still able to produce performances that stole the show week in, week out.
Take a look at the recent sporting headlines and you’ll find he still makes frequent appearances in the media. Whether it be compilations of his eyebrow-raising contributions to Mexico’s elite league, where he is currently playing with Liga MX side Queretaro, or highlights of a very different nature, he always finds someway to get his name back into circulation.
The latest number to be found involves Ronaldinho taking the time to interact with a pitch invader. Rather than take the conventional route of avoiding contact or waiting for the stewards to bundle him off the field of play the veteran forward signed a shirt for said invader.
It’s this cheeky approach to virtually everything that allowed rival fans to feel just as affectionate towards him as his own supporters. Take his performance in the El Classico of November 2005, a match in which two goals helped Barca on the way to a 3-0 victory over Madrid on their home turf.
Upon doing so Ronaldinho became just the second Barca star ever to receive a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu. Maradona was the first.
You get the sense that when Ronaldinho played during his peak years he wasn’t nearly so carefully managed as the likes of Ronaldo and Messi. His career wasn’t nearly as perfectly controlled and as a result fans enjoyed the unpredictable nature.
That’s why it’s a crying shame he never graced the Premier League. Though La Liga was the arena in which he displayed his utmost prowess as a champion, the home of football would have welcomed a player of Ronaldinho’s rapport and popularity with open arms.
He may not have been the ideal role model, nor the model professional most top athletes have to be. In being who he was though, and conducting himself in a manner which promised only to suit himself, he cemented a legacy which will ensure he is remembered as one of the best of all time, regardless of who has emerged, who might yet emerge, in his aftermath.