It seems strange to talk about a fall from grace in reference to a player that plays an important role for Italian giants AC Milan; but that is exactly what it has been for Ronaldinho, and that is more of a tribute to the heights that he hit than a condemnation of his current position. The flamboyant Brazilian was at one point the most exciting player on the planet and remains one of the most naturally gifted players in the game. Yet he is no longer thought of as one of the world’s great players, his talents have been eclipsed by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He is also in danger of missing out on the World Cup.
At 29, Ronaldinho should be in the prime of his career, he is at the stage of his life when the combination of experience, talent and fitness should allow him to reach his peak. Unfortunately, it appears as if his peak was reached some time ago in his days with Barcelona. The winner of consecutive FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005, Ronaldinho seemed set to dominate this decade and establish himself as one of the all-time greats. His ability on the ball was magical; at Barcelona he managed to blend showmanship with productivity and played a key role in the successful side managed by Rijkaard that won consecutive La Liga titles and became European champions in 2006. His greatness was such that even Barcelona’s greatest rivals acknowledged it as Ronaldinho received a standing ovation at the Bernabeu after scoring two wonderful goals.
The World Cup in 2006 was perhaps the turning point for Ronaldinho; he was expected to carry his club form into the tournament and lead Brazil to glory. However the tournament was a great disappointment for Brazil and Ronaldinho personally. Asked to play a different role for his country, he was not allowed to play with the same freedom and flair that brought such success to the Camp Nou. Playing in a side that lacked balance and direction, Ronaldinho failed to shine and Brazil crashed out in the quarterfinals.
The following season was actually Ronaldinho’s most productive in terms of league goals as he hit the net 21 times. However cracks were beginning to appear in his relationship with the manager and his professionalism was called into question; he no longer played with the same verve. The player had a reputation as something of a party-boy in his time at PSG, and the Brazilian superstar appeared to be falling into his old patterns of behaviour. As Lionel Messi became the key man in the Barca side, Ronaldinho’s attitude continued to suffer; the following season was characterised by a loss of form and fitness and was his last for the Catalan side.
After a disappointing season, Ronaldinho was accused of becoming complacent and was moved on to AC Milan. It was thought that a new challenge could reinvigorate his ailing career, but his first season at Milan was not a success. Kaka was the main playmaker in the team and after the two Brazilians struggled to work together effectively, Ronaldinho was relegated to the bench. Kaka has now left Milan for Real Madrid, and Ronaldinho will be given the opportunity to show he can fill the gap. He has started this season in decent form; in an early season game against Roma he conjured a sublime pass for Pato to score a vital goal for the Rossoneri; it was a throwback to the player of old. Unfortunately Ronaldinho does not appear to be part of Dunga’s plans for the Brazil squad so he is unlikely to be given the opportunity to right the wrongs of 2006; any resurgence will have to take place in the red and black of Milan. The raw talent is still there, and the San Siro is one of the great theatres of modern football; if Leonardo can keep Ronaldinho motivated, perhaps a renaissance is not out of the question.
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