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SPORT

Ronaldinho: football’s greatest showman

Words by Nathan Irvine

Magic man

There are footballers that come along once in a generation and dazzle us with their dominance. And then there’s Ronaldo de Assis Moreiram better known as Ronaldinho. The Brazilian, who celebrates his 41st birthday today, is an outlier in the world of football. With a cheeky grin and almost stress-free approach to every match, Ronaldinho was an exceptional and rare talent that we’re unlikely to see again.

The former Barcelona and AC Milan star was the walking embodiment of the Portuguese phrase “joga bonita” (read: play beautifully). Deft touches, misdirection and gasp out loud trickery were on full display every single time Ronaldinho took to the field. If he ever felt pressure, he rarely showed it. In fact, it’s hard to remember a time when his trademark grin wasn’t on display for 90+ minutes of football.

You were always guaranteed a show whenever he took to the field. That uncoachable knack of being able to leave defenders either chasing shadows or sitting on the turf wondering what just happened was edge-of-your-seat stuff. And without wanting to sound like an old curmudgeon, the modern game is worse off for a lack of players like him. Sure, there are superb footballers around – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, obviously – but they lack the swagger and fun in their game that Ronaldinho possessed.

Twisted blood

Ronaldinho’s unpredictability was his biggest asset. A street footballer growing up, the Brazilian would call on his vast catalogue of tricks without a moment’s hesitation, which kept opponents having to second, and triple guess what he was going to do next. Take his goal for Barcelona against Chelsea in Champions League 2005.

After receiving a pass on the edge of the area from a young Andres Iniesta, the Chelsea defence sprinted towards Ronaldinho. It seemed like time had slowed down around him as he calmly stood, shuffled his heel and then unleashed an impossible toe-poke finish into the top corner with barely any back lift. It was genius and there were likely a fair few Chelsea fans inside Stamford Bridge that night who quietly agreed.

Ronaldinho won the lot too. League titles in Brazil and Spain, a Champions League, multiple cup competitions and not to mention a World Cup winners medal. He even won the Ballon D’or in 2005, which just goes to show he was instrumental in guiding teams to victory and much more than a show pony.

In his pomp, it’s hard to imagine any club in the world that wouldn’t have wanted Ronaldinho in their squad. That said, Manchester United famously missed out on signing him from Paris Saint Germain in 2003 as Barcelona bid one measly million Euros more for his services. That transfer fee bought not only a gifted player that was capable of turning a game on its head, but a box office showman that fans were desperate to see perform.

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