The Word: Ronaldinho’s 2003 message should inspire Man United’s Neymar transfer chase

As Ed Woodward and Jose Mourinho try and piece together a Manchester United team packed to the rafters with Galacticos, today marks the birthday of one of football’s greats – one who himself rejected a move to the Theatre of Dreams.

Back in 2003, the world awaited Ronaldinho’s next move as the Brazilian superstar, who captured the hearts of the global footballing family thanks to his majestic performances during the 2002 World Cup, geared up to leave Paris Saint-Germain.

With Sir Alex Ferguson preparing to sell David Beckham, the Red Devils needed a marquee name to replace the England captain and it seemed as if the Selecao samba star was set to move to the Premier League. Incoming Barcelona president Joan Laporta had promised to bring Beckham to the Camp Nou, though he would later spring a surprise in the transfer market, one that would ultimately change the landscape of European football.

Laporta joined forces with former Nike executive Sandro Rosell in order to win the presidential election at the Blaugrana and, not to be disappointed by Beckham’s decision to join arch-rivals Real Madrid, the latter relied on his friendship with Ronaldinho to steal him away from United’s grasp.

The rest is history. He became the focal point of Frank Rijkaard’s Barca side, a transformative presence that saw the Catalan giants return to the forefront of continental football. A talent of earth-shattering ability, he was the precursor to Lionel Messi, helping the Argentine prepare for his meteoric rise to previously uncharted summits of the beautiful game.

His time at the very top was reasonably short-lived, though. Never one to shy away from the glamorous lifestyle those in his position can so easily command, Ronaldinho’s discipline ultimately let him down. Even during his time in the French capital, concerns over his lifestyle would emerge.

Despite boasting a talent that saw him win a World Cup, league titles in Spain and Italy, the Champions League and two Ballon d’Or crowns, it seemed as if his head was only in the game for a few years. After achieving so much so quickly, he would easily become disinterested.

In 2008, Simon Baskett of Reuters described him as a ‘toothy-grinned wizard who had the club under his spell for three glorious seasons’, but the Brazilian would leave as a bloated version of himself that year, let go by Pep Guardiola as the current Manchester City coach took Barcelona to new levels.

Elvis had left the building. In fact, he never really returned from the 2006 World Cup, a tournament in which Brazil were widely expected to retain their crown, though one that eventually proved to be a pivotal few months in his decline.

In stark contrast to his performances four years earlier, he failed to register either a goal or an assist over in Germany as the holders fell to France at the quarter-final stage as style consumed substance amid rumours about nightclubs and women swelled as a result of his escalating excess.

It seems a little harsh to suggest a man who won so much and had such a profound impact on one of the world’s most traditional footballing institutions never really fulfilled his talent, though it’s more indicative of just how good he actually was than it is overly weighty expectations.

Interestingly enough, Neymar – the latest superstar to hail from the most romantic footballing country in the world – has recently suggested he would be open to a move to the Premier League. Admitting he respects Manchester United (among others), the Barcelona forward’s signing would be a landmark one on these shores.

The current captain of Brazil and Messi’s heir-apparent, Neymar is undoubtedly one of the most marketable athletes in the world. Sure, there’s an element of the flash style that goes hand-in-hand with top footballers these days, though backed up by a substance not apparent in Ronaldinho.

A family man, the former Santos prodigy is a devout Christian, seeming to sway towards the Kaka mould, rather than the sort of lifestyle that derailed the likes of Ronaldinho and Adriano before him.

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Although the intense levels of drama surrounding it would have you believe it, rarely do players plying their trade for the likes of Real or Barcelona leave for Premier League in their prime. However, the sort of money plundered into the Pogba deal only a few months ago shows what a financial powerhouse such as United can do in the market these days.

Though United are struggling to recapture the imperious aura that surrounded the Theatre of Dreams during Ferguson’s famed tenure in charge, Neymar’s comments only show what a huge club they still are. Two titans of Brazilian football, with entirely different personalities, have waxed poetic about their pulling power. After all, as former defender Gordon McQueen so aptly quipped even back in 1978, ”ask all the players in the country which club they would like to join and 99% would say ‘Manchester United’. The other 1% would be liars.”

Having missed out once, perhaps United should learn from the Ronaldinho saga and make Neymar a priority. They came so close before, but missing out again could cause further regression on the European stage.