Once upon a time he was considered the best thing since sliced bread and he even achieved the impossible – a standing ovation whilst playing for Barcelona at the Bernabeu – he looked set to take his place in the pantheon of greats to have played the game, but after falling off the wagon so to speak, with indifferent form for both Barca and at first Milan to blame, can Ronaldinho now force his way back into Dunga’s plans for the World Cup.
The omens are not good – he has been left out of Brazil’s squad for their last warm-up game before the World Cup against Ireland and he seems to have played himself out of Brazilian coach Dunga’s plans with a mixture of both inept displays and weight problems which have dogged him for the past couple of seasons. But on his display against Utd, he seems to be returning to somewhere near the form that once made him the world’s most feared player.
Still only 29 years of age, he’s arguably been Milan’s best performer this term and has raked in an impressive return of 12 goals and 8 assists in 27 games and whilst not this is not in the same league as his form for Barca, which was deadly to say the least, since reverting back to his preferred left wing position he’s scored a hat-trick against Siena as well as notching a brace against rivals Juventus at the Stadio Olimpico and it looks like he’s coming back into some very fine form.
We saw the best and the worst of Ronaldinho against Man Utd but it’s the worst in him that Dunga unfortunately sees. A sweet volley deflected off an unfortunate Michael Carrick gave Milan the lead and his interplay with Pato was a joy to watch. He gave young full back Rafael a torrid evening but it was in his failure to track back or even show any willingness to help his team mates when they were severely put under the cosh by Utd in the second half that will harm his chances of forcing his way back into Brazil’s squad.
Dunga was a player of such dogged determination and played very much the water carrier role that Didier Deschamps did so well for France too, this is not to say he wasn’t world class player but he was one which got the best out his comparative limited ability to reach the very pinnacle of the game. You can see he adopts this style as a manager too, opting to treat his players as equals and there has been a very real change from style to substance for Brazil since he took over. He picks the Brazil team on form and suitability to his formations rather than reputation and style and this is obviously how it should be and it’s a pattern that Capello too has adopted as England manager.
This is none too evident in his preference to play Elano down the right hand flank supported by the force of nature that is Maicon behind him, largely choosing to ignore Dani Alves the marauding full back come winger who has become such a key component to Barcelona’s play in the last two seasons who has been reduced to little more than a bit part of the squad. For English spectators this would seem to be an ill advised move for Elano was largely disappointing during his time in this country, but he provides protection for the overlapping Maicon that a player like Ronaldinho or an Alves simply don’t and is a fine example of his philosophy.
At the 2006 World Cup, manager Carlos Parreira had an embarrassment of riches at his disposal with Adriano, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Robinho to pick from and whilst he often tried to play at least four out of the five of these players, it was more often than not to the detriment of the overall balance of the side and Brazil often lacked width and ideas as a result – it seems Dunga is keen to make sure they do not repeat the same mistakes again this time round.
Brazil enter the World Cup probably as second favourites fractionally behind Spain and their recent form in qualifying was far and above anything else on show in South America. Dunga appears to have built his side around a solid spine of Julio Cesar, Lucio and Juan, Felipe Melo, Gilberto Silva in the holding roles with Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano expected to provide the attacking threat, which up till now they have done to devastating effect. These are all dependable performers, baring Robinho and it seems that whilst the Man City/Santos forward has a place in the side there is no further room for another luxury player in Ronaldinho. There appears to be little room for sentiment in Dunga’s pragmatic approach to the Brazil side, but surely Ronaldinho deserves a role akin to the one Beckham is likely to play in South Africa, the cameo role.
Whilst Ronaldinho may not be trusted to carry out a tactical role by Dunga, as he proved last night and is beginning to prove on a much more regular basis now, he has that rare quality that is difficult to ignore, he’s a game changer. One moment of brilliance is all it takes to win a game and although Brazil have a few players in their team capable of providing that, should the plan A that has served them so well up till now fail against stifling opposition, there would be no scarier sight for a tiring defender than that famous toothy grinned genius rising from the bench to wreak havoc on your leaden legs.
It may be a stretch for him to be included now and it looks likely we’ll only see him grace the World Cup if a series of fortuitous injuries go his way, but for my money, Dunga would be crazy to ignore the mercurial talents of the one of the most talented footballers of his generation.
Written By James McManus