Ronaldinho’s fall from grace

The build-up to an international football tournament always serves to reignite the nostalgic football fan within me, and this year is no exception. As I prepare myself for South Africa 2010, I have decided to cast my attention back towards the 2006 instalment of FIFA’s showpiece event. Much in the same way that fans across the globe are excited at the prospect of Argentina’s Lionel Messi securing his berth within the pantheon of truly legendary players, Germany 2006 was supposed to be the stage where Ronaldinho would stake his claim to be regarded as a bona fide great of the game. Unfortunately Brazil’s underwhelming displays mirrored those of their mercurial playmaker, with many considering the 2006 World Cup to be the event that marked the start of Ronaldinho’s ‘decline’. National coach Dunga’s decision to leave the AC Milan man out of his 23-man squad for this summer’s event has ignominiously denied Ronaldinho the chance to atone for his disappointing performances in Germany. This omission appears to have capped a remarkable fall from grace for a player once deemed the world’s greatest, but how has it all gone so wrong for the 30-year-old?

Much in the same way that former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi is considered to be so today, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira was undoubtedly the finest player in the world a short while ago. In the season leading up to the last World Cup, an inspired Ronaldinho had significantly contributed to his Barcelona side’s league and European Cup double. The player went to Germany as the reigning Ballon d’Or holder (he actually won this accolade twice in 2004 and 2005) and FIFA World Player of the Year, with the Brazilian’s 2003 move to Barcelona widely heralded as the catalyst for the Catalan club’s revival in fortunes which had seen them collect three trophies in two seasons. Unfortunately things started to turn sour for the player considered to be the leading purveyor of “jogo bonito”.

Ronaldinho’s domestic form at Barcelona post-2006 failed to reach the heights of previous years. Infamous pictures of a less-than-svelte Ronaldinho swamped the pages of the newspapers and the internet, visually demonstrating his penchant for Barcelona’s nightlife. Perturbed by the player’s wayward decline and perceived lack of professionalism, Barcelona decided to offload Ronaldinho to AC Milan for £14.5m in the summer of 2008.

The Brazilian’s switch to the San Siro was greeted with much excitement by fans of the Rossoneri, with the move expected to provide the opportunity for the Brazilian to resurrect an ailing career. Despite a promising start to his first season in Italy, which eventually ended with 10 goals and 8 assists in 35 outings, most critics remained unconvinced about Ronaldinho’s ability to return to top, deriding the Brazilian as a ‘has-been’. The former Paris Saint-German man was again criticised for failing to curb his ‘good time’ tendencies, having frequently indulged in Milan’s nightlife.   Despite an auspicious start to last season, Ronaldinho managed to show frequent glimpses of his best form, ending the campaign with an impressive 15 goals and 16 assists from 43 appearances. Such was the form of Ronaldinho last season that many clamoured for his return to the international fold; a survey carried out by the O Globo newspaper found that 73 percent of Brazilians wanted Dunga to call-up Ronaldinho for the first time since early 2009.

Unfortunately for the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year, these calls were not heeded and Ronaldinho will not feature in South Africa this summer. This failure to appear on the world’s biggest stage at just 30 years of age is a damning indictment on the Brazilian, highlighting his painfully rapid decline. Despite a strong showing in the latter half of last season, uncertainty exists over Ronaldinho’s club future. Notwithstanding assurances from AC Milan Vice-President Adriano Galliani that “there is no problem with Ronaldinho”, persistent rumours suggest that the Brazilian may return to his homeland next season.

Ronaldinho is one of a handful of footballers to have truly exemplified the ‘beautiful’ in the ‘beautiful game’, with South African sports administrator Danny Jordaan succinctly describing the Brazilian as a “soccer genius” in possession of talents “enjoyed by few in the game, both past and present.” For a man blessed with such unrivalled skill, it is such a shame that he couldn’t ally such breathtaking ability with the requisite level of professionalism needed to sustain himself at the highest level of football.

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