Earlier this week Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, globally known as Ronaldinho, confirmed, via social media, that he had officially retired from professional football after what was nothing short of a remarkable career. Following this, praises, pleasantries and memories have been shared from football’s elite, fans and critics from across the globe. I sit here scrolling through my timelines on various social channels digesting the endless Ronaldinho praise and wonder if there’s ever been a player who is as globally loved as Ronaldinho.
Some would say Pele, who while he is a beacon of world football, many argue he never played competitively in European football and was confined to easier leagues in Brazil and America. Diego Maradona, who undoubtedly was a genius of a footballer, had many issues off the pitch that ultimately tarnished the magicians legacy on it. The case can be said for Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo (R9), Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and more. But there was something unique about the appreciation for Ronaldinho that is dissimilar to any other legend in football and it was Ronaldinho’s ability to make us smile.
Whether you were a fan of his respective team or not, Ronaldinho made all that watched him play smile. To the extent, when he played against your team you wanted him to do well and would accept defeat at the hands of R10 and only R10. One can recall an evening in 2005 when Ronaldinho, at the peak of his powers, elegantly finished off Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu. This then led to a Madrid fan, with a Real scarf wrapped around his neck and shoulders, applauding Ronaldinho’s sheer brilliance after he galloped past a young Sergio Ramos to seal Barca’s 3-0 victory against their bitter rivals on their home turf. And that’s the measure of his ability, style of play and personality; he broke down rivalry barriers – he simply made football fun and to be enjoyed by all.
“When you have the ball at your feet, you are free,” Ronaldinho wrote in an open letter to his younger self, repeating a mantra: creativity over calculation. “It is almost like you’re hearing music. That feeling will make you spread joy to others. You’re smiling because football is fun. Why would you be serious? Your goal is to spread joy.” And that’s exactly what he did, I think with age I’ve now come to realise Ronaldinho’s motivations for playing football was purely for us to enjoy his artistry as opposed to wanting to win trophies and receive personal accolades, these were a mere byproduct of his enjoyment of entertaining us all. Ronaldinho is by far the most entertaining footballer I have ever seen and arguably the most entertaining I ever will see.
His unique ability to use skills and technique to beat his opponent and score outlandish goals is yet to be rivalled. I would almost compare him to how the Harlem Globetrotters in basketball put on a performance for onlookers but with Ronaldinho, there was an efficiency to his skill and technique that many lacked at his level. For those 3 or 4 years, it’s hard to think of any player who singlehandedly brought so much joy to a sport than Ronaldinho did during 2003-2006.
Think of his goal against Chelsea against Stamford Bridge in 2005 or how he made Ashley Cole’s knees collide before assisting for Rivaldo’s goal against England in the 2002 World Cup or even the wondrous overhead kick against Villarreal towards the end of his tenure at Barcelona. There are so many iconic moments that left us gobsmacked, had our jaws-dropping, made us laugh cry and scream in disbelief. But this isn’t to say he was all skill and no output, the guy virtually won everything that he possibly could as a footballer. 2 La Liga titles, 1 Serie A title, 1 UEFA Champions League, 2 FIFA World Player of the Years, 1 Ballon d’Or and the biggest win of all, a World Cup winner in 2002.
Ronaldinho, as Xavi said, “he changed our history”, sparked a new era of constant brilliance for Barcelona that saw the club topple Real Madrid as Spain’s best team and Europe’s best club. In doing so, he became the pin-up for global football; his goofy smile that one Real Madrid director claimed that Madrid hadn’t signed him because he was “too ugly” and would “sink” them as a brand. His silky pinned back black hair that, for many people of colour, allowed for us to see one of our own make it to the top of sport’s royalty. His iconic surfer’s “wave” gesture where he’d wag his thumb and little finger that became such a big thing that a foam finger was sold at Barcelona’s club shop and marked the symbolism of Barcelona’s newfound revival via R10.
And not just Barcelona but Nike too, the viral commercials under the Joga Bonito-name broke records and saw a football star who could rival the celebrity of the then Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant and Michael Schumacher. I mean we can all remember the advert where a golden briefcase with Nike Tiempo’s in them is presented to him which he later puts on and starts smashing the ball against the crossbar, repeatedly. This went on to be the first video on YouTube to amass 1million views and marked a change in sports marketing and a new era of how we consume media. And that’s down to Ronaldinho’s unique and one-of-a-kind appeal.
While the Messis and Ronaldos of today are by far better players than Ronaldinho, their desire on a pitch is to win and to win efficiently, Ronaldinho’s was to bring happiness to all. If you were going through a ridiculously tough time and nothing was going right for you, you knew that all your worries for at least 90 minutes would be forgotten thanks to the joy that Ronaldinho brought to us with his magical feet, head, chest, shoulders, back etc. Obrigado, R10!