In the mid-2000s, we were blessed with a wealth of talents and the battle for the Ballon d’Or wasn’t the head-to-head battle between two giants it is now. However, there was still one man who was considered to be head and shoulders above the rest.
Brazilian ace Ronaldinho captured the hearts of the world during his prime years, where he won the 2002 World Cup and helped create Barcelona into the global powerhouse they are now (including helping to develop a certain Lionel Messi), but his fall from grace was rather dramatic.
Ballon d’Or winner in 2005 and Champions League winner in 2006, which was then only Barcelona’s second continental crown, Ronaldinho was on the top of the world and had the sport’s biggest investors, namely Nike, eating out the palm of his hand.
It’s lonely at the top, though, and things soon turned sour for Ronaldinho; who saw Real Madrid win the La Liga title in 2006/07, endured an injury-plagued campaign in 2007/08 and then left Barcelona for AC Milan – where his only title would be the Serie A crown in 2011, his last campaign in Italy.
You simply can't get enough of Ronaldinho. No matter how old he is, this man will always be The Magician 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/xUGEvJg3Lv
— The Soccer Life (@TheSoccerLifee) September 24, 2017
So what exactly happened? The answer can largely be found in the World Cup of 2006, where a Brazil side defending the biggest honour in football fell well short of expectation; losing 1-0 to France in the quarter-final, with starring quartet Ronaldinho, Kaka, Ronaldo and Adriano scoring just five goals between them.
Ronaldinho went the entire tournament without a goal, with just one assist to his name, and a Brazil side that had been plastered with the ‘Joga Bonito’ Nike campaign and hailed as the greatest national side in that era left Germany with their tail tucked between their legs.
That Brazil side, including Ronaldinho, was heavily criticised and he returned to Barcelona a shadow of his former self. Whilst he achieved a career-high 21 goals the following campaign, his importance to Los Cules was decreased heavily- due to his off-field antics and the rise of the aforementioned Messi.
In 2008 he was deemed expendable and joined an AC Milan side who were coming to the end of a fine period; shown by the fact their Serie A title in 2011 was the last time anyone other than Juventus lifted Italian football’s league title.
The move to AC Milan gave him the chance to rekindle his career but, after a promising start, he struggled in his initial season- playing off the bench a lot due to his lack of fitness, again a major problem due to his antics off the field.
In fact, his Serie A title that came in his third-season on AC Milan’s books isn’t even due to a direct contribution from the Brazilian as he returned to South America in January of that year to join Flamengo; turning down numerous MLS sides and Blackburn Rovers in the process.
Lampard on Ronaldinho: "I've never seen a player like him.. He's from a different planet to the rest of us.” pic.twitter.com/iTEwDRF76l
— Players Sayings (@PlayersSayings) September 25, 2017
By this stage, Ronaldinho was a shadow of his former brilliance and remained in the forefront of fans’ minds due to the best years of his career and it’s clear that he could have achieved a lot more, particularly in the years that followed the 2006 World Cup.
Five titles with Barcelona is nothing compared to what the Catalan side have won since and, despite Messi’s rise to prominence, he could have still been a useful asset to Barcelona. Instead, it was believed he’d have problems not being the main man and the faith was put in Messi.
Had Ronaldinho continued to play at the top of his game, the circumstances of events in 2008 could have changed dramatically. If he was the best player in the world, would Messi have been sacrificed and could Ronaldinho have been the catalyst for glory?
Those are questions that will never be answered but the fact of the matter is Ronaldinho achieved a lot less than he could have done. Just six major honours in Europe, one of which he was hardly involved in, and a World Cup may be enough for some footballers but Ronaldinho would have certainly aspired to achieve more.
It’s, therefore, quite remarkable that Ronaldinho is still heralded as highly as he is to this day, as there’s been plenty of others who have achieved a lot more than the Brazilian – and it suggests that his abundance of skills papered over the cracks that were present throughout his career.
Known to enjoy being centre stage and enjoying the party scene, Ronaldinho’s reputation brought difficulties and it’s easy for a side to use that as an excuse when they want to get rid. Whilst the Brazilian is yet to retire officially, at 37, he could have a lot of regrets.