After Maradona announced his retirement,mayhem ensued. The emblematic No 10 Jersey had many suitors but none really was able to own it like the maestros.The game of musical chairs began. Many got a taste of the throne but none had a long tenure. Stalwarts such as Roberto Bazio, Zinedine Zidane were amongst those with a short reign. The winner of this musical chair was again from the nation that gave footballing world the legacy of Jersey No 10, Footballing powerhouse ,Brazil.

Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, widely known as Ronaldinho or Ronaldinho Gaúcho,is a Brazilian former professional footballer who plied bulk of his trade at European clubs PSG, Barcelona and Milan as an attacking midfielder but was also deployed as a forward or a winger. At international level, Ronaldinho scored 33 goals in 97 appearances for the Seleção, including 2 FIFA World Cups. A part of the attacking trio of Ronaldo and Rivaldo , he was a crucial plank in the 2002 FIFA World Cup winning campaign, scoring two goals, including a free-kick from 40 yards out against England.As captain, he led Brazil to their second Confederations Cup title in 2005 and was awarded Man of the Match title in the finals.

Ronaldinho’s signed shirt.Pic Credits: Epic memorabilia

A mine of god-gifted talent, he was renowned for his technical skills and creativity. He earned fame for his agility, pace and dribbling ability, as well as his use of tricks, overhead kicks, no-look passes and pin-point accurate free-kicks.After Ronaldo (“the Brazilian version”,modern fans) had changed the entire perception of what a No.9 could do, Ronaldinho came along and changed the entire perception of a footballer’s abilities.He brought the tricks and flicks of futsal to a full-sized football field, pulling off pieces of skill that nobody had seen before. Brazil and Real Madrid legend Roberto Carlos correctly pointed out, “It wasn’t just about the tricks – he created and scored the goals to match his ability.”

Nicknamed “Ronaldinho” because of being the youngest and the smallest player in youth club matches,Ronaldo’s skill began to blossom aged 8.The media went bonkers when a 13 year boy scored all 23 goals in a 23-0 victory against a local team.He learnt the ropes in Grêmio youth squad and made his senior debut in 1998.1999 saw the emergence of the 18-year-old Ronaldinho, with 23 goals in 48 matches,the headlining performance being on 20 June 1999 in the Rio Grande do Sul State Championship final.In a match-winning performance, Ronaldinho embarrassed Brazilian legend and 1994 WC-winning captain Dunga, flicking the ball over his head at one occasion and leaving him flat-footed in a mazy dribble on another.
In 2001, Ronaldinho, all of 20, signed a five-year contract with French club Paris Saint-Germain and was given the number 21 shirt,switching to the iconic no 10 next year after a stellar debut season, and inserted into a lineup that included fellow Brazilian Aloísio, midfielder Jay-Jay Okocha and striker Nicolas Anelka.He left the club after a couple of seasons though.

After failing to land David Beckham as promised,FC Barcelona outbid Manchester United for Ronaldinho’s signature in a €30 million deal.Because of a scheduling dispute , his Blaugrana debut, against Sevilla, kicked off at five past midnight on September 3, 2003. The 80,000 strong Camp Nou,that stayed put to see their new Brazilian superstar,didn’t come to regret the decision for Ronaldinho, lashed the ball into the net in a 30 yard drive with dribble past 2 defenders. Ronaldinho had brought hope back to Barca in the troubled times with his strike in the draw. In time, he brought trophies too.

“Ronaldinho was responsible for the change in Barça. It was a bad time and the change that came about with his arrival was amazing.”
Lionel Messi on the impact of Ronaldinho’s arrival at Barcelona.

During that two-year spell between 2004 to 2006, Ronaldinho was at the peak of his powers and was unplayable according to Beckham, as motivated as he was magical.He accumulated a horde of personal rewards too , the highlight of his trophy cabinet being back-to-back FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004,2005. His domination as the world’s best footballer was undisputed as he also won the prestigious Ballon d’Or for the only time in his career.

On a weekly basis, Ronaldinho did things that took that breath away and all the while with that endearingly toothy grin on his face. Even the supporters of Barca’s archrivals Real Madrid could not help but stand and applaud when he tore their beloved Blancos asunder.After scoring two spectacular solo goals in El Clásico, Ronaldinho became the second Barcelona player, after Diego Maradona in 1983, to receive a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabéu.Ronaldinho admitted afterwards, “I will never forget this because it is very rare for any footballer to be applauded in this way by the opposition fans.”
After his hugely successful first three seasons at Barcelona, Ronaldinho’s partying lifestyle and lack of dedication to training saw his physical condition deteriorate, with many at the club believing he was now past his prime. So he left the club in 2008, but not before mentoring the next big thing in football.
One of few Brazilian players to have played at every international age level,he earned his first cap for Brazil on 26 June, three days before the start of the 1999 Copa América, in a 3-0 win over Latvia.Ronaldinho participated in his first World Cup in 2002, as part of a formidable offensive unit with Ronaldo and Rivaldo, dubbed the “Three Rs”.The World Cup held in Korea and Japan, saw Ronaldinho appear in five matches scoring two goals, as well as contributing several important assists enroute to the record 5th cup glory for Canary brigade.

2002 FIFA WC Winners

Quarter-final against England is very dear to Nibbler fans.With Brazil trailing after Michael Owen’s 23-minute strike, Ronaldinho turned the game on its head in his most memorable WC outing. Having received the ball inside his own half, Ronaldinho ran at the England defence and wrong footed star defender Ashley Cole with a trademark step over before passing the ball to Rivaldo on the edge of the penalty area to score the equalizing goal just before half-time. Then, in the 50th minute, Ronaldinho scored with a curling free-kick from 40 yards, depositing the ball into the top left corner of the net leaving the keeper hoodwinked and giving Brazil a 2-1 lead. He was sent for foul 7 minutes later though.

After falling short in 1999 and 2003, Ronaldinho was the captain of Brazil and led his team to its second ever Confederations Cup title in 2005 with MoM performance in finals against Argentina.For the 2006 WC, Ronaldinho was part of Brazil’s much-publicized “magic quartet” alongside Adriano, Ronaldo and Kaká, expected to provide the much advertised classic Brazilian attacking  “Joga Bonito” style of play, but the defending champions bowed out in quarter-finals.The group finished with paltry six goals in five games, with Ronaldinho himself going scoreless and finishing with only one assist. This performance led to harsh criticism from all quarters.Days after Brazil’s elimination, vandals immolated and destroyed a 7.5-metre tall fiberglass and resin statue erected in 2004 to celebrate Ronaldinho’s first FIFA World Player of the Year award in Chapecó. His return to Barcelona on that same day and partying till dawn aggravated the hard feelings of many Brazilian fans, who felt betrayed by the lack of effort from the squad.
Readers would scarcely believe when I say that this legend has played in India.However this is true. He played in the Premier Futsal League, alongside him were Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Míchel Salgado, and Hernán Crespo as well as futsal player Falcão for Goan futsal team, Goa 5′s in 2016 ,even if for 2 games only. Next fall he enthralled the spectators by scoring 16 goals in eight games for Delhi Dragons.Another interesting fact about this toothy wizard-he has a bee named after him,‘Eulaema quadragintanovem’. ‘Quadraginta novem’ means forty-nine, the number of Ronaldinho’s T-shirt at Clube Atlético Mineiro (CAM).On 16 January 2018, Ronaldinho confirmed his retirement from football and was recently in news for marrying his 2 girlfriends.
In the era of partisanship,Ronaldinho transcended the traditional lines of tribal warfare. He soared above competition. He wasn’t driven by being the best. He just wanted to have fun. From his demeanour, his behaviour, it was obvious that he didn’t just enjoy football, he enjoyed life, and he just wanted others to enjoy it too.In this modern era of corruption, greed and negativity, Ronaldinho reminded us that football can still be fun; that the game can still be beautiful; and should always be played with a smile upon one’s face.There is no greater legacy than that.
Let me tell you a story.Basketball legend and Ronaldinho’s friend,Kobe Bryant attended one of the Catalan club’s training sessions during Barcelona’s Los Angeles tour of 2006 for pre-season friendlies. He reminisced few years later about the conversation.

“While I was talking to him, he told me, ‘Kobe, look, I’m going to introduce you to the guy who’s going to be the greatest player of all time.’
“And I said, ‘What? You’re the greatest!’
“And he said, ‘No, this kid right here is going to be the best.’

So who was the teen the best one of his generation alluding to? Who’s better than the best?Stay tuned to find out.


2 thoughts on “The Saga of Jersey No. 10 – Episode III

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