A lightning bolt; in ancient Greece, it would symbolize strength, intelligence, and intuition.
I challenge anyone to prove to me that Ronaldinho Gaucho, in his first three seasons at Barcelona, did not embody such traits. You can probably stretch that out to four seasons, to be honest, but let’s stick the first three, before injury hampered his final years in Spain.
What you will read here today is simply an ode from one football purist to another, placing the spotlight onto football at its purest…
The Journey to Peak Ronaldinho
Ronaldinho reached an absurdly dizzying peak on a football pitch. A height matched only by a small number of individuals in footballing history. Ronaldinho could muster more tricks with a cereal box than 99% of footballers could with an actual ball. He had talent coming out of every pore. Ronaldinho was magical on the pitch, and his prime years are worthy of remembrance.
While his peak was most definitely at Barcelona, there are stories before his move to Catalonia involving a degree of hilarity. Notably, the Brazillian almost signing with St. Mirren in 2001. Can you imagine Ronaldinho in the Scottish League, flying down the left-hand side of Love Street on a Saturday afternoon? Yes, I agree, it would be as ludicrous as it sounds. He would have made a mockery.
What is it with the best players in the world nearly signing for Scottish sides? Johan Cruyff to Dumbarton, Ronaldo and Samuel Eto’o to Rangers, and Ronaldinho to St. Mirren. I dread to think how Scottish defenders would have handled the Gaucho running at full pelt towards them.
Ultimately, due to a fake passport scandal (I know, ironic), the deal would not go through. I do wish there was some way to view SPL highlights from a parallel universe. Purely for my amusement, I want to see Ronaldinho showing out on Scottish soil.
Now to a story that you may expect with Arsene Wenger’s track record. Ronaldinho was another nearly man for the invincible Arsenal boss. Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe are also on the list of youthful prodigies that Wenger tried to sign.
The deal edged painfully close to completion for the Gunners. Wenger had met the brother of the Brazillian, and they had an agreement for Gaucho to come to the Premier League, but the dreaded work permit regulations prevented the London-based club from getting their man.
Imagine Ronaldinho perfecting a rainbow flick over Roy Keane during those fiery Viera-Keane battles. He would likely try and break Ronaldinho’s legs on the spot. Although, he wouldn’t succeed, but lord knows he would try.
Sir Alex Ferguson did bid for the PSG talisman before he wowed crowds in La Liga, but his attempts grew futile. Imagine if Ronaldinho, had he signed for Manchester United, produced similar showboating on a pitch with Keane. I do wonder what would have happened in the United changing room – fun hypotheticals indeed.
Let’s come back to reality and out of the world of fantasy. Ronaldinho, instead of St. Mirren, went to Paris Saint Germain in a €5 million deal. For those two seasons, he won the hearts of Parisians and French football fans alike. His wonderful quick footedness, brilliant ball control, and wizardry in possession would leave football lovers across the country in disbelief. It was unlike anything they had ever seen. The locals watched as a futsal-like ball-player tore up one of the top divisions in European football, and it was enthralling.
What followed over the next two seasons was not to be replicated, or come close to approximating what happened in the French capital. Ronaldinho’s adventure in PSG blue was a fitting interview for the leading role in his performance at Camp Nou. He was Ligue 1’s best-kept secret for two years before Barcelona came calling. Just like that, away the samba star went.
If what Ronaldinho showcased in France was magic, what he did in Spain was witchcraft. The South American left adoring fans running short of superlatives. He left defences in disarray. The wing-wizard was so good, that if we were to drop him fifty years prior, back to the days of Pele and Garrincha in 1966, I am convinced he would leave the World Cup without all four of his limbs. Either they would be broken, detached from his body, or both – such was the enviable genius of Ronaldinho and his artistic nature on the pitch.
The 23-year-old joined Barcelona in 2003. He won two La Liga titles and one Champions League, in five years with the club. 98 goals in 207 matches, alongside a 2005 Ballon d’Or win, was enough to go down as one of Barcelona’s best.
Ronaldinho in his prime had Claude Makelele worried to the point that he went over to him in the middle of a game, and told him he’d put him in a hospital if he tried some of his video-game moves on him. This is the same Makelele who had an entire role named after him. Ronaldinho was so impressive that his dancing rhythm had even the best players on the planet afraid. It reached a point where you quite literally could not believe your eyes.
There were moments which stick out during his fruitful Spanish reign. In 2005, Ronaldinho flew past future Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos; two time European Champion, World Champion for Spain and five-time league and Champions League winner. The Brazilian flew past him multiple times in the same night, making him look like he didn’t belong on the same pitch, as if he wasn’t worthy.
He scored two goals, had the entire Santiago Bernabeu on their feet applauding him, and most likely wandered into the Madrid nightlife to have himself a good old time. Because that’s just how Ronaldinho was, regardless of who you were or who you supported, you liked Ronaldinho and the way he played football.
While his side was dumped out of the Champions League at Stamford Bridge, Ronaldinho shone once again. On display came one of those moments that refuse to be shelved from one’s memory. Situated on the edge of the box, with a feint and masterful expertise, Gaucho caressed the ball past Peter Čech with the end of his boot. A toe-poke; often synonymous with those who struggle to play the game or have little technique. Well, here it was, in all its glory.
The Stamford Bridge strike shared few similarities to the one which whistled past David Seaman at the World Cup. Maybe the lob is so vivid for those residing in England for the range of emotions it fosters. However, the whip itself, in a game of such magnitude, cannot be understated. And yes, he meant it.
‘Freestyle footballer toys with world’s best defenders’
Defenders didn’t know how to defend against him. The dancing destroyer. It was spell-binding, hypnotic, mesmeric, extraterrestrial; he was a showman, an entertainer.
‘One of the best players in history’ he has been dubbed. ‘He will make the ball talk’ it was once said. He took away the tribalism of football fandom that exists today.
He wasn’t in his prime for long, not like the two machines we have today in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He isn’t the greatest ever, nor in the conversation, in my opinion. That title belongs to his compatriot, Ronaldo Nazário.
For the three or four years at his apex, Ronaldinho was one of the most glorious footballers to grace the planet. One of the most enthralling, entertaining displays of genius football has ever seen. The most talented person to ever touch a football? Maybe.
Go and reminisce the magic which Ronaldo de Assis Moreira brought to our sport. For Ronaldinho Gaucho indeed was from a different planet. He was from up above, in the clouds where electricity forms. Sometimes, it sends down an electrifying sensation. A sensation that will not last for long, but one you will remember forever; one of which we have never seen before and will likely never see again.
That is him, the sensation. Ronaldinho: the Lightning Bolt.
Written by Mustafa Jawad – @Mussy__J10
Feature Graphic Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_