INTERVIEW: Ronaldinho – Never without a smile and always with a ball at his feet

Sport360's Matt Monaghan speaks exclusively to Brazil and Barcelona legend Ronaldinho about his approach to football, next move and playing with Rivaldo and Ronaldo.

Matt Monaghan
by Matt Monaghan
28th January 2016

article:28th January 2016

Magician: Ronaldinho.
Magician: Ronaldinho.

Brazil elicits unique emotions in football fans.

Limitless passion, the vivid yellow of the Canarinha shirt, individual expression and astonishing skill have combined to make the nation truly depict ‘The Beautiful Game’ – or ‘o jogo bonito’ as living-legend Pele reportedly coined it.

Few players have portrayed these joyful notions more than Ronaldinho. The 35-year-old’s unparalleled range of tricks, flamboyance, mane of curled hair and trademark permanent grin have seen him cast as this generation’s great entertainer.

From lifting the World Cup in 2002 to walking onto enemy territory at the Santiago Bernabeu and bringing it to its feet with Barcelona, it has all been done with the panache of a true aesthete.

Speaking to Sport360 at the announcement of him being the ‘Guest of Honour’ for next month’s revival of the Aster MIMS Nagjee International Club Football Tournament, Ronaldinho revealed his contentment about the fact just being himself had created so much happiness across the planet.

“My career is a dream come true as since I was a kid, I dreamed to be known as a football player,” said the attacking midfielder at Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre Hotel.

“Now this is a reality and it is a pleasure to leave this legacy to other kids and let them believe it is possible to become an icon of the sport.

“I feel special as I have never needed to pretend I am somebody else. People love me the way I am – it is very special for me to make people feel like this. There is not a single moment I can look back on as my happiest. I have had a career made of happy moments.

“Football and my life are the same things. Since people started to recognise me, I had a ball beside me and today it is like this – football and my life are the same word.”

The Kozhikode District Football Association, Mondial Sports LLP and charity Football for Peace have combined to end the Nagjee’s 21-year hiatus.

Watford, Rapid Bucharest and the Argentina national side are among the seven Under-23 teams who will feature in an event designed to create a lasting legacy for school children in the Indian city.

Despite currently considering offers to continue his playing career, Ronaldinho was happy to give time to the organisation.

He said: “In the beginning, I heard about this project when I was staying in Barcelona. I believe in this project and whenever I am available, I want to support it.

Ronaldinho's major honours

  • Barcelona: 2x La Liga, 1x Champions League
  • AC Milan: 1x Serie A
  • Brazil: 1x Copa America, 1x World Cup

“Football has the power to unite people. It has given me an opportunity and taught me universal values of friendship and unity.

“I am supporting the work carried out by Football For Peace and I’m proud to be the ‘guest of honour’ for the Nagjee International Club Football Tournament 2016.”

Ronaldinho was destined to enjoy an outstanding career from a young age. He famously scored all the goals in a 23–0 victory for his futsal team – a variation of the game played on a smaller field and with a tiny ball which is hugely popular in Brazil – aged just 13.

Football was also in the family, older brot-her Roberto de Assis Moreira providing guidance as a trusted advisor once injury curtailed his ambitions of reaching the top.

Notice was quickly made of an audacious talent at boyhood-club Gremio, famously humiliating Brazil’s World Cup 1994-winning captain Dunga when still a teenager by flicking the ball over his head and also leaving him helpless during a dizzying dribble.

His otherworldly technique has left crowds dumbfounded at heavyweight teams such as Paris Saint-Germain, Barca, AC Milan and Flamengo.

A total of 13 major club honours, four international trophies plus the 2004 and 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year crowns have been lifted by him.

But what has been more important, winning silverware or entertaining supporters?

“It is both,” he replied.

“I am very happy to do what I love, but I am a very competitive person – I hate to lose. If I can win doing what I love, that is the best thing.”

It is hard to separate Ronaldinho from his time in Catalonia. He arrived on the cusp of greatness and wasted no time in achieving it, his first goal against Sevilla included a driving run from within his own half before he unleashed a 30-yard rocket which cannoned in off the crossbar.

Under Netherlands great Frank Rijkaard, he registered 94 often stupefying goals and 69 assists in 207 appearances from 2003-08.

Alongside the likes of an emerging Lionel Messi, Spain metronome Xavi, Portugal playmaker Deco and Cameroon predator Samuel Eto’o, he claimed two La Liga titles and the 2005-06 Champions League. Moments which will live long in Barca history were recorded.

These include dumbfounding the Chelsea defence with several feints before stabbing the ball past goalkeeper Petr Cech without any backlift and – most famously – earning a standing ovation from Real Madrid fans after a breathtaking double in El Clasico in 2005.

He said: “Since my first goal to my last goal in Barcelona, they were amazing and marvellous times. Once I start to remember, I start to relive those moments.

“I think about my friends there and every moment was very special. Frank Rijkaard is a great coach – he was a great strategiser, a professor of football and a great friend.

“Because of this combination, it was easy for him to do what he has done. It was a very special part of my career working under him.”

At the 2002 World Cup, Ronaldinho formed part of the feared ‘Three Rs’ front line. Alongside fellow playmaker Rivaldo, the pair provided the supply line for striker Ronaldo to end years of injury torment with an uplifting eight-goal haul.

The 97-time-capped superstar’s huge smile became even more prominent when asked to reflect on the period the trio swept all before them in Japan and South Korea.

He said: “It was a perfect time. I was able to play with idols who then became friends.

“To win the World Cup is so special. These are the types of moments you never forget.”

A mutual agreement to terminate his contract at Fluminenese in September means Ronaldinho is searching for a new club.

The infamous hedonistic streak which contributed to a premature end to his career in Europe aged 30 has seen a decision put on hold until after next month’s Rio Carnival.

Former team-mate Xavi moved to Qatar’s Al Sadd last summer, so would a similar switch to the Middle East appeal?

“Xavi is a great player and I would love to play with him again,” Ronaldinho said.

“I like the Middle East and I have heard a lot of great things about it. But I cannot say what will be my next steps.”

Ronaldinho’s place in the football panth-eon has long been assured, no matter what is to come. He has lit up the sport’s grandest arenas and decided its greatest contests.

To summarise all his experiences is an impossible task, even for him.

“When I think back about my career, it is just a flashback of titles and personal challenges which I achieved,” Ronaldinho concluded.

“One moment cannot cover all this.

“The list of greats who I played with is too long, I have so many friends among them. It has been almost 30 years playing football.

“If I was to start the list now, we would be here until tomorrow.”

Ronaldinho was speaking at the Pullman Dubai Creek City Centre Hotel during a recent trip to the UAE.