There was always a certain high – of senses, passions and emotions – whenever one got to watch Ronaldinho Gaucho performing at the absolute peak of his powers.
Indeed, this was a Brazilian born to have a football at his feet. His manipulation of a football made him a master of it. He could conjure it to do as he pleased, making the ball entirely dependent upon his will. His grace and style, his ease on the ball mesmerised those who played with him, those who played against him and those who watched him.
His former Barcelona teammate, Eidur Gudjhonsen was once so awed by what Ronaldinho did in training that he remarked that the Brazilian may one day make the ball talk. If that was the case, then at his peak, he left many speechless.
It could be how elegantly he flicked the ball, or how with his elastic reach and flexibility of his right foot performed the elastico move that would become his trademark. It could be how he looked one way, then passed the other. Or maybe, it was his little jig in an attempt to shimmy and dummy John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho – realising they would not move then deciding to nonchalantly toe poke the ball through the smallest of gaps that existed, past a standing Petr Cech and into the back of the net.
Even the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, home of Barcelona’s fiercest rivals once rose in unison to wholly applaud his magnificence. Even they fell under his spellbinding football.
All the while, his curly hair — sometimes held in a ponytail — danced to the swaying of his deceiving hips and the rhythm of his magical feet.
But all that was between 2003 and 2006. In that period, there was nobody greater in football than Ronaldinho. Be it for Barcelona or Brazil, it was he that made the difference. He weaved the tapestry of imagination and football artistry. He raised Barcelona from the depths of despair to the heights of heavens. He made all look on in envy as he led Brazil to a convincing Confederations Cup win in 2005. The whole football world revolved around him.
However, something somewhere went awfully wrong. What it was we will never know. But at the tender age of 26, he stopped applying that magnificent brilliance of his with the same consistency that he had for four memorable years.
At the World Cup in 2006, he was conspicuously inconspicuous. And the two seasons that followed for Barcelona were not to the same standard that he had set.
It could be though that after reaching such highs, Ronaldinho simply lost the discipline required to sustain himself there. His bludgeoning weight was soon accompanied by an over-inflated ego. The story goes that it was his disagreements with Samuel Etóo that brought about a rift within the Barcelona dressing room. Something that was addressed when he was let to leave the Catalan club at a very low price.
Since then, it has never been the same. At Milan, he threatened to, but could not deliver. His move back to Brazil was more fruitful. At Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro, he found a system within a league that affords him so much space that he can utilise his flashes of brilliance to productive effect.
The level at which he is playing in now, is not the level to which he was playing in when he made the world stop and take notice. His influence on a game and a team is still there – as witnessed by how he took Atletico Mineiro from relegation strugglers to title contenders and continental champions. Even so, one cannot ignore the fact that everything now is built to suit him, and that without certain structures within the team, he would not deliver.
In a strict 4-2-3-1, Atletico have managed to find space for Ronaldinho behind the striker. This is a position which frees Ronaldinho to create. At the same time, he is removed from the shackles of defending – something that is done astutely by the soon to depart youngster Bernard, and by Diego Tardelli, whose tireless work on the wings mean that Ronaldinho does not need to defend.
When it works, it is brilliant. But when Atletico are subject to pressure, it leaves Ronaldinho as a passenger.
It is difficult to imagine him doing this in the years when he patrolled the Barcelona left in a front three of a 4-3-3, or when he playing in Europe against systems that did not afford him much space. But sadly, those are the levels to which Ronaldinho has dropped.
It may seem churlish to suggest that Ronaldinho’s is a wasted talent considering all that he has done. But much like Garrincha and George Best in the 60’s, Ronaldinho is a talented player who never applied his absolute quality at the consistent longevity with which the likes of Diego Maradona and Pele did.
As such, those magical moments are now resigned to YouTube videos and to the back of our memories. Ronaldinho touched the sky and made the world believe in the impossible. Sadly, he will never reach those dizzying heights again.
[images courtesy of zimbio]