Ronaldinho and A Tale of Two Cities
- Emily Dickenson
They say about Pune that its small size means that you can make a full circle around the city in a couple of hours. If you aren’t on MG or FC road, you’re officially nowhere. Contrast this with the absolute mayhem that is the city of Mumbai. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever happened to be at CST terminus. Standing near the tracks with a few hundred people pushing up from behind you should count as a near death experience.
About 6 kilometres from Pune is the Lohegaon Air Force Station. This civil enclave operated by the Airports Authority of India is one of the oldest airports in the country. Currently, renovations are being made, a “modernisation programme”, to the tune of 24 crore rupees. The facade, though, remains quite modest. A few years ago, barely 200 passengers made their way across the turnstiles of the establishment daily. Of late, that number has increased to about 8000 passengers a day. And yesterday, the airport welcomed the most placeable of all its excursionists.
The mood was upbeat, festive almost. A group of men clad in white contrasted by their red turbans stood gathered outside the arrivals area. Each member of the assemblage was the custodian of a large drum. Soon they were putting a stick to its skin to produce a cadence that began slowly, almost matching the rhythm of the feet of a man on a leisurely stroll. Gradually the stroll became a jog and eventually burst into a full-fledged sprint. Before long this jamboree of percussion and miscellaneous bedlam degraded into loud shouts and the distinctive “clicks” of camera shutters. The cynosure of all eye was about to be revealed. Out walked a slightly built man with a nonchalance that almost managed to veil the fact that the small celebration was staged in his honour. But that’s just how Ronaldinho has always been. Adoration sits lightly on his shoulders.
As I watched the scene, it felt like I was being reunited with a long lost friend. Before he made a silent exit from European football, Ronaldinho was the backbone of a vicious Barcelona midfield. Fame, however, had found him long before. His first brush with it came at the age of thirteen when he scored all the goals in the 23-0 drubbing of a local team. The U-17 world championships at Egypt was where he first made his mark on the international stage. After three seasons at his first club Gremio and a short stint at Paris Saint-Germain, the Brazilian arrived at Barcelona, where his exploits became the stuff of legend. Most famously, in November 2005, fans of Barcelona’s most bitter rivals Real Madrid gave the Brazilian a standing ovation after he scored a second goal against them.
But soon his relationship with Barcelona teammates ran afoul. Samuel Eto’o once suggested that Ronaldinho attended “eight of every 50 training sessions”, hinting at the cause of the midfielder’s expanding girth. He was continued to be pushed to the fringes of the team due to the steady rise of a certain someone called Lionel Messi. His poor showing with Brazil in the 2006 World Cup, where he went goalless, exacerbated the atrophic state of his career. After a number of ugly spats and a mediocre season, he was shipped off to AC Milan. An unspectacular tenure at the Italian club meant he would return to the country of his birth to play with Brazil’s most famous side, Flamengo. Here he managed 14 goals in 32 games, making a case for a national team callback; one which never came. Atletico Mineiro is where he currently practices his art. The Ronaldinho who enthralled thousands of fans in every game at the Nou Camp now plays at a club where the average attendance per year is about 18,000.
As an ardent admirer of his style of play and magical ability to “provide the ball from anywhere”, as Rui Costa put it, I thirstily await a throwback to the Ronaldinho of old. But I am all too aware that this is like chasing after the wind. As with everything else, sporting brilliance has a shelf life. The cycle of the departure of the old and heralding of the next generation is as old as this planet itself. We Indians were rudely awoken to this reality when Sachin Tendulkar announced his ODI retirement this past week.
Ronaldinho, the man with the bewildering sleight of foot, could still be worth the money of some big name club. We’d be ill-advised to underestimate the kind of talent he possesses. Be that as it may, it is important to recognize that there will come a day when the magician makes one last flourish of his wand.
I will be sad that day. Not astonished at its suddenness. It’s like the transit from Mumbai to Pune. The first time you’re shocked. The second time you remember how you were shocked the first time. Eventually the change of scenery grows on you and you make peace with the fact that it is coming. What we can never take away from Ronaldo de Assis Moreira is the fact that he gave us many sublime performances and insouciant displays of otherworldly ability, always with a smile on his face.
Fame is ethereal,class a little less transient. The memories of a generation entertained last a generation, maybe two. That’s the best humans can do.