Selling Ronaldinho: Guardiola's biggest mistake at Barcelona?
Can you describe Ronaldinho in one word? And no, ‘Brazilian’ doesn’t count.
Well okay, maybe it does, but it’s too plain a word do describe the genius that is Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, known better around the world as Ronaldinho Gaucho, given the region of Brazil he has come from, where cowboys or gauchos breed cattle and grow crops on South America’s pampas.
There are many superlatives used to describe Ronaldinho, but as individual words, none of them can really sum up the sort of player he is. Genius, superstar, magician, visionary, mesmerising, individualistic.
At Barcelona, however, it was that last word above all else that seemed to stand out for Pep Guardiola when Ronaldinho was mentioned.
Ten years ago to this day (Monday), Ronaldinho was signed for Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain for 30 million Euros. It was, on many levels, a dream move for the Brazilian. Growing up on the streets of Porto Alegre, surely a move to one of Europe’s elite was the stuff every Brazilian with a football (which is nearly every Brazilian) dreams of with a starry-eyed, faraway gaze as he imagines himself walking on to the hallowed turf which once played host to Johann Cruyff, Zoltan Czibor, Gary Lineker and Andoni Zubizarreta; a dream that he would have seldom thought would have turned into reality.
Moving to Barcelona was, of course, only natural for a player of Ronaldinho’s calibre. People had heard of him long before he had crossed the Atlantic Ocean to come to Europe (it’s not every day that you score all 23 – yes 23 – goals in a game, is it) and watching the magician pull out rabbit after proverbial rabbit from the metaphorical hat was what the Ronaldinho show at the Camp Nou featured.
“There are not many players who can offer goalscoring passes like he can. He is just marvellous. He is a rare case of an assist man who can provide the ball from anywhere.”
- Rui Costa on Ronaldinho
But it wasn’t just senhor Ronaldinho who ran things at Barcelona. It was a performance put on not just by him, but by Messrs Rafael Marquez, Ludovic Giuly, Deco, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol and the now world-famous midfield duo of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
These players represented a Barcelona in transition. The vast majority of them had been summoned to replace the old guard in what was very literally a phase of out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new. With changes in both the boardroom in the form of the relatively young Joan Laporta taking on the mantle of club president and the appointment of Frank Rijkaard as coach, Barcelona were looking to stop the rot that had existed during the time of Louis van Gaal.
Of course, any transition brings with it a storm and Ronaldinho was to be Barcelona’s conductor – both lightning and orchestral – as he helped this new-look Barcelona team weather the changes that the club were undergoing to ensure it came out unscathed, and played a massive part in making Barcelona the club people throughout the world know (and some love) today.
In his first season, Ronaldinho helped Barcelona to a second-place finish in La Liga. The year after that, he won his first Primera Liga title. He made it back-to-back league titles during the 2005-06 season and topped that off with what is surely his crowning glory at club level.
“He is the man that makes the difference between a team that plays well and another that is really memorable. He alone can decide one game”
- Frank Rijkaard