Despite being 32 and having fled from Europe, even a big miss from Ronaldinho in a Flamengo league match earns huge attention in Brazil.
He was once famous for bringing the term Joga Bonito –a creative brand standing for silky soccer, removed from cheating and hacking –to a consuming western fan base. He was put up on a pedestal as the most skillful, inventive and vivacious Brazilian player. He was the biggest draw in Europe and he graced pitches in Paris, Barcelona and Milan.
He still is Ronaldinho, and he still enjoys his soccer, but the attacking force is nearing the end of his career.
Known as Ronaldinho Gaucho in Brazil, he left for Europe, dropping Gaucho, and picking up the European way of training. Several Brazilians have struggled over the years with the professional approach of European soccer, but for a man with feet like Ronaldinho’s he could only dominate more with better fitness and more structure around him.
He played his way into recognition with Paris St. Germain and then found his way to Barcelona. There he became the megastar. He was the face of Nike. He was the embodiment of Brazilian flair. He helped catapult Los Culés to the top, re-emerging, signalling that another giant had become synonymous with Champions League soccer.
He was everywhere and everyone knew what he could do. He became a brand and a motif, more than a man.
Of course, it could not last. In contemporary soccer it is a short shelf life for those not raised with the rigors of European techniques and institutional expectations. Famed South American soccer blogger Tim Vickery said yesterday that “players are still aiming to spend their peak years in the Champions League. Regardless of any financial considerations, in purely professional terms domestic Brazilian football cannot currently offer a similar challenge.”
Brazil has seen a lot of financial advances in its Futbol –mainly due to exponential growth in Brazil’s economy in comparison with entities like Britain, and their President Dilma Rousseff, a former Guerrilla, forcing her way forward and throwing Brazil along with her into the geo-political arena –and fans seem genuinely excited about their domestic schedules.
Stars like Ganso, Neymar and Lucas Moura are coming up and planning to stay at home while stars like Ronaldinho, Adriano and Ronaldo have gone home to end careers. There is money there to support these men, but most still want to walk the beaten path north. Ronaldinho did that but lost his way at AC, ballooned in weight, turned to partying and was allowed to slink off back to South America.
He seems to have turned it round, once again, and is enjoying his soccer. Is it now the way that good players will do some time in Europe, then come home in their early thirties to finish in Brazil?
If they do then, if they have made a name in Europe, they will be accommodated, lauded and loved.
Will Neymar become as big a hit, globally, as Ronaldinho? Will he front campaigns, brands and World Cups like Ronaldinho did in Japan and South Korea? Many big investors hope he will. The Brazilian people may well hope that he doesn’t, so they can generate their own brand.
The old brand looks happy enough to play away, grinning to himself and threading passes from the center of the park. Who knows, he may even make World Cup 2014 on home soil…
…either way he is enjoying himself!