The defender hits the long ball, partly because of the proximity of the opposing player, towards the penalty area. One centrehalf heads it out. Our man stretches his leg, desperately, to control the ball with his back to the goal. He fails to reach it but fortunately his mate from Fuentealbilla, future MotM award winner in a Champions league final, World cup final & Euro final, is at the right spot. He controls it with his knee, takes a touch and passes it to our man, who now faces the goal.
He has the ball at his feet. The other centrehalf quickly comes and blocks his view of the goal. His partner, who originally headed the ball out, had actually come out to close down the Albacete man and tried, in vain, to cut out the pass which resulted in the ball being at our man’s right foot. His recovery speed is really good though, so he quickly returns to the edge of the box and plugs the gap in between the line of sight of our man. Not to mention a 6’5″ fleet-footed lithe behemoth standing in between the sticks.
It does not end there. Before the man who settled the World cup in Africa controlled the header, the blond Viking, who would be a teammate soon, was pressing heavily. As soon as our man received the ball, the Icelander ran into the box to make it more congested than it already was. On top of all this, the number 8 was snapping at our man’s heel as he stood over the ball, pensively thinking what to do with it. Any other player would think, “There’s nothing I can do here. I must try to dribble through the crowd”.
But our genius is not any other player. He has spotted a tiny little gap. Momentarily thinking that he’s on a discotheque floor, he does a tap dance and with near zero backlift pokes the ball, 25 yards from goal. All the 6’5″ Czech needs to do is bring his right arm across, not at full stretch even, and the ball shall stop dead in its track but that’s not necessary. The angle is impossible. There is no way the rotund projectile is going inside the post but the ball has other ideas. Defying Euclidean geometry & trigonometric rules, the ball almost shaves the post and nestles into the bottom corner. Our man’s beaming buck-toothed smile is brighter than the lights of the stadium. Maths 0, Ronaldo de Assis 1.
So many dazzling moments to choose from. The standing ovation in Bernabeu. The scoop over the defence for Xavi. The kung fu kick goal in El Sadar. The last minute left-footed pile driver versus the Rossonero. The chip to Ludo Giuly. The solo finish against the Pensioners after bullying & burying John Terry. The 35 yard bomb versus Sevilla. Two chilenas versus El Submarino Amarillo & Los Colchoneros respectively. The superb turn vs Werder Bremen in the champions league. Innumerous freekicks (Real Madrid, Mallorca, Werder Bremen, Atletico) with the most classical of trajectories.
Flicks, dabs, elasticos, nutmegs, chilenas, stepovers, freekicks all flew from the Brazilian’s boot. Some of them defying the laws of physics. More than everything it was the mile long smile that set the former Gremio forward apart. All he did, he did with a joy hitherto unseen. Neymar does newer tricks but there is a degree of arrogance, a hidden “dickishness” in his play that makes opposing defenders scythe him down but it was not so in Ronaldinho’s case. There was a child-like innocence in his tricks. He did them not because he wanted to. He did them just for fun. Like a Holmesian deduction, it always made us think that was the only way he could have done it.
The man won everything there was to be won just 3 months after he turned 26. He was now the creative tour de force in a Brazilian side that had players like El Fenomeno, Kaka, and Adriano. Germany’s and his 2nd world cup was to be his coup de grace. Win hexa and Ronaldinho would be spoken in the same breath as Pele. Alas, it wasn’t to be. He was strangely subdued in the entire tournament. In hindsight, it began in the final at Parc des Princes. Ronaldinho, though good, was B- instead of his usual A++++. Two substandard seasons followed that disappointing world cup.
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona played breathtaking attacking football but it lacked a certain charisma that Ronaldinho brought with him. Guardiola turned a unit of individuality & whimsicality into an efficient and ruthless machine. He did that by getting rid of the charming Porto Alegre man. There has been a steady decline ever since and the joy has been slowly sucked out. He has shunted from club to club in search of football and pay and has made a caricature of himself. This has made people to forget what a magnificent player he was in his peak. A peak attained by just a handful of players. He stuffed what most great players manage in a career in just a little over 3 seasons.
Lionel Messi has surpassed Ronaldinho by miles. He looks at positions of the opposition, then his own teammates and, through his eyes, guides them to make runs so he can find them in goalscoring positions. It is calculative. It is efficient. It minimizes risk. It maximizes reward. In other words, it comes from his mind. The genius of Ronaldinho was his ability to make things look completely unplanned and outrageously off the cuff. Messi is capable of a million things but not even he will think about toepoking the ball through a crowded mesh. It is not calculative. It is inefficient. It maximizes risk but the rewards are much higher. In other words, Ronaldinho’s genius is from the heart.
I love Messi. So much that I am ready to commit the ultimate footballing blasphemy for him but I love Ronaldinho more. The most joyous and wowest player I have seen in my lifetime.