Ronaldinho’s Gone

Everyone has a best friend for whom the door is always open, invariably inviting them to pop in unexpectedly. For FC Barcelona, that friend is Ronaldinho.

Update: ‘AC Milan expressed their interest in signing Ronaldinho and the player’s brother Robert De Assis said they had reached an agreement over personal terms. But the Serie A club later said they had been unable to agree a fee with Barcelona.’

NEW: Deal is now done. Transfer fee was for 21 million euros, but could reach 25 million euros based on whether or not AC Milan’s qualifies for the Champions League in future years. Ronaldinho passed on his cut of the transfer fee, 15%, to get the deal done. Manchester City offered more but he decided to go to Italy.

It looks like the deal is all said and done and Ronaldinho will join Kaka at AC Milan. He’s played his last game in a Barcelona jersey and at the Camp Nou. There’s no way he will end up at Manchester City, even though that’s been mentioned at Tottenham as well, although I’d love to see him playing in the English Premier League in general, I wish he wasn’t leaving Barcelona just yet. And to question his form and intensity, I don’t think you can.

It’s a sad day for most Barcelona fans, but that’s the world of football, players once synonymous with a club, and who’ve helped push a club to a new level, are often gone and nearly forgotten once their form drops even a touch. It’s like the stock market, when bad news appears, when the words are out that such and such company is under performing, the news spreads fast and owners sell.

There are new up and coming companies with higher potentials for growth, and who will be more ronound than those before them, players who can replace the once seemingly irreplaceable Ronaldinho, names like Messi, Bojan, and Dos Santos.

Ronaldinho was probably the first player to take over the Internet. The first player to have a viral video, the Nike ad where you don’t really know if it’s real or not. Can he do that you ask? The highlight clip that I love though, is the surprise, to use a phrase from Fox Sports Christopher Sullivan, where Ronaldinho passes with his back (the 3 minute mark of this video) yes his back.

With glory comes more attention and more demands, Ronaldinho of late seemed full of the desire to satisfy the crowd but begin to try too hard to live up to his previous years with Barcelona. Along with becoming more and more of a marked man in La Liga, teams didn’t want to get embarrassed by him any more. Ronaldinho was his own worst enemy at times, taking too many touches or trying to do the little bit extra only to end up losing the ball. When your confidence is down those surprise moves come off less and less, and with less success.

You wonder though, was his poor form due to the pressure he was under by the club and then the fans, their lack of support and faith, or in part due to the less time and space he received from other teams as they closed him down faster? I’d say it all piled on and was all his undoing. The press eating into him with speculations about his weight and clubs who wanted his services. Insider traders flooding the market with fake news to pull him over to their side–outsiders seeking to open doors for a take over. Ronaldinho does have to buy out his remaining contract–he’s now to the point where he feels he has to leave.

But really, time and space never held Ronaldinho back, he was a magician, he just need to be loved.

The Barcelona fans are a fickle group and the demands are high. Look at this year, Barcelona are in the semi finals of the Champions League and still holding on for second place in La Liga, but fans are in an uproar. And this is all with Messi suffering a number of injuries, Etoo doing his African Nations duties, and Ronaldinho with troubling injuries himself.

Ronaldinho gave some hints and signs of his old self this year, despite coming off the bench on many occassion, (imagine going from world player of the year to coming off the bench), an overhead goal of unmatchable quality versus Atletico Madrid, but Barca lost this game and were unable to build off the momentum, and thus neither was Ronaldinho. Then there were the numberous attack leading passes that many take for granted, flicks over his head to put players in down the line, crosses that met players’ feet only for their strikes to fail, and bending goal bound free kicks. There were those disparaging words about how all he could do now was contribute via set pieces, in a Beckham like manner.

No one really knows what happened I’d say, or was the exact cause of the demise of Ronaldinho at Barcelona. There was talk that he at times didn’t get along with Etoo, there was talk of him being out of shape and not training properly (though people have said he always maintained a relaxed state of mind and didn’t train like most even when he was on a tear a few years ago), and there was talk of him not listening to Frank Rijkaard. There was no going back when this all seeped into the press and the fans heard it, Ronaldinho had been phased out. No forgiving, only forgetting of what he once had been.

Here’s a player whose play was infectious, who’d scored game winning free kicks and overhead magic goals (a chest trap first this time) and did the unimaginable as if he was on the beach in Brazil when he was actually playing before 90,000. The no look sharp cutting pass to Guliy in the Champions League. The dance at the top of the box to score against Chelsea. The way he’d slip a pass through to a player when they’d made a run, almost too late it seemed but actually perfectly timed and in front of them. The way he’d share the ball with Deco and Messi. No you take, ok I’ll take, no you take, here take, really. As they passed the ball back and forth to one another. For Barca, he played like a kid on the street or in the park.

The problem was they begin to set a new demand on Ronaldinho when his confidence begin to drop instead of raising him up. It’s sort of the chicken or the egg type of thing, as far as what caused his drop in form. They looked at his training schedule and wanted him to change, force the Brazilian out of him. When really, they needed to support him. The most training Ronaldinho ever did during his time in Spain was when he was playing video games.

The sad part is that we won’t have the pleasure and joy of seeing Messi, Etoo, Iniesta, Deco, Bojan, Dos Santos and so on, play with Ronaldinho anymore. Barcelona will play Manchester United in the semi finals of the Champions League in one week or so. Ronaldiho will not be there, missing what could be one of those classic matches of the year, facing a Manchester team that appears unstoppable and with Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of his young game, the new world player of the year most likely. It’s a shame, wish we could see these two face one another in such a potentially epic match.

But here is a situation where a player has dropped in form and his fitness has been questioned and people saying he has put on pounds and it’s too late to pull back those comments and bring the player back into the fold.

Ronaldinho’s influence on Messi and other young players at Barcelona was huge. There’s video of him shaking his head at a move that Bojan does. Dos Santos almost as the same body shape and style of running has Ronaldinho, quick darts and cuts, with great strength. Messi scored goals and looked to Ronaldinho in the stands and always stood up for him in the press.

The infectious smile on Ronaldinho’s face was pulled away when he stepped up to take a penalty kick, then you’d see stern concentration until the ball ripped the net. At just 28, and to call Ronaldinho past his prime, is piling on doubt and negativity, bad press upon bad press, as though they’re happy to see him fall.

One of AC Milan’s new teammates, Clearence Seadorf, has said that players are like pieces of meat in the world of football, shuffled around with no love lost, all business.

One true thing though is this isn’t a Figo to Real Madrid situation, there won’t be thrown bottles and jeers when Ronaldinho returns to Camp Nou. No, no, I think there’s a place for Ronaldinho in the Barcelona fans heart of hearts, and he won’t be forgotten.

However, we all get old, gray hairs creep up on us and it becomes harder to do the things we used to do. Ronaldinho though, is just 28 years old, there’s a lot of the game left in him, let’s hope this is just a bump in the road, and he does what he needs to do to stay healthy and free from injury. I’d rather see him go out like Zidane, all style and grace, than as a player who’s now called a has been already. Let’s hope, as I think the truth is, bad news upon bad news ate at the joy of a player who once was the new savior of football. The player who never grew up.