You may well have seen the footage already circulating on the information superhighway, of Ronaldinho playing in a prison kickabout, dominating things and very much looking like Ronaldinho.
But what on earth is his generation’s most outstanding talent doing in prison in the first place? Ronaldinho is in a Paraguayan jail having been caught trying to use a fake passport, which on the surface of it sounds like the most ludicrous set of circumstances imaginable.
And, as it turns out, that’s more or less the case.
“The first part of that response is: stupidity,” said Jack Lang on this Thursday’s edition of the Totally Football Show, when asked how on earth Ronaldinho got himself into this situation. “He is very much led by his agent, who is his brother, who makes all his business decisions for him. He will have just given him his passport which Ronaldinho would have handed over without really asking any questions. There’s a kind of ‘diminished responsibility’ in this relationship and how he has dealt with things: I don’t say that to excuse him, more damn him.
“More broadly, it comes against the background of similar issues since his retirement. It’s not the first passport issue he’s had: his Brazilian passport was withheld after he and his brother refused to pay an environmental fine.
“Basically they had a lakeside property in Porto Allegre, and they built a 70 metre pier out into the lake. It’s an area of environmental protection, they didn’t get permission, and the local authorities were pretty flabbergasted by this and hit them with a massive fine, which they didn’t pay. Year after year the interest stacked up and eventually their only recourse the Brazilian authorities had was to withhold his passport.
“That didn’t stop the Brazilian tourism authority making him a tourist ambassador for the country, in what can only be described as a brilliantly Brazilian piece of public administration.”
All of which adds to the very real sense that this has been coming.
“I know social media feeds don’t tell the whole story, but to scroll through his Twitter and Instagram has been to be bowled over by the number of ridiculous tie-ins he does with apps, mobile games, new sports, cryptocurrencies, investment opportunities: a lot of them feature videos of him, glassy-eyed, endorsing something he plainly doesn’t understand.
“It certainly isn’t a major surprise to see the sort of legal trouble he’s in now. It looks like he could be there a while, because the Paraguayan authorities have called for the arrest of one of his business associates. They believe there’s grounds for a legal process to do with money-laundering, which was related to his entry into Paraguay to do some work at a foundation he’s part of.
“To the outside observer, this seems like a funny, fluffy story, but it could be the start of quite a long thing. Obviously the answers will come out in due course, but Paraguay’s prosecutor seems to be taking this very seriously, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this rumbled on for quite a while.”
Grim days for Ronaldinho: where did it all go wrong for a man who thrilled everyone so much when he was a player? And boy did he thrill everyone.
“He was a mixture of two players: Leo Messi, the way he just skipped past players, he was poetry in motion,” said Adrian Clarke, recalling Ronaldinho’s first goal for Barcelona, at home to Sevilla in 2003, “and then within a stride he became Tony Yeboah and lashed a thunderbolt in off the crossbar.”
Then there was the game where he brought even the Bernabeu to its feet, the 3-0 win for Barcelona over Real Madrid when he destroyed a young Sergio Ramos, and earned a round of applause from a flamboyantly moustachioed man in the crowd.
Jack Lang said: “That ovation has gone down in history – he’s spoken about it a few times, and said it made him very emotional. Any ovation from opposition fans is a rarity in football, but especially across that rivalry. He was the kind of player who would cross those boundaries, because of the way he played: not just the technical ability and the skill, but I think the juvenile liberty he brought to football.
“He played like someone who didn’t have the weight of the world on his shoulders: he would play the same in a kickabout with his mates as he would in front of 100,000 at the Nou Camp, and that really endeared him to people.
“That defined one of my favourite Ronaldinho moments, right at the start of his career when he’d just broken through at Gremio. They were playing Internacional, probably Brazil’s most heated derby: he was up against Dunga, and Ronaldinho completely takes the piss out of him. Dunga was twisted inside out, visibly pissed off.
“There are theories that years later, when Dunga was Brazil manager, he would refuse to pick Ronaldinho because of a grudge formed in those moments. That kind of playground levity was how he was defined.”
And of course, as Duncan Alexander pointed out, we cannot forget That Goal Against Chelsea.
Oddly, his career sort of ended on a bit of a high, winning the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro, having previously been a Flamengo when the club had set up a ‘party hotline’, because he was going out so much in Rio where people could report sightings of him at nightclubs.
The final days of his career were not so memorable, but what a career he had: he won a Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, the World Cup, the Copa America, two La Ligas, one Series A, the Ballon d’Or and two FIFA World Player of the Year awards. Not bad, all told.
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