These are crazy times we live in. Football is suspended the world over and Ronaldinho is in prison.
It’s quite symbolic that one of the most joyous players of all time is locked up when we’ve all been denied the joy of football.
When someone eventually turns the party-loving Brazilian’s life into a Netflix docuseries, they will probably urge us to reflect on a deeply flawed character.
Ronaldinho is currently behind bars, but the prison team is now one of the best in the world
And his demise from the world’s greatest footballer to Prisoner 194 is, of course, tragic.
While currently accused of using a fake passport to try and enter Paraguay, some have suggested his life since retirement in 2018 was always heading in this direction.
But it was that same libertine attitude that made him the greatest footballer of all time.
Many of you, I’m sure, would’ve scoffed at the headline for this piece, so let’s address that.
My father, who’s lived much longer than I have because that’s how it works, has always been unwavering on this.
For him, the greatest player of all time is Diego Maradona, and no matter how many statistics I throw at him, he always levels me with this, ‘You never saw him play’.
The iconic Argentine is another complicated individual, more evidence that genius often comes at a price. At the risk of keeping you here for hours, we won’t go into that.
Maradona and Ronaldinho have a lot in common
Nonetheless, watching great football is something we’ll all come to miss over the coming weeks.
In the meantime, Ronaldinho apparently scored five and assisted six during a causal prison game with his fellow inmates – why wasn’t it on TV!?
Seriously though, it reminded us that watching him play was such a unique privilege. It wasn’t really like anything else.
From his infectious smile to those iconic Nike adverts, there was a sense of fun at the heart of everything he did.
Ronaldinho brought the party to the pitch, football was self-expression. It felt like it didn’t really matter whether he was in the Nou Camp or on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, the attitude would’ve been the same.
Entertainment always appeared to be the top priority, even above winning, although his supernatural ability usually brought about both.
While the ultra-professional habits of the world’s best athletes are well-documented, Ronaldinho was so much better than everyone else without even trying.
Ronaldinho didn’t train any day of the week and would just turn up on a Friday for the game on Saturday,” Jerome Loy, Ronaldinhos teammate at PSG, said in 2016.
Ronaldinho was just better than everyone else without trying
Carlo Ancelotti, manager of AC Milan when Ronaldinho’s career started to deteriorate, once said: “The decline of Ronaldinho hasn’t surprised me. His physical condition has always been very precarious. His talent though has never been in question.”
The thing is, though, for most of his career, talent was enough.
Ronaldinho doesn’t strike you as someone who yearned for greatness, but someone who just naturally arrived there.
There are stories about him turning up to Barcelona training drunk and partying non-stop during his time at AC Milan.
While the lack of professionalism provides some explanation into why things petered out, it also offers some insight into his motivation and highlights the sheer size of his gift.
Why would you bother with all the boring stuff when football is meant to be fun? It was precisely this carelessness that made him so mesmerising on the pitch.
Ronaldinho has always loved to party
Still, imagine how good he would’ve been if he adopted the same training routine as Cristiano Ronaldo, for instance.
Which brings us back to the GOAT debate. The point is – the whole discussion is flawed unless you agree on what you’re judging.
Stats are a useful metric for analysing performance – but they just don’t apply to someone like Ronaldinho. You had to use your eyes.
If you clicked on this article looking for a comprehensive list of football’s leading goalscorers, then I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place.
The whole no-sport thing has got us all philosophical about what it is to watch football – and, for me, it’s the escapism.
I miss the transcendent spectacles of Lionel Messi and Ronaldo right now more than their relentless goalscoring.
And personally, nobody has captured the things I love most about football better than Ronaldinho, although Messi runs him close.
Ronaldinho was completely magical, born with the ability to do things that nobody else could do – and he did them because it made other people happy. Like when he nutmegged Phil Neville twice at Soccer Aid.
That’s not to say he didn’t achieve greatness too, before anyone tries reducing him to a skills merchant. I don’t remember Adel Taarabt or Jay-Jay Okocha winning the Ballon d’Or.
We’re talking about someone who won absolutely everything on a domestic, international and individual level, often starring as the talisman.
How many World Cups have Messi and Ronaldo won?
Given the sad demise of Ronaldinho’s life outside football, it pains me to think that we’ll remember him as some kind of tragic figure, when really we ought to consider him the greatest footballer who ever lived.
Especially since he did all that without even taking football seriously.
Giving COVID-19 the red card
The quicker we work together to stop coronavirus spreading, the sooner we can get back into the pub, the gyms and stadiums and arenas to see live sport again…
1. Practice social distancing by remaining two metres apart from others.
2. Wash your hands regularly
3. Self isolate if you have a fever or cough
Stay at home if you have either:
- a high temperature this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- a new, continuous cough this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
For more info and tips, visit the NHS website.
The government has also issued its guidance on social distancing.
Everyone should do what they can to stop coronavirus spreading.