Continuing his look into the bad boys of sport, Jon E. Bagg today takes a look at soccer legend Ronaldinho Gaucho
Born Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, aka Ronaldinho Gaucho, aka Ronaldinho (pronounced Row-nal-gin-yo) is a worldwide football legend. Born in Porto Allegre in March 1980, he has won every major team sport trophy it’s possible to win and most of the individual ones, too. Unfortunately, his career has never quite reached the legendary status of that of his former teammate Lionel Messi, Pele, Diego Armando Maradona, the two Ronaldos or Johann Cruyff because of an addiction to cocaine. Still at the age of 33, having long ago been written off by soccer pundits, Ronaldinho just led his club, Atlético Mineiro, in overcoming a two-goal deficit from the first leg and defeated Olimpia of Paraguay, 4-3, in a penalty kick shootout to win the club’s first South American club cup championship, the Copa Libertadores at Belo Horizonte’s newly refurbished World Cup stadium.
“It was the title I was missing,” Ronaldinho said. “I came back to Brazil for this,” he told Reuters. “Everyone said I was finished. Let them talk now.”
Ronaldinho became only the fourth player to have been part of teams that have won both the South American and European club championships (he won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona in 2006), and a World Cup as a member of the Brazil team that won in 2002 in Japan. As the continental club champions, Atlético will represent South America at the FIFA World Club Cup in Morocco.
Ronaldinho has been known for not only his brilliantly quick and outrageously creative footwork, but also a penchant for all kinds of bending, curving and zigzagging dead ball kicks which led to him being given the nickname ‘Elastico.’ But there has always also been a parallel penchant for a prodigious party lifestyle accompanied by a huge entourage of hangers-on. These two diverse aspects in character have clashed and threatened to ruin his career repeatedly.
Spells in Europe with different clubs like Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona and AC Milan, saw ‘Little Ronnie’ gather six European-based honors including a European Cup and two La Liga titles. Born in Porto Allegre, recruited by his local club Gremio at ten years of age, Ronaldinho was already a child star on reality TV in Brazil, making commercials and playing organized professional beach soccer from the age of seven. Purchased by Paris Saint Germain, Ronaldinho became a talent on the rise. Dogged by a mediocre team, he made PSG’s coach miserable by refusing to train to his satisfaction and staying out all night dancing. Indeed, one of the better Little Ronnie adventures concerns the coach ‘raiding’ his apartment, only to find the football wunderkind in bed with three voluptuous striptease dancers. Caught in the act, so to speak, the young Brazilian simply laughed and offered the coach the chance to join in.
Hawked by his agent brother, Roberto De Assis, Ronaldinho was sold to FC Barcelona after scores of clubs registered their interest. Between 2004 and 2008, Ronaldinho revived Barcelona as a great team, winning the European Champions Cup and the FIFA World Player award for 2005-2006. Simultaneously, however, he was feted by every nightspot in the city for free. Unable to ever say no and bloated from boozing, Ronaldinho was doing so much cocaine that he was forced to undergo a cauterization process to his nose in a private hospital.
Scandalized, the prim Barcelona ownership sold him to the Italian club A.C. Milan, and although he played more than a few sublime games, he seemed to have lost the old spark. In the words of A.C. Milan’s racist, narcissistic owner and former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, “That fat, little buck-toothed showoff is damaged goods!”
Ronaldinho returned to Brazil in January 2011 at 31, ridiculously overweight and bloated by years of booze and yayo. Booed by the crowds and the subject of much satire and jokes in the Brazilian media, he fell out with Flamenco after a dispute over unpaid wages and soon signed with Atletico Mineiro. Still struggling with his addictions, Ronaldinho has been very vocal to the press about his desire to be picked again for the Brazilian national team and its stern coach Felipe Scolari. What happens next – if he can remain clean – is up to him.