Barcelona are a privileged club. To have two of the best players in world football spending their best years in the Blaugrana colours is indeed a privilege, one that cemented the club’s place in the highest echelons of football. And even to an extent that Barca are considered among the best ever club sides in footballing history.
Ronaldinho and Leo Messi have won the World Player of the Year in six of the last 11 years, a phenomenal achievement made even more phenomenal by the fact they won them all while being Barça players. Ronaldinho ushered in the era of dominance in Catalunya, while Messi made Barça the unstoppable force they have become today.
While Ronaldinho started the winning machine, Messi accelerated it across multiple landmarks and records, and the contributions of the two South Americans in Barca’s 21st century history is so profound that Barca can rightly be deemed as the best football team of the present century. They can even stake a claim for being the best across centuries, such has been the dominance of the Catalan giants.
Over the past decade, it was a classic example of one era passing onto another as the successful time with Ronaldinho was quickly followed by an era of even more relentless winning with Messi at his peak. Such has been Barça’s dominance over the past decade that it wouldn’t be naive to suggest Barça’s recent history wouldn’t have been as colourful without Ronaldinho and Messi.
Here are five reasons why Ronaldinho was the perfect mentor for Messi, and in turn provided the perfect base for Barca to embark on what has been a journey full of euphoric moments amid a few bumps.
1. Humble reception
While Messi was ploughing his way from Barça’s developmental teams in the mid-2000s, Ronaldinho was the global icon at the club, and the toast of the world. Back to back World Player of the Year awards sandwiched the club’s second Champions League triumph in 2006, and the world was clearly at the Brazilian’s feet. At the same time, Messi was up and coming, but nevertheless held in high regard due to his early promise.
And when the time came to make the step up, it was Ronaldinho who urged La Pulga to take a place beside him in the dressing room. As Messi recollected: “Those that came up from the B team sat on the other side. The dressing room was a U shape and we were sat in front. The moment arrived where they told me that I had to change side and didn’t have to spend more time there. I was very comfortable, very free, because of how they let me sit — not just Ronnie but all the dressing room.”
To share dressing room space alongside one of the greats of that era has surely had profound effects on Messi, but the fact the Argentine was told to do so eased him into the club and brought him closer to their biggest stars.
2. Motivation from the best
To have the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco encouraging a teenager is no small feat, and Messi, right from the start of his career in Barça’s senior team, had the back of some of world football’s greatest talents. That motivation from the best was clearly one of the myriad reasons why that little teenager is now the greatest player in world football.
“The locker was empty and just had he, Deco and Motta in this sector, and they sat me beside them. Truth is that at first it was tough, I said no. That was when Ronaldinho basically told me to sit there. They received me well in the dressing room, spectacularly. To come into this dressing room was not easy, they made everything much easier for me.”
Messi had, for certain, his share of goosebumps, but they were overshadowed by the mere presence of Ronaldinho and Deco in the dressing room who made it all the more comfortable for Messi to settle into the senior team.
3. Growing friendship
The friendship between Ronaldinho and Messi has been well documented over the years; the enduring image of them embracing each other after the semi-finals of the 2008 Olympics is a classic in the annals of the Olympic games.
When Ronaldinho left the club in 2008, he left behind a legacy for Messi to build on, a blueprint for success, which the Argentine duly followed and even eclipsed.
Ronaldinho said of Messi: “He’s a very simple person, very calm, he sat by my side in the dressing room, we had the opportunity to start a very true friendship, very simple, he’s a great man.”
Despite an age gap of seven years, the regard with which the senior holds his junior is clearly evident, and to have such levels of friendship at a time when Ronaldinho basically ruled the world has been one of the most important junctures of Messi’s career.
4. Passing the baton
It isn’t always that one successful era is immediately succeeded by another, but the fact Messi went on to become an even greater phenomenon than Ronaldinho owes much to the Brazilian’s influence at the club and his vision to see Messi follow in his footsteps.
Before Ronaldinho left the club, Messi had worn the numbers 30 and 19, unfashionable numbers in football folklore. And much of the credit for Messi inheriting the famous number 10 of Ronaldinho goes to the Brazilian who had in his mind who was to become his successor.
“Before Ronaldinho went, he came a few months before and had in his head that he was going, and told me that I had to take his number,” said Messi of Ronaldinho’s urge to have Messi inherit his number 10 shirt. In simple terms, Ronaldinho passed the baton to Messi to become the world’s best, and he complied in style.
5. Mutual respect
Mutual respect is pretty much understated in football where the notions of technique and the narratives of emotion take precedence. But what Messi had with Ronaldinho was a relationship of mutual respect, one that helped shape two defining eras of Barca’s history.
Ronaldinho built the legacy and Messi carried it forward to unscaled heights. The fact Messi is arguably the greatest player the world is clearly in part to Ronaldinho’s influence on him. Without the Brazilian as his mentor, Messi might never have become the influential, legendary player we all know today.