Late Summer, 2003. I had just sat down with my father to watch football. Apparently, Rivaldo from the 2002 World Cup winning Brazilian side had left Barcelona, and Ronaldinho, who was supposed to be wearing Manchester United's red, had joined the club.
To be frank, I wasn’t a regular sports watcher back then, I was a kid growing up who liked kicking a ball way more than watching professionals do the same. In our childhood, most of our days seem to bring something new, something special. There's a certain naivety that we slowly lose as we grow up, but that day on September 3rd, 2003 was going to last forever.
As Ray Hudson said: “If Bestie were still around, he’d have Ronaldinho opening beer bottles with those teeth of his. Oh, come on, he didn’t get the FIFA World Player of the Year award on his looks!”.
Unlike kids these days, it wasn’t a footballer with a fancy hairstyle and a contemporary sense of fashion that enthralled me.
Expletives have run out when it comes to describing Ronaldinho. Nothing quite cuts it to put into words the beauty of his football. Over the years, I have just resorted to using his name, as if the meaning is the same for everyone, like for me, and not surprisingly, to many others.
Lionel Messi, Dinho’s protégé, is the best player of all time. He does things others can only imagine, consistently, year in and year out. Messi is football. However, it was Ronaldinho who first stepped over the bounds of the sport.
On that boiling-hot Summer day in 2003, Ronnie ran past two Sevilla defenders and put the ball bouncing down from the crossbar and into the net from 30 yards out. Suddenly, I wasn’t just a kid who loved kicking the ball outdoors, but one who would stay up until midnight to watch football. Actually, not just watch: Marvel at his beautiful game.
As I recall my story, I also think about numerous friends and thousands others on the internet who, like me, love football because of the great Ronaldinho Gaúcho.
There are players who prioritize fame and personal glory, players who want to win at any cost, players who are all about ruthlessness.
And then there is Messi. The Argentinean wizard is Maradona every day but with rationality rather than madness. Always putting the team before self, making the right decisions, never going crazy, never taking the least rewarding route. Team before self, a street player ripping apart oppositions. Consistent, successful, and of course, the greatest ever.
Ronaldinho was different. He was someone most of us can relate to. He was more than winning. He was the embodiment of Brazilian football and of South American culture.
While European football always seemed to be more about tactics and effectiveness, the Brazilian was all about his inventiveness, and of course, having fun. It was as if he were playing in the little street in front of your house, with friends, barefooted, and not in the hallowed Camp Nou wearing expensive boots, being watched by the entire world.
Most of us didn’t play in football academies, we were more about playing football with whatever we could. To us, football was a source of happiness above all else. Just kick a ball with friends under the bliss of the sun and live.
And there was Ronaldinho, a guy doing the same on the biggest stage of the planet. Having fun, entertaining people and mesmerizing viewers with his tricks, his magic.
Fans sat down, watch him and smile in disbelief at what he did, because we couldn’t even understand it at first glance. The Brazilian smiler had driven us to a level of bewitchment where we weren't looking out for tactics or new signings, but only having fun.
Nothing lasts forever, and sometimes the best a man can do is look back and smile. Unfortunately, Ronaldinho has announced his decision to retire. However, I'll still smile, we all will. Because that is the essence of Ronaldinho.
Thank you for bringing so much joy to the hearts of Cules around the world, Ronnie!