No player better defined the decade from 2000 to 2010 than Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, better known as Ronaldinho or Ronaldinho Gaucho. Dinho, as he is also called, began his career at Gremio before transferring to Paris Saint Germain in 2001. Despite a number of spectacular goals and performances for Paris Saint Germain, Ronaldinho burst onto the international stage most visibly in the 2002 World Cup for Brazil in Japan and Korea. Ronaldinho was the lesser known of the “3 Rs” attacking formation additionally constituted by Rivaldo and Ronaldo. Though playing third fiddle to Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Ronaldinho provided some decisive assists and goals to lead Brazil to World Cup victory in moments when they were struggling. In the round of 16 against Belgium, Brazil found themselves in deep trouble with the match scoreless after 65 minutes. Belgian players Marc Wilmots and Mbo Mpenza took shot after shot on goal, only to be denied by acrobatic saves from the Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos. In a moment of magic from the right flank, Dinho floated a mid-air pass using the outside of his right foot that Rivaldo chested down, turned and rifled into the back of the net. Similarly, in the quarterfinals against England, with Brazil trailing 1-0 due to a Michael Owen goal, Ronaldinho picked up the ball near center circle and charged at the English defense, dribbling past the English defender Ashley Cole as he dished off yet another crucial pass to Rivaldo that the Barcelona star dispatched with his golden left foot. Minutes into the second half, Ronaldinho struck again, this time with a sublime curling free kick into the back of the net from 35 meters after catching England goalkeeper David Seaman off his line.
At the club level, Dinho’s most productive years were at Barcelona from 2004 to 2006, where he led the team to the La Liga title in 2005 and 2006 and earned himself the FIFA World Player of the Year Award in consecutive years in the process. After leaving Barcelona in 2008, Ronaldinho has struggled to find his young form at AC Milan, though he has produced tantalizingly displays of his earlier form under coach Leonardo and, most recently, Massimiliano Allegri. Dinho scored a hat-trick against Sienna on January 17, 2010 and produced a scintillating display against Manchester United a month later with a goal and an assist in a performance rife with back heels, flicks and dazzling dribbling skills that mesmerized the Manchester United midfield and defense.
Ronaldinho plays with a child-like joy and wondrous sense of possibility every time he takes the pitch. As an attacking midfielder and left winger, Dinho typically plays deep and then surges forward, looking for his teammates or an opportunity on goal. Known more for his dribbling ability than, say, the explosive pace of Ronaldo or the direct, swooping attacks on goal by Kaka, Ronaldinho is best known for his ability to forge creative plays and scoring opportunities out of nothing by bending deep over the ball, luring in defenders and then darting by them in a flash or serving his team a creative pass down the center or to either flank. His career has also been marked by spectacular goals from free kicks and long range strikes from within the run of play, off both feet. Dinho set the standard for excellence in club and international football for over a decade in a manner that the sport has rarely seen. His recent recall to the Brazilian national team in a high profile friendly against Argentina speaks volumes of Mano Menezes’s regard for the 30 year old midfielder, and testifies to his enduring vitality and place in modern football.
Ronaldinho was named Player of the Decade by World Soccer magazine in December 2009.
- Arnal Dayaratna, Ph.D.
- This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game. More generally, the blog examines questions of leadership, collaboration, teamwork, mentorship and the relationship between sport and aesthetics.