A recent YouTube video highlights that Ronaldinho still has skills. But the video also shows that Ronaldinho, wearing number 49 on the blue and black shirt of his Mexican Liga MX team Querétaro, has also lost much of the dynamic force that won him the FIFA World Best Player Award in 2004 and 2005.
As part of Frank Rijkaard’s FC Barcelona in the early 2000s Ronaldinho was the nonplus-ultra of global football. At Barça Ronaldinho had the most successful spell of his career, but since leaving the Catalans in 2008 he has been a shadow of his former self. While his ball control and vision remained evident at AC Milan, Flamengo, and Atlético Mineiro, it is dynamism that has become especially important in modern football.
Querétaro – A Mexican Standoff
It also doesn’t help that Ronaldinho’s off the pitch lifestyle was seldom fitting to that of a professional athlete. But in an bid to bring glamour to Querétaro the Grupo Imagen, which owns the club, decided that it was worth the risk of signing Ronaldinho despite him being quite open about not wanting to change his lifestyle whilst living in Mexico.
Since signing for the Mexicans in September 2014 the relationship between the club and the player has become increasingly more difficult. Then in December 2014 Ronaldinho failed to show up for the club’s winter training camp, which the club was holding in preparation for the Mexican spring campaign.
The club began its training camp on December 8 without the Brazilian, and on December 23 the club issued a warning. Speaking to Yahoo Sports Joaquin Beltran, the club’s sporting director said: “if Ronaldinho does not come back in the next week, we will take a decision.”
After the warning was issued Ronaldinho returned to the club on December 26, stating that he had to “solve some personal problems in Brazil.” Although Ronaldinho never elaborated, it is most likely that the Brazilian took an extended vacation being fully aware that the Mexicans would not go through with dissolving the contract with their star acquisition.
Regardless the entire episode over Christmas has left a strain on the relationship between Ronaldinho, the club, and its supporters. In January Ronaldinho was put on a special training regime by the club, as he was deemed overweight. His weight issues have led to a series of poor performances, and Querétaro fans have began to call him “Robberdinho” as they felt robbed by his below average play.
MLS or Brazil – Where is next for Ronaldinho?
With those circumstances in mind it seemed likely that Ronaldinho would leave the Mexican club after just one season. This has now been confirmed by his brother Roberto de Assis Moreira, who also acts as his agent, announcing that Major League Soccer will most likely next destination for Ronaldinho.
In the past Ronaldinho has been linked with a move to Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls, and it appears that the Red Bulls would be the more likely destination as they currently have two free Designated Player slots available on their roster.
Ronaldinho’s brother Assis has also told Super Esportes “MLS needs players of his level to boost interest in soccer. Anything can happen in this sport, but I haven’t been contacted.” Indeed MLS would be a fitting end for a player such as Ronaldinho, and a move to New York may invigorate memories of Pelé who once played there for the New York Cosmos.
At the same time, however, such a move might not be the most fitting for a player beyond his physical peak. Those who have observed the development of the MLS in recent years may have noticed a trend, which emphasises athleticism and speed over skill and ball control. This kind of environment could be poison for a player like Ronaldinho.
MLS boards may also be aware of Ronaldinho’s shortcomings and take a pass on a player whose professionalism is doubtful at best. It is therefore no surprise that rumours in Brazil suggest that Ronaldinho could sign for Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, which are based in Belo Horizonte, and would see him return to his native Brazil.
According to a report by the Brazilian sports portal Globoesporte, Cruzeiro is willing to offer Ronaldinho a salary of R$ 6 million for a six month contract (R$1 million a month). Negotiations are at a standstill, however, as Ronaldinho’s brother Assis has asked for a salary of R$ 1.4 million a month. The fact that Assis has mentioned a possible move to MLS instead could therefore be a negotiation tactic to encourage Cruzeiro to increase its current offer.
Ronaldinho the Legacy
Amidst all of this stands the reputation of Ronaldinho, who was once considered the biggest football talent on the planet. His position on the pitch has become almost tragic as his lifestyle choices show him clearly outpaced by other players, and while there are still moments of magic, these moments have done little to hide the fact that as a player Ronaldinho is past his prime.
As the film Mata Mata highlights many Brazilian players are the breadwinners for entire families, and therefore their financial income throughout their careers have to be optimized. This is the reason why many Brazilian players have made career choices that have put income high above more strategic career plans.
Under those circumstances it seems likely that Ronaldinho will take the offer from Cruzeiro and return to Brazil in June. But at the same time this does not rule out a move to the MLS, which unlike most major European leagues runs a spring to fall schedule. This would make it possible for Ronaldinho to play for Cruzeiro from June to December and then make the move to the MLS for the 2016 season.
But no matter what move Ronaldinho makes in June, one thing is for certain – the glitz, glamour, and scandals will accompany him wherever he goes.
Manuel Veth is a PhD candidate at the University of London King’s College, London. Originally from Munich, his thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus