Ronaldinho works his magic for Barca and Brazil
If there were any doubts that Ronaldinho is
the most exciting player in world football they were dispelled by his
virtuoso performances for Barcelona last week.
The 25-year-old Brazilian gave a sublime display to lead Barca to a 3-0
victory over arch-rivals Real Madrid, scoring two solo goals in a
display which brought the applauding Bernabeu crowd to their feet in
Four days later he steered the Catalans to a 3-1 win over Werder Bremen,
notching a trademark free kick and providing the assists for the two
It is therefore no surprise that Ronaldinho completed a sweep of the
game's three most important individual awards by being named European
Footballer of the Year on Monday.
The toothy-grinned forward deserves his trophies not just for his
astounding individual skills but also for the wider impact he has had on
Two years ago he arrived at Barcelona after an unsettled two-season
spell at Paris St Germain.
Barca's first choice signing David Beckham had snubbed a move to the Nou
Camp, choosing instead to make the switch to the more fashionable Real
Ronaldinho, welcomed by close to 30,000 fans on the day of his
presentation, almost single-handedly restored Barca's shattered morale
after four years of under-achievement.
Although the burden of expectation on his young shoulders was immense,
Ronaldinho made light of the responsibility and never lost his almost
childlike enthusiasm for the game.
Mesmerising step-overs, spectacular free kicks and defence-splitting
passes were typical of Ronaldinho's contributions to Barcelona's season.
He inspired the team to a 17-match unbeaten run that lifted them to a
second-place finish in the Primera Liga, their best placing in four
His presence at Barca helped convince Deco, Henrik Larsson, Samuel Eto'o,
Edmilson and Juliano Belletti that the Nou Camp was the place to be.
After a slow start to his second campaign, he was soon back to his best.
He scored a stunning last-gasp winner in the 2-1 Champions League
victory against AC Milan in November and then masterminded Barca's
sparkling display of fluent, attacking football when they outclassed
Real Madrid 3-0 at home.
Fifteen minutes of defensive madness meant the club was eliminated in
the first knockout round of the Champions League by Chelsea, but no one
will forget Ronaldinho's phenomenal goal in the second leg at Stamford
Hypnotising the entire Chelsea defence with a samba-style swivel of the
hips, he toe-poked the ball past Peter Cech from the edge of the area
before the keeper knew what was happening.
Barcelona made up for that disappointment when they eased to their first
league title in six years with Ronaldinho and leading scorer Eto'o the
heroes of the season.
The biggest cheer of the club's celebration party came when the
Brazilian sprinted out on to the pitch wearing a giant glove in the
shape of his trademark thumb and little finger wave.
Little wonder then that Barca moved quickly to tie him to a new contract
that would keep him in Catalunya until 2010.
While the rest of the Barcelona squad took a well-earned holiday,
Ronaldinho reported for international duty.
He led Brazil to victory in the Confederations Cup in June, earning
himself the man-of-the-match award after masterminding a 4-1 victory
over Argentina in the final.
Like so many Brazilian internationals Ronaldinho has followed a
well-trodden route from favela to football pitch.
Born into a family with a strong footballing tradition, Ronaldinho first
hit the headlines when he top-scored for Brazil in their victory in the
Under-17 world championship in 1997.
He helped the full Brazil side win the 1999 Copa America, notching six
goals including a stunning individual effort against Venezuela, and was
part of the team that won the 2002 World Cup.
He was instrumental in the 2-1 victory over England in the
quarter-finals, scoring their second with a spectacular 30-metre free
kick before being sent off, and returned from a one-match ban to play in
the 2-0 victory over Germany in the final.
Alongside Adriano and Ronaldo he should spearhead the Brazil attack for
next year's World Cup, and in his present form he is going to take some