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Ronaldinho to Flamengo: Booze, and a new Brazilian Reality

January 12, 2011


This article was written (with a little help from me) by my friend and fellow futebol aficionado Jerrad Peters; and posted on the site “90 Minutes Plus Injury Time”.



There are more than 40 beaches in and around Florianópolis, the southern Brazilian city named “Party Destination of the Year” by The New York Times in 2009. No one knows this better than Ronaldinho—the two-time World Footballer of the Year having spent the last two weeks living large in the Santa Catarina capital, his activities documented by a handful of smirking, boozy-eyed photos uploaded to Facebook.

Last Thursday, however, he took a short break from the merrymaking and journeyed north to Rio de Janeiro. Waiting for him was AC Milan vice president Adriano Galliani and his brother, and agent, Roberto de Assis. They sat down on a platform and addressed the throng of reporters gathered to pose a single question: where would Ronaldinho be playing his football in 2011?

The press conference clarified nothing. Galliani sung Ronaldinho’s praises, and announced that he was free to join any club in Brazil. Assis rubbed his hands in glee, anticipating a bidding war, and Ronaldinho flew back to Florianópolis.

Four days later he joined Flamengo. Assis had succeeded in turning the big Brazilian clubs against one another for his signature, and even Gremio—from which Ronaldinho joined Paris-Saint Germain in 2001—had been forced to bow out of the auction.

It was a sickening process, and one Pelé was quick to lash out against. Ronaldinho, the icon said, was only in it for the money, for himself. But he was only partially right.

Ronaldinho, for a time the best player on the planet, could have gone almost anywhere after leaving Milan. Sure, his talents would have never reached their previous heights, but he would have still been an asset to almost any club in Europe, both on the field and off it. He opted for Brazil instead—a decision that revealed two things.

One: the 30-year-old is being a bit selfish at this point in his career. He wants to be close to home; he wants a return to the Brazilian lifestyle. He wants to be able to go to Florianópolis whenever he wants. And he wants money. None of this is surprising, given the trajectory of his career since the 2006 World Cup, but it’s only part of the story.

Two: Brazil is becoming a legitimate destination for big-name players, and not just the ones a few years from retirement.

When he signed for Flamengo, Ronaldinho became just the latest Europe-based, Brazilian footballer to return to his country to continue his career. Adriano blazed the trail in 2008 when he was loaned to Sao Paulo, and Ronaldo followed a year later when he joined Corinthians.

But there have been dozens of others. World Cup-winner Edmilson moved to Palmeiras from Villarreal in 2008, and one-time Lyon striker Fred joined Fluminense a year later. The current Brazilian champions, Fluminense also boast Juliano Belletti—formerly of Chelsea and Barcelona—and Deco, who won the Champions League with Porto in 2004.

The reverse immigration was even more pronounced in 2010. Robinho, who joined Santos from Manchester City and went on to win both the Paulista and Copa de Brasil, was the biggest name to arrive, although Santos also took on Keirrison from Barcelona and Rodrigo Possebon from Manchester United. National team veteran Elano joined the side just last month.

Andrés D’Allessandro enjoying Brazilian football

Copa Libertadores holders Internacional were also active in the repatriation movement. After spells at Real Betis and UAE side Al-Jazira, forward Rafael Sobis signed up in 2010, joining 29-year-old playmaker Andrés D’Allessandro, who had previously played for Wolfsburg, Portsmouth and Real Zaragoza. Although an Argentine, D’Allessandro adapted quickly to Brazilian football and was named South American Footballer of the Year last season.

The list could go on and on. But something Ronaldinho said during that Thursday press conference speaks volumes as to how the Brazilian league has come to be viewed by players who left in the dark days of the last decade.

The Brazilian economy in on the up-tick, he said—his brother adding that Brazilian clubs were only beginning to realize their financial potential. Statistics back them up. Brazil is currently the ninth-largest economy in the world, and with growth of more than five per-cent per year, it could soon be the fifth. Three years ago, it became a net external creditor, reversing the days of bailouts and bad debt.

This isn’t why Ronaldinho decided to join Flamengo (check his Facebook page next month for proof), but it’s why the club were able to take him on. They can actually afford him—a fact that would have been unthinkable six or seven years ago.

For Brazilian football, it’s an encouraging new reality; for Ronaldinho, the ideal situation. And by the way, the distance from Rio to Florianópolis is about 1,100 kilometres. No doubt Ronaldinho knows this better than most.

Jerrad Peters is the author of We Call It Soccer and can be found on Twitter @peterssoccer


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