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Flamboyance was his middle name

AFP, Rio de Janiero Jan 20 2018, 23:54 IST
LUST FOR LIFE Ronaldhino excelled at all levels, and winning the World Cup was thehighlight of his career. But a love of fast life led to a swift decline. AFP

LUST FOR LIFE Ronaldhino excelled at all levels, and winning the World Cup was thehighlight of his career. But a love of fast life led to a swift decline. AFP

The man who once lobbed England's David Seaman from 40 yards, Ronaldinho, has officially hung up his boots following a career of backheels, nutmegs, no-look passes, and Parisian party nights.

Tricks, flicks and stepovers, to watch Ronaldinho play in his prime was to savour a festival of the "jogo bonito" -- the beautiful game in his native Portuguese -- and that always with his goofy smile.

Both on and off the pitch, Ronaldinho was a free spirit, almost as infamous for his nocturnal lifestyle as he was famous for his silky skills.

And it was the former that perhaps contributed to a gradual petering out of what was nonetheless a trophy-laden career.

World Cup winner in 2002, Ballon d'Or winner in 2005, Champions League winner in 2006 and Copa Libertadores winner in 2013, Ronaldinho won the lot for both club and country.

"God has been good to me, he allowed me to live football," Ronaldinho told So Foot magazine in July. "I loved what I did... and I had the satisfaction of enjoying myself while giving pleasure to others."

Born in 1980 in Porto Alegre -- the happy port -- in the south of Brazil, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira started life dribbling around dogs in his working class local neighbourhood, Vila Nova. His professional career began in 1998 for Gremio, a few days before his 18th birthday.

Back then he picked up the Gaucho nickname -- given to people from the south -- to distinguish him from O Fenomeno (the phenomenon) Ronaldo as the three-time world player of the year was himself nicknamed Ronaldinho (little Ronaldo) early in his career.

It took Ronaldinho Gaucho only a year to earn his first call-up for Brazil and during the Copa America in June 1999 he exploded onto the international scene.

"Look what he's doing, look what he's doing!" enthused TV Globo commentator Galvao Bueno during a match against Venezuela after Ronaldinho performed a rainbow flick. Big European teams weren't slow to come calling and it was something of a surprise to see Ronaldinho snapped up by Paris Saint-Germain in 2001.

His two-year stay in the French capital was far from a resounding success as he fell out of favour with then-coach Luis Fernandez, in part for falling in love with the city of lights.

Yet it was during that stint that he joined Ronaldo and Rivaldo to make up the thrilling 'Three Rs' attack that helped Brazil storm to World Cup glory in 2002 -- with Ronaldinho's sensational lob over Seaman the highlight of their quarterfinal victory over England.

A year later he was on his way to Barcelona, where he would truly light up the world with his footballing genius. He would reserve his best performances for matches against Barca's eternal rivals Real Madrid, once even being applauded off the field by the usually hostile Bernabeu crowd following two stunning goals in a 3-0 victory.

But as Barca unveiled a new, even more dazzling jewel in Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho's star quickly started to dull and he would never again reach such heights after helping the Catalans win the 2006 Champions League. Spells at AC Milan and Flamengo in Rio were unimpressive, although he did manage one last hurrah with Atletico Mineiro and a 2013 Copa Libertadores success.

Short stints in Mexico and back in Rio with Fluminense merely delayed the inevitable and he had not played for more than two years when his brother Roberto Assis announced Ronaldinho's retirement at 37 years of age last Tuesday.

Given what he achieved and won, it's difficult to claim his was a talent unfulfilled, but given his flair, close control and darting acceleration, one cannot help wonder what might have been had his love of Parisian nightclubs not distracted Ronaldinho.

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