A chance to realise dreams

A chance to realise dreams

A chance to realise dreams

Around this time eight years ago, possibly only three men could have believed that Ronaldo de Lima had it in him to be decisive in Brazil's winning back the World Cup.
His knees were shot through with injury, his career was feared lost. But Ronaldo's surgeon believed, his national coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, believed and, above all, Ronaldo believed. After a season in which he barely played for Real Madrid, he came back to win the World Cup as the tournament's highest scorer in more than 30 years.
One young player on that team, Ronaldinho Gaucho, is in a sense the Ronaldo of today. He isn't the same type of player and hasn't suffered the same physical trauma, but Ronaldinho's comeback is nonetheless compelling.

Two years ago, when Barcelona dumped him, Ronaldinho seemed to have lost the will to perform as we knew he could. He seemed as broken in spirit as Ronaldo had been in body.

AC Milan took him from Barcelona, but it was beyond a leap of faith to think that there could be genuine rejuvenation of the joy, the spontaneity, the performance levels of Ronaldinho. It wasn't a question of age. He is still under 30. It was, to use his word, the love of soccer that appeared lost.
Right now, Ronaldinho looks, sounds and plays like his former self, even though his team lost to Inter Milan in the Derby recently. He has been scoring goals but Ronaldinho was always more than just a good finisher, and he is back creating goals for others, creating moments that defy the imagination.

The impudence of his moves, the acrobatic leaps to attempt a scissors kick above his head, the uncanny vision to pick out a team-mate with a pass that commands that player's movement and the trademark toothy grin are all back.
“I always follow Milan,” said one fan last week. “For me, Ronaldinho is always there. He is one of the greatest players I have ever seen, and I hope to see him here in South Africa.” The fan, Diego Maradona, is in there to choose a base for the team that he coaches, Argentina, for this year's World Cup. “My Argentina are not the favorites for the World Cup,” Maradona told reporters when he arrived. “The candidates are always the same -- Brazil, Italy, Germany and Spain.
“If Ronaldinho doesn't play at this World Cup, I still will always consider him one of the best of all time.”

He might yet play, though he has a Ronaldo-like task ahead of him to convince his national team coach that his comeback is to be trusted. Before the last World Cup, in Germany in 2006, Ronaldinho was imperious at Barca, a genius leading his apprentice, Lionel Messi, toward heights that defied expectation and at times redefined the physics of soccer.

New trick every week
There were weeks, whole months, of matches in which Ronaldinho invented a trick every week. He did it for the fun of it, he did it because he dared to obey the instinct inside of him. He did it because Frank Rijkaard, the Dutchman in charge of Barcelona at the time, was a coach who saw no reason not to allow genius its free rein.
Somehow, Ronaldinho lost zest.

It is highly probable that the selling of Ronaldinho, the most marketed player of the era, for an annual sum estimated at 23 million euros, or $33 million, by a dozen sponsors, helped burn out his joy. He was getting so much, riding so high, that he lost the very thing that the advertisers built their campaigns around.
He no longer "just did it" to paraphrase the Nike slogan. He thought partying was more fun. He and his brother, who was also his agent, forgot the essence that made him worth his freedom on the field.

Who among us can say that we would not, come the 23rd million, similarly lose the focus? The failure of Brazil's so-called Magic Quartet of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka and Adriano in 2006 ended with vandals destroying a 23-foot or 7.5-meter, fiberglass statue of Ronaldinho in Chapeco, Brazil. “Every Brazil player went home from that World Cup shattered,” Ronaldinho said shortly afterward. “For me, it was harder. I created a lot of expectations because I had been in unbelievable form.” The players and the coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, paid for that failure. Carlos Dunga, a former captain, and a rare hard man on Brazil's team, took over as coach with a mission to make Brazilians work for the privilege of the shirt.

Ronaldinho told Dunga that he understood that a professional player has to "kill a lion" to prove himself worthy of place on the team. He has had moments, but not enough to persuade Dunga to keep him on the squad. However, there is a major change in Ronadlinho's life now. His new coach at Milan is another Brazilian, Leonardo.
Leonardo, who shared the 1994 World Cup triumph with Dunga, has persuaded Ronaldinho not to give up on his ambitions. The coach talks, and the player plays, as if freedom has to be earned.

They both use a phrase -- “feeling the love of the people” -- that countless soccer millionaires will never understand. Time will tell if Dunga feels the need to love Ronaldinho, or feels he can ignore his renaissance. Ronaldinho is not Ronaldo. Dunga is not Scolari. But Brazil is Brazil, and there is a World Cup coming.

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