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Soccer player

The Brazilian-born Ronaldinho is one of the genuine superstars of soccer. Known to millions of fans around the world by his trademark black headband, curly locks, and crowd-pleasing bicycle kicks, the one-named wonder is among the top three highest-paid athletes in his sport along with the British-born David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane of France. Ronaldinho began his career in Paris, but he helped Football Club (FC) Barcelona win the Spanish national title two years in a row. He counts among his role models Pelé, Brazil's top player of an earlier generation, and Michael Jordan. "I watched his games when I was growing up and loved the way he took on the responsibility for his team," Ronaldinho said of the Chicago Bulls basketball star in an interview with Jack Bell of the New York Times.

Ronaldinho was born Ronaldo de Assís Moreira on March 21, 1980, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. As its name implies, the city was a major port, and Ronaldinho's father, João, worked as a welder in a shipyard. Earlier in his life João had played for Cruzeiro EC, a professional soccer team in the city of Belo Horizonte, and coached both of his two sons from an early age. "If you're playing for five hours you don't want to score goals all the time," Ronaldinho said of his earliest years playing street soccer in an interview with the London Observer's Justin Webster. "I preferred to dribble. But then my father said no. This was when I was seven. My father—who could be very hard, very correct—forced me to play with only two touches of the ball each time. This took all the fun out of it for me and, at that age, made me very angry. I cried. I didn't understand. But now I understand what he wanted."

Ronaldinho's brother Roberto, several years his senior, turned professional first, signing with Porto Alegre favorites Grêmio FC. In an attempt to keep him from defecting to a European team, Grêmio provided the family with a new house that included a swimming pool. A party was scheduled for later in the afternoon, but as Ronaldinho recalled, "suddenly everybody was looking for my father, but he was nowhere to be found," he told Grant Wahl of the Sports Illustrated. "Then I saw some people carrying him to a car. It turned out that he had drowned in the pool." Ronaldinho was eight years old, and his father just forty-one. Roberto stepped forward to serve as a father figure, but his own earning potential was eventually cut short by injuries.

Played in Paris

Ronaldinho's father had liked to predict that his younger son would also achieve fame in the sport, and at age thirteen Ronaldinho fulfilled that prophecy overnight when he scored a stunning twenty-three goals in a single game. Soon, he was being courted by the coaches of Brazil's top junior teams, and in 1997 he debuted in his first international match at the Under-17 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Championships. Brazil won the title that year, and by 1999 Ronaldinho had followed his brother into the Grêmio lineup. Like many of the world's best players, he was lured by the lucrative offers from overseas organizations looking for new talent; while fans in Brazil and Argentina are equally as passionate as their Italian or English counterparts, the deep pockets of European teams—coupled with the promise of lucrative endorsement contracts for the top players—usually means that they can earn much more than athletes who remain in South America. Ronaldinho heeded advice, however, and signed with Paris Saint-Germain, a lower-profile team, in the spring of 2001.

Ronaldinho eased himself into the European style of play over three seasons with the French outfit, but returned regularly to the Brazilian national team for international tournaments. The legendary prowess of Brazil's players had long been a source of national pride, and Brazil's 2002 World Cup win bolstered that reputation with standout performances from a trio dubbed "the Three Rs"—Ronaldinho, Ronaldo (Luis Nazário de Lima), and Rivaldo (Vítor Borba Ferreira). The other two were already stars in Europe as top kickers for Italian or Spanish teams. By 2003 Ronaldinho was ready to move on, too, and he considered offers from Rivaldo's team, FC Barcelona, and Manchester United. He opted for Spain and signed a five-year, $25 million contract in July 2003. His arrival in the city was greeted by several thousand joyous supporters of Ba¸a, as the team is affectionately known, who poured onto the streets to greet him.

During Ronaldinho's first season with Barcelona, the team finished second in La Liga, the Spanish national league, but Ronaldinho's stellar performance earned him the FIFA World Player of the Year title for 2004. At the close of the 2004-05 season, Ba¸a won the La Liga championship and narrowly missed out on the postseason coup of winning the European Cup, otherwise known as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League title. In 2006 Ba¸a defended its La Liga against archival Real Madrid, and then ousted England's Arsenal FC for a European Cup victory that May. Ronaldinho's career-high twenty-four goals in both season and postseason play helped him earn the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year honors for 2006.

Brazilians Disappointed in 2006

The World Cup is such a major event that it can only disrupt the lives of soccer fans around the world every four years. Brazilians hoped that Ronaldinho and his national teammates would once again bring another victory, but the 2006 tournament, hosted by Germany, fell far short of expectations. Ronaldinho turned in a lackluster performance, and Brazil was ousted by France. Angry fans even set fire to a twenty-three-foot-tall fiberglass and resin likeness of Ronaldinho in the town of Chapecó in western Brazil. Early the next year he was criticized for becoming a naturalized citizen of Spain.

Despite such setbacks, Ronaldinho remains a national hero in Brazil, and he retains strong ties to his family and birthplace. In Porto Alegre he founded the Ronaldinho Institute, a full-time, full-curriculum school for thirty-five hundred youth. His brother serves as his manager, his sister handles media relations, and his mother comes to stay with him in Barcelona regularly. "My only concern is playing," he explained to Webster. "Everything else my family looks after. In our house every one has a job, and my job in our house is to play football." In 2005 he became a father to a son, named João in honor of his late father, born to former paramour Janaína Nattielle Viana Mendes, a Brazilian television personality.

At a Glance …

Born Ronaldo de Assís Moreira on March 21, 1980, in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; son of João de Assís Moreira (a shipyard welder and soccer player) and Miguelina (a nurse) de Assís Moreira; children: (with Janaína Nattielle Viana Mendes) João.

Career: Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense, midfielder, 1999-2001; Paris Saint-Germain Football Club, midfielder, 2001-03; Football Club Barcelona, midfielder, 2003—.

Awards: FIFA World Player of the Year, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, 2004, 2005; Union of European Football Associations Club Footballer of the Year, 2006.

Addresses: Office—Football Club Barcelona, Av. Aristedes Maillol, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.

In the spring of 2008 Ronaldinho was ready to leave Ba¸a and was considering an offer from Manchester City, a team recently acquired by the former prime minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra, a mobile-phone billionaire. Still a relatively young player at midcareer, Ronaldinho was devoted to his first love. "I just think that I am lucky to be doing what I most like to do in life—playing football," he told Bell. "It is not hard for me to stay enthusiastic. Actually, once you have lived being a champion, you have the feeling that you want more, but repeating is always difficult."



New York Times, March 26, 2007, p. D8.

Observer (London), June 5, 2005, p. 34.

Sports Illustrated, June 5, 2006, p. 68.

Sunday Times (London), June 8, 2003, p. 9.

—Carol Brennan

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Ronaldinho (Ronaldo Assis de Moreira), 1980–, Brazilian soccer player. Also nicknamed "El Gaucho," the agile attacking forward has been a footballer since childhood. Known almost as much for his sunny personality and unfailing smile as for his superb soccer skills, he has a rare combination of technique and speed. He joined the pros in his teens, becoming (1997) a member of Gremio de Porto Alegro. He moved on to European play with Paris St.-Germain in 2001 and in 2003 joined FC Barcelona, where he led the team to the Catalonia Cup (2003–4), the Spanish League championship (2004–5), the Spanish Super Cup (2005), and the Champions League (2006). He also won the prestigious Ballon d'Or (2005) and was named European footballer of the year (2005) and world player of the year (2004–5). He has played for Brazil in international matches since 1999 and was instrumental in his team's 2002 World Cup victory.

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"Ronaldinho." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 13 Dec. 2017 <>.

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