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Ronaldinho

Ronaldinho

1980—

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."

Sources

Periodicals

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

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

Ronaldinho

Professional soccer player

Born Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, March 21, 1980, in Porta Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; became naturalized Spanish citizen, January, 2007; son of João (a shipyard welder and soccer player) and Miguelina (a nurse) de Assis Moreira; children: João (son).

Addresses: Home—Barcelona, Spain. Office—F.C. Barcelona, Av. Aristedes Maillol, 08028, Barcelona, Spain.

Career

Played for various youth and junior clubs in Rio Grande do Sul, 1990s; appeared in international tournament play with Brazil's junior national team; 1997; signed with Grêmio E.C., 1999; moved to France to play with Paris Saint-Germain F.C., 2001; signed with F.C. Barcelona, July, 2003; appeared in the 2002 and 2006 World Cup series.

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

Sidelights

Soccer fans around the world consider Brazil's Ronaldinho one of the sport's greatest contemporary players. A midfielder who joined the Spanish team FC Barcelona in 2003 just as he emerged at the peak of his game, Ronaldinho is often mentioned in same sentence as Pelé, the legendary Brazilian star of the 1970s. Rivals of Ronaldinho's for the title of the world's top soccer athlete are Britishborn David Beckham and France's Zinedine Zidane, but in 2006 the young Brazilian bypassed them both to become the most marketable player in the sport, with annual earnings from his salary and endorsement contracts totaling $57 million. Beloved by fans and teammates alike for his easygoing, ego-free demeanor, Ronaldinho is fond of quoting his father, who died when he was eight. To Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, he repeated words of advice told to him by his parent: "Do the right thing and be an honest, straight-up guy. And on the field: Play soccer as simply as possible. He always said one of the most complicated things you can do is to play it simple."

A one-name wonder, Ronaldinho was born Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, and is known by the Portuguese-language diminutive of his given name, meaning "Little Ronald" to distinguish him from Ronaldo, a slightly older Brazilian soccer star. He is also sometimes called Ronaldinho Gaúcho, referring to the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where he was born on March 21, 1980, in its capital city, Porta Alegre. The youngest of three children in his family, he was immersed in soccer at an early age: His brother, Rob-erto, joined a professional league when Ronaldinho was still quite young, and their father, João, played for Cruzeiro E.C., one of oldest clubs in Brazil. João also worked as a welder in a Porta Alegre shipyard, while Ronaldinho's mother, Miguelina, was a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman before returning to school to become a nurse.

Ronaldinho played street soccer at an early age, and loved to dribble the ball for as long as possible because, he explained to Justin Webster, a writer for London's Observer newspaper, "If you're playing for five hours you don't want to score goals all the time." Kicking the ball around with his father, however, was a different game, for João "forced me to play with only two touches of the ball each time," he told Webster. "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."

In January of 1989, Ronaldinho lost his first coach. The family had recently moved to a new house with a swimming pool, a bonus for Roberto for extending his contract with Grêmio, one of Porta Alegre's two professional teams. The elder son returned from training for a family gathering to celebrate both his eighteenth birthday and his parents' anniversary, but came home to find his father had suffered a fatal heart attack while swimming. Ronaldinho was just eight years old, and has often credited his brother for stepping in to serve as a father-figure for him after their loss. Roberto's own athletic career would be cut short by injury.

At age 13, Ronaldinho became a local legend for scoring 23 goals in a single game, one that ended with a 23-0 tally. Four years later, he attracted international attention for two goals he scored in the 1997 Under-17 World Championships of FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association and international soccer's governing body, as a member of Brazil's championship junior team. In 1999, he followed his brother into Grêmio. Later that year he made his first appearance with the Brazilian national team in the Copa América, the contest that pits the national teams of ten South American countries against one another. He scored one of the seven goals in the final against Venezuela.

Europe's top soccer clubs often recruit South American players, offering them immense salaries. The house with the swimming pool, in fact, was Grêmio's bonus to Roberto to stay with the team instead of signing with Torino, an Italian team. Ronaldinho was also wooed by several leading clubs, including Arsenal F.C., a London team. He followed his brother's suggestion to sign first with a lesser club—in order to take some of the stress out of a transition to the European game—and joined Paris Saint-Germain F.C. in April of 2001. He spent three seasons with the French club, and continued to appear with the Brazilian national team in international tournament play. During the 2002 World Cup, he was part of a formidable trio known as the "Three Rs"—Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, and Rivaldo—who helped Brazil win the title that year, and his 30-yard kick that landed in the net during the quarterfinal against England was one of the event's highlights. Brazil beat Germany for the title that year, 2-0, but both of those goals were scored by one of the other Rs, Ronaldo.

In 2003, Ronaldinho announced he was ready to leave Paris Saint-Germain, and a heated bidding war for his professional commitment ensued. He was courted by two of the best teams in Europe, F.C. Barcelona and Manchester United, and signed with the Spanish team on July 19, 2003. His arrival in the soccer-mad city was a major event, with 25,000 fans turning out to welcome him. More commonly known as "Barça," FC Barcelona was the largest football club in the world, with some 100,000 devoted member-owners—known as socis—at the time. FC Barcelona's performance in recent years, however, had been lackluster, and the team had not won a major title since 1999, when they won the national title. So intense were its fans that when a top player joined archrivals Real Madrid in 2000, a pig's head was thrown at him from the crowd when he reappeared on the Barça home pitch.

Ronaldinho's five-year contract with Barça was worth $25 million, and it was hoped that he would become a major media star for them. Previous to signing him, the team had attempted to lure Britain's David Beckham over from Manchester United, but Beckham stepped out of negotiations and instead signed with Real Madrid. Ronaldinho did not disappoint during his first season with the team, helping it to a second-place finish in La Liga, as the Spanish league is known; later that year he topped an annual FIFA poll of the sport's coaches and team captains, who voted him FIFA World Player of the year for 2004. During the 2004–05 season, Barça won the national championship for the first time in six years, and Ronaldinho became a hero in the city as well as one of Spain's biggest celebrities.

The individual national victors from across Europe then go on to compete in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League, sometimes known as the European Cup. In Ronaldinho's first appearance in the hotly contested battle for the European title, his team lost to Chelsea of England. In the 2005–06 season, Barça successfully defended their La Liga title, and Ronaldinho came in first once again in the FIFA World Player rankings. In May of 2006, his team went on to win the European Cup, beating Arsenal 2-1, and he was named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year for his outstanding season.

Ronaldinho rejoined the Brazilian national team for the 2006 World Cup series, but his performance disappointed soccer fans—he failed to score any goals, and had just one assist. After Brazil lost to France in the quarterfinals, some of the more ardent devotees of the sport unleashed their anger at Brazil's loss by setting fire to a 23-foot-high statue of Ronaldinho, made out of resin and fiberglass, in the southern state of Santa Catarina. Back in Spain, he continued to astound, however, and during the first weeks of the 2006–07 season he scored his 50th La Liga goal in a game against Villarreal. Later during the same match he executed an impressive overhead bicycle kick to score his 51st.

Such fireworks have made Ronaldinho one of the most exciting players in the game, and the more daring moments have become some of the most-watched soccer-game clips on YouTube.com. In one UEFA Champions League game, he toe-punted the ball past a Chelsea defense line-up right into the net, bypassing one of top goalkeepers in the sport. The toe-punt is rarely deployed by players for longer distances, because the resulting angle is too hard to control, but Ronaldinho's apparent conquering of it made the goal one of the most-talked about events of the season. "When I look at that goal now," he told Webster in the Observer interview, "it seems like someone pressed pause and for three seconds all the players on the pitch have stopped and I am the only one that moves. Because it was a moment when I stopped the ball, and everyone stopped." But Ronaldinho has also tried to deflect undue attention on such breathtaking stunts, telling Sports Illustrated's Wahl that "each player has an individual style. I think my best talent is dribbling and setting up goal situations, giving an assist or deceiving one of the other team's players. So I'm always seeking new ways of dribbling, new moves, so I can give my best to the team."

Other impressive replay moments from Ronaldinho's career have been used in commercials for athletic-gear maker Nike. He also has endorsement contracts with American Express, Pepsi, Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo, and several Brazilian companies. On Electronic Arts' top-selling game FIFA 07, he appears on the cover with Britain's Wayne Rooney. The endorsement dollars helped him surpass Beckham as the world's most marketable soccer player in April of 2006, though the British phenomenon, five years his senior, still earns more per year. That same year Forbes magazine ranked Ronaldinho as the fourth highest-paid player in the sport, following Beckham, Ronaldo, and Zidane. Ronaldinho has his own clothing line, R10, a reference to the number on his Barça jersey. He has also shown an interest in social and charitable causes, and in December of 2006 returned to Porta Alegre for the ceremony that marked the opening of the Ronaldinho Institute. The school was slated to educate 3,500 youngsters once fully operational, and featured state-of-the-art technology and a regulation-size soccer field.

Ronaldinho's brother, Roberto, serves as his manager, while his sister, Deisi, handles all media inquiries. He lives in Barcelona with two dogs, Bola and Negrao, in a palatial home whose kitchen is regularly occupied by his mother, who visits often and likes to cook his favorite dishes. In February of 2005 he became a father for the first time when his son—named João in honor of his late father—was born to a former paramour, Brazilian television personality Janaína Nattielle Viana Mendes. In press interviews, he often expresses gratitude, realizing how few players ever make it to the top echelon of any sport. "I am motivated by wanting to make the dreams of my father come true," he asserted to Webster in the Observer interview. "When I was very little my father predicted that I would be exactly where I am now. My father said that … I would be the best player in the world." True, he noted, his brother Roberto was one of Brazil's newest stars by that time, to which "my father would say, 'Yes, he's good, but watch the other one.'"

Sources

Observer (London, England), June 5, 2005, p. 34; May 14, 2006, p. 4.

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

USA Today, April 17, 2006.

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