The 28-year-old Ronaldinho Gaucho has chosen the next and possibly last station of his footballing career – a move to AC Milan instead of Manchester City for a 3 year contract till June 2011.
AC Milan announced on Thursday the completion of Ronaldinho’s transfer at a price of 21 million euros (much less than the amount purportedly offered by Manchester City) and an additional 4 million euros if the club clinches a place in the 2009-10 Champions League.
Ronaldinho will earn 6.5 million euros per season and he was quick to please his new fans by exulting upon his arrival: “It’s true. I really wanted to come to Milan. A lot of things happened and at the end I became Rossonero. I hope I can provide a lot of joy to Milan’s fans.”
Last season, Milan finished a disappointing fifth in Serie A and was eliminated by Arsenal in the second round of the Champions League. They can only qualify for the second-tier UEFA Cup this season. But do not be mistaken, a club of Milan’s stature will not accept mediocrity for too long.
In the 2005 Champions League finals, Milan dominated Liverpool and established a 3-0 lead by half time, but the Reds miraculously forced a 3-3 stunner, snatching the title from right under their nose in the penalty shoot-outs. However, Milan proved their championship qualities by capturing the European crown with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool the following year.
Similarly, I believe Milan will make a speedy return to the Champions League. They signaled clearly their domestic and European ambitions with a flurry of activities in the transfer market. Snagging Ronaldinho is the final piece of the puzzle… or is it?
It is too early to say if this transfer is a masterstroke or a risky venture but on paper, Milan certainly possess a lethal front line. Ronaldinho will link up with Kaka and Alexandre Pato in an all-Brazilian attack that is bound to terrorize any defense. To be sure, when Ronaldinho is at his best, he brings a lot of enthusiasm and confidence to the team.
A few years ago, he was the indisputable best player in the world but his form plummeted of late. Scoring an impressive 91 goals in 200 appearances over five seasons at Barcelona, he was a vital cog to the club’s consecutive Spanish league titles in 2005 and 2006, and the Champions League trophy in 2006.
Last year, Ronaldinho came in for brickbats from all quarters when he notched up only nine goals in 26 overall appearances. His fitness, flabby tummy, a series of injuries (ranging from a foot problem to thigh injury to knee tendinitis) and concerns of late-night partying contributed to him playing the fewest matches since moving to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain in 2001.
In fact, there are parallels to be drawn from the acrimonious parting of ways at PSG too. Luis Fernandez, then manager at PSG, claimed that Ronaldinho was too focused on the Parisian nightlife rather than on his football, and complained that his holidays in Brazil would always drag on and never end at the scheduled times.
Ronaldinho developed a reputation for brilliant performances against the bigger teams, but did not pull his weight against smaller teams. PSG eventually ended their relationship with a talented but ill-disciplined player who casued much unhappiness in the dressing room.
Not that there wasn’t any suitors lining up. Manchester United and Barcelona were hot on the heels of this effervescent midfielder. Laporta finally fought off the advances of Manchester United and bought the 2002 World Cup winner for 30 million dollars. It was one of his most successful signings as the Brazilian’s toothy grin and mesmerizing skills immediately won over the Camp Nou faithful.
A golden era of entertaining football descended at Barcelona with Ronaldinho’s dazzling dribbles and visionary assists. Indeed, he even managed to earn a standing ovation at Santiago Bernabeu after scoring a brace in a 3-0 victory over Real Madrid during the team’s second title run.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Ronaldinho’s indiscipline flared up at the peak of his career. His decline began in the 2006 World Cup when Brazil lost to France in the quarter-finals. Some critics put forth reasons of poor conditioning and sloppy play but almost all agree that Ronaldinho, whom much expectations have been heaped after a successful campaign with Barcelona, was an abysmal failure throughout the tournament.
It seems that sex, video games and even complacency are to blame. The star midfielder reportedly sneaked out of his hotel room to have late night romps with his girlfriend, model Alexandra Paressant, after which he would collapse and play the video game FIFA 2006 until the wee hours of the morning. Paressant refuses to accept any blame but because of her French nationality, rumors of a conspiracy abounds.
From the heights of adulation to the much vilified scrum, Ronaldinho’s confidence on the pitch went into the gutters and he was never the same player again. Upon his return to Barcelona, his dip in form reflected on the club’s fortune. Barcelona began to lose ground in the challenge for titles while Real Madrid began a mini renaissance under Fabio Capello.
Anyway, all these is water under the bridge now. Based on the adage that “class is permanent,” and Ronaldinho did not win illustrious awards such as two FIFA World Player of the Year, European Footballer of the Year and FIFPro World Player of the Year by luck, he deserves a fair chance to show his commitment again. At AC Milan, he may just find the right environment and manager to bring out his best.
By the way, AC Milan have also signed defender Gianluca Zambrotta from Barcelona, midfielder Mathieu Flamini from Arsenal and regained forward Marco Borriello, who scored 19 goals (third among Serie A scoring leaders) while on loan to Genoa last season.
With a good mix of skill, experience and youth in his team, Carlo Ancelotti will be hard pressed to find any excuses for a empty trophy cabinet again.