That famous buck-tooth grin will soon be a thing of memory to fans of both Milan and Serie A. The white boots with his name glamorously printed on the side. The spectacular tricks and flicks that few players in world football can equal. It’s all coming to an end for Ronaldinho, who is edging closer to a return home to Brazil to end his career away from the spotlight.
Admittedly, the current Ronaldinho is not the same player who won the World Player of the Year and Ballon d’Or in 2005, and earned a standing ovation from the Real Madrid supporters when he tore them apart during his Barcelona days. Nevertheless, he has remained an iconic figure during his time with Milan, not necessarily for his performances, but for the entertainment factor that comes every time he steps onto a football pitch.
The player’s trademark smile hasn’t achieved such fame purely on his two front teeth. It is because it symbolises a love for the game that is almost unique. Win or lose, rain or shine, that smile constantly occupies Ronaldinho’s face as he plays the beautiful game. At his best, watching the Brazilian can be like going to the theatre rather than a football match.
The Milan playmaker has always been an entertainer as much as he is a footballer, and although his career has declined this remains the case. He is a player that can seldom be confined by tactics and formations, and thus in the rigid world of Italian football, illuminating each match he plays, even when he doesn’t play well.
Unfortunately, that permanent grin has been more visible in Milanese nightclubs than at San Siro this season. He has slipped down the pecking order in Massimiliano Allegri’s team, and the correlation between the lack of playing time and alleged increase in partying has been alarming. It has ultimately hastened his downfall in European football.
The No 80, who has been with the Rossoneri for two and a half years, is reportedly set to return to boyhood club Gremio (although yet to be confirmed), the team he first broke on to the professional circuit with over a decade ago. His spell in European football brought numerous accolades, with highlights alongside his individual player awards including two La Liga titles and a European Cup triumph with Barcelona. The anticipated homecoming sees the forward return to a more relaxed climate for the final chapter in his player career, where perhaps he can continue to enjoy the game as only he knows how to.
And no matter where your allegiances lie in Serie A, Ronaldinho will be missed. He is a fans’ favourite in every stadium and few supporters could claim to dislike such a loveable character. But as with every story, it must come to an end, and Ronaldinho’s does so in the next few days, at the age of 30.
He won’t be forgotten easily, and his name will continue to be associated amongst the very best players in the world for some time to come. But as his shadow fades into the distance where Brazilian football waits for him, we are left with countless highlight reels to remind us of the entertainment that Ronaldinho once gave us.