By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One of the finest playmakers of the last two decades, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, looks set to leave domestic Brazilian football after a three and a half year stay. The 34-year-old No. 10 parted ways amicably with Belo Horizonte club Atlético-MG last week, and quickly confirmed he is searching for a new club.
His brother and agent Roberto Assis has claimed there are several offers on the table for the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year winner. Turkish club Besiktas, Major League Soccer (MLS) club New York Red Bulls, and clubs in Qatar and China have all been mooted as possible destinations for the former Barcelona craque.
Offers, meanwhile, from Brazilian clubs are thin on the ground. Rio de Janeiro side Fluminense were linked with the attacking midfielder, but Unimed president Celso Barros – Flu’s main sponsor – quickly moved to deny speculation linking the Laranjeiras outfit with Ronaldinho. Which likely means that once again the veteran will be playing his football abroad.
Having come through the ranks at Porto Alegre club Grêmio Ronaldinho left for France and Paris Saint-Germain in 2001. In Europe he enjoyed huge success, both at club level and on the international stage. He won the 2002 World Cup with the Seleção Brasileira and was twice voted best player on the planet whilst at Barcelona.
Yet he found himself cast aside by new Barça coach Pep Guardiola in 2008, and, at 28 years of age, Ronaldinho moved to Italian giants AC Milan. Only managing to show glimpses of his former glory at the San Siro, he transferred to Rio and Brazil’s biggest club, Flamengo, in January 2011.
The move made headlines across Brazil. Having originally been thought he would switch back to boyhood club Grêmio, Assis was instrumental in securing the transfer to the Carioca club on wages that were in excess of R$1,000,000 per month.
The marriage between Ronaldinho and Flamengo was not a long lasting happy one however. Less than eighteen months after arriving, and with just a Campeonato Carioca title to his name, he made the surpising move to Minas Gerias and Atlético-MG. There, under the guidance of coach Cuca, Ronaldinho and Atlético won the most important title in South American football, the Copa Libertadores.
Now, at 34 and what will in all likelihood be the final move if his career, Ronaldinho is once again listening to suitors. Brazilian sports writer Lucas Sposito spoke exclusively to The Rio Times about Ronaldinho’s time back in Brazil and what the future may possibly hold for him.
“Ronaldinho gave up playing high level football when he left Milan. Even his time at Atlético didn’t rank amongst the best performances of his career. […] But even so, he won the most important title in the club’s history [the Copa Libertadores] and left Atlético as a legend. What next? I imagine he wants a place with good money and no pressure, but somewhere where he can have fun. I see the MLS as the perfect place for him at the moment.”
Several reports in the Brazilian press have indeed linked Ronaldinho with a move to the U.S. and in particular New York. But as the country is still riding high on the wave of positivity caused by their excellent run during the recent FIFA World Cup, it is unlikely Ronaldinho will be allowed to coast in a pressure-free environment.