Ronaldinho's 'what ifs' are irrelevant, just celebrate one of the greatest ever
If you love football, or even just possess a passing interest in it, you adore Ronaldinho. Upon his retirement, there has been a tendency to lament his career as a mix of "what ifs" but such a solemn reaction doesn't do justice to the greatest player of his generation. Don't be sad it's over, smile because it happened.
For many 20-to-early-30 somethings, Ronaldinho was the original go-to guy on YouTube, a mesmerising mix of outrageous tricks, flicks and goals interspersed with the now-familiar trashy dance track that he seemed to dance along to. But his appeal is not exclusive to such a small sample: the way he played the game has cemented his legacy and ensured a lasting love from six to 60-year-olds.
The first ever YouTube video to reach one million views starred our man. In classrooms and offices across the planet, the same conversation would take place:
"Have you seen Ronaldinho hit the bar three times in a row?"
"No! No way! Is it real?"
"Yeah it's got to be ... it's Ronaldinho?"
Which is why so many love him: the endless possibilities. Just the idea something as otherworldly as volleying a football three times in a row against a crossbar and controlling it each time seemed within Ronaldinho's capability is testament to what he was. Nobody matched him for his array of skills or the way he played with infectious abandon. He was, at times, untouchable. Any old chump can look half-decent on that website these days; even Gabriel Obertan looked good with a bit of nifty editing and your typical | Sporting | Goals, Skills, Assists |1080i HD headline. But Ronaldinho was the original master.
Twitter can be a cesspit of doom at times but it was the place to be when Ronaldinho's brother confirmed the news on Tuesday, with fans of all ages rushing to post their favourite clip. This one featured frequently and everyone knows where they were when this surfaced for the first time. If you say you haven't replayed that more than 50 times in your life, you are a liar. And then there's this, at 4m 38s, comfortably the greatest goal never scored in history.
It's rather twee to eulogise about players who "play with a smile on their face" but in Ronaldinho's case it was literally true. He'd jiggle, swagger and slide past three players, reducing them to a befuddled mix of inferior limbs, all the while grinning from ear to ear as his latest masterpiece took shape. The roll call of those to fall under his spell really is a who's who of football icons and heroes: Messi, Zidane, Pirlo, Scholes, Gerrard, Nesta, Ramos ... just 11 minutes of a man having a damn good time and everyone (save for his victims) loving him for it.
It was easy to fall for him -- just ask Sergio Ramos, quite literally -- and Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu in November 2005 featured a man at the peak of his powers, orchestrating a 3-0 win in El Clasico and being applauded off by the home crowd. It was an extraordinary scene, partisanship tossed aside to celebrate a genius who had ripped their team to shreds. When you're in the presence of greatness, you appreciate it.
Of course, if the world was perfect we would have witnessed the Ronaldinho show longer than for the three or four seasons he burned his brightest and his one Ballon d'Or nowhere near underlines his talent. Past his peak at 26 when in reality he should have been reaching it, his latter years fizzled out a little, but what's the point in cursing his decline when his highs were so dizzying, so absorbing and provocative? For heaven's sake, he even made a toe poke look sexy.
You'd watch him flip-flap another sub-standard being on to their backside and immediately want to grab a football and try and do it yourself. You'd fail, obviously, but Ronaldinho made you try, made you play football and dream. That's what the bonafide greats do. Who cares if he liked nightclubs? We do too. Sharing the same thing is probably about as close to him as we'll ever get, so just run with it. Even when he was in decline in 2011, a hat trick in Flamengo's remarkable 5-4 win over Santos in the Campeonato Brasileiro -- upstaging Neymar, even after this Puskas winner -- proof enough that class is permanent.
Jan Olsson knew a thing or two about what it was like to be befuddled by Barcelona's finest. Humiliated by Johan Cruyff at the 1974 World Cup when the Cruyff Turn was born, in wonderful self-deprecating style he later claimed not to be embarrassed by it at all; rather that he was glad to have been on the same pitch as him. It was the proudest moment of his career, he said.
Anyone who met Ronaldinho on the pitch, from the litany of his nutmeg victims to those still untwisting their limbs after having the temerity to think they could stop him, would sympathise with Olsson.
So, just like the man himself, don't burden yourself with what ifs and why nots, intoxicate yourself with his beauty, dig a football out and dare to dream. It's the best way to remember the most naturally skilful and entertaining player of all time.
Alex Shaw is General Editor at ESPN FC. Follow on Twitter: @AlexShawESPN.