Ronaldinho struggling to make an impact with Queretaro, Liga MX
One commentator on Mexican TV during Queretaro's 1-1 tie with Veracruz on Friday night described Ronaldinho as "a broken washing machine." It was a little harsh, but the point he was trying to make was valid.
The Brazilian superstar may still have some nice touches here and there, but he shone on Friday exactly because of how little he ran. At times, you wondered whether he was actually trying. Now, Ronaldinho has never been the exemplar of carrying out a high press or anything of the sort -- partly why Pep Guardiola got rid as soon as he took over at Barcelona -- but his lack of movement on Friday was mesmerizing.
Ronaldinho's heat map of touches showed almost all were located in the center of the pitch between the halfway line and the penalty area. The 34-year-old rarely ventured outside of his position as a center-forward and although he did put in the corner from which Queretaro equalized late on, the game largely passed him by. This was especially true in the first half; it took the Brazilian legend 12 full minutes before he completed his first pass. Indeed, he had only 40 touches in total during the game, sixth-most on the team.
He won't even do running in training, according to Queretaro's fitness coach.
After his first Liga MX start for Queretaro since Nov. 22, the general delight at having a player of Ronaldinho's stardom in Mexico is gradually wearing thin.
Ahead of the Clausura 2015, Ronaldinho came in for his own special preseason on Jan. 6, just three days before the first game of the new campaign and almost a month after the other players started their preseason. The club said he had "personal problems" to resolve, but it didn't sit well with fans when he posted a photo on social networks suggesting that he had found ways to divert his mind from the problems.
Perhaps the warning came when he said in his introductory news conference in September that he "has always lived in the same way" and won a championship with every team he's been at, which isn't actually true. Time and lifestyle choices appear to be catching up with Ronaldinho, who now has a smattering of gray hairs in his beard.
What Ronaldinho has left in Mexico so far are plenty of Vine-tastic moments, or flashes of skill or personality that continue to make him so popular. Last Tuesday in the Copa MX, he showed some of his old magic, there was a free kick special last season against Atlas, and in at least two different matches fans have invaded the pitch to ask for his autograph.
And stadiums (like on Friday in Veracruz) have filled to see the Brazilian, with Ronaldinho-mania still on display, especially in more provincial Mexican towns.
But there has been a lack of punch so far for Ronaldinho on the field. He simply hasn't been a difference-maker for Gallos Blancos. If anything, Queretaro has actually got worse since he joined in September last year. Gone is coach "Nacho" Ambriz's well-drilled and hard-working side, making way for one in which Ronaldinho is the central focus. That is all well and good on paper, but he has so far failed to click with teammates, and the identity Ambriz had installed seems to have disappeared.
Opposition teams are also desperate to get one over on Ronaldinho's side, who doesn't seem set up to cater to his immobility. "Ronaldinho, from euphoria to had enough?" was one recent headline in Mexico regarding the player, summing up neatly the mood surrounding the star at present.
Ronaldinho may have shone playing beach futvoley in Mexican TV commercials and is still selling tickets, but has not added anything of substance to Queretaro so far where it really counts.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.