Mixed results from Ronaldinho experiment at Queretaro
Liga MX doesn't really go down the road of buying aging foreign stars to help its global profile. Sure, the likes of Pep Guardiola, Eusebio and Bebeto all had stints in the country at the tail end of their careers, but when Ronaldinho showed up in Queretaro last September, it was a shock that made people sit up and take notice of the league.
Fast forward nine months to the announcement on Saturday that Ronaldinho's contract had been terminated by mutual consent, and one can actually sum up his time in Mexico quite simply.
Off the field, the 35-year-old Ronaldinho was a success for Liga MX and Queretaro. The player brought fans to stadiums, got the city of Queretaro buzzing and put Gallos Blancos -- a club that is still to win a league title -- on the footballing map in a way that it never had been.
"The topic of Ronaldinho in terms of marketing has been important not only for Gallos (Blancos), but also for the Mexican league," said Queretaro president Arturo Villanueva back in March. "Thanks to him, we got our first international games, we're in the majority of newspapers and Queretaro has been talked about more in this past year."
Where the doubts have come over the wisdom of signing Ronaldinho has been on the field, even if Queretaro did make its first ever Liga MX final last month. It would be unfair to say he was a disaster or is suddenly a bad player, but the question hanging over him now is just how much he has to give and at what level. In Liga MX, he didn't make a difference regularly enough on the field, even if the expectations are often unrealistic, considering his age.
The most damning and stinging criticism came from the Victor Manuel Vucetich, who came in as Queretaro coach on Feb. 23. The veteran manager started the World Cup winner in just seven of the 16 leagues games he was in charge and Ronaldinho only completed one full 90 minutes under Vucetich.
The coach also didn't hold back when asked his opinion on whether Ronaldinho would be staying at Queretaro earlier this month: "We need players that contribute in all aspects. Mexican soccer needs people that are on the up, not on the slide and that is very important for the league."
It seems a fair point. Queretaro often looked better off without Ronaldinho in the team and it must've been a difficult balance between putting a player on that the fans want to see and actually getting results. The former Barcelona player runs very little, needs the ball played into his feet and expects others to cover his defensive responsibilities.
Ronaldinho's frustration -- perhaps at his own lack of impact -- boiled over when he taken off before halftime in Queretaro's 2-0 loss to Pachuca in the Clausura semifinal first leg; the furious Brazilian simply left the stadium left the stadium during the second half and didn't return.
It wasn't the only indiscipline. Ronaldinho turned up late for preseason and was threatened with the sack back in December, while the stories of partying and excess that have tailed him throughout his career also followed him to Mexico.
But his teammates seemed to like him, fans in Mexico loved him and there was one truly memorable occasion when he netted two goals against Club America and received a standing ovation from the home fans at the Estadio Azteca.
Even in his last game for the club in the Estadio Corregidora, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the stadium as he charged onto the pitch in the 60th minute in the Liga MX Clausura 2015 final second leg with the team needing two goals. And he almost scored a cheeky goal that gave a reminder of the creativity that has marked his brilliant career over the years.
But the time is undoubtedly right for Ronaldinho to move on. His stay in Mexico wasn't as successful as the club, league or player would've liked, but it was fun while it lasted.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.