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Feb 4, 2013

Ronaldinho: Neymar destined for the top

Ronaldinho has said his biggest regret is the limited playing time he had alongside Lionel Messi - but he believes Brazil team-mate Neymar will soon eclipse the Barcelona star as the world's finest player.

• Brazil name squad to face England

Ronaldinho, the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005, played for Barcelona from 2003 to 2008 before departing for AC Milan. By that stage, Messi - who made his Blaugrana debut in October 2004 - had overtaken Ronaldinho as the club's star player, and new coach Pep Guardiola opted to offload the Brazilian.

Asked in an interview with the Daily Mail whether he regretted not playing in England during his career, the 32-year-old replied: "No, because I have played for some of the biggest teams in the world and won everything. The only regret is not playing more seasons with Lionel Messi.

"He is my good friend. I could see even at a young age he was going to be the best. It was exciting to see this kid who could do things most players can only dream of."

Ronaldinho suggests Messi may now have eclipsed even Pele and Diego Maradona, but he feels Neymar, who turns 21 on Tuesday, will overtake him before too long.

"Messi for the last three or four years has been the best player in the world - he has been at a level of consistency I don't think the world has seen before," he said. "Neymar is young, though, and I can't explain how special he will become. In the next two or three seasons he will become the best player."

Ronaldinho, who is set to play alongside Neymar for Brazil in a friendly against England on Wednesday, is expecting a tough battle at Wembley.

"The [English] game is far more physical," he said. "I have played against some great players in England - but also the mentality is that we don't mind kicking you as well."

He will at least be able to avoid an encounter with the former England defender John Terry, whom he names as one of the fiercest players he has faced.

"The toughest opponents for me are the defenders who are tough in the way they play - where you can't see a way through. Paolo Maldini and John Terry are two of the toughest men I have met on the field."

Despite his reservations about the English game, Ronaldinho said he would welcome both Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole into the Brazil squad.

"Rooney is a player I like - there is not a national squad in the world he would not improve," he said. "Ashley Cole is a fantastic defender. I have seen him keep the best players in the world quiet."

He added that the duo, alongside Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard, "would have got into any team in the world" at the peak of their careers.

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