Ailing Ronaldinho searching for cure
Ronaldinho's brother and agent Roberto de Assis insists that his recent trips to England and Italy have absolutely nothing to do with orchestrating his sibling's departure from Barcelona. In fact it is perfectly 'usual' for him to travel and discuss personal matters with various parties.
Odd then that Assis visited the very clubs that his increasingly unhappy client has been hotly tipped to join.
The former World Player of the Year has become a controversial figure at the Camp Nou, after suffering a dramatic fall from grace that has seen him banished from the first eleven, and the buck-toothed Brazilian seems destined to escape to either AC Milan or Manchester City in the summer.
Yes, Manchester City.
The Citizens' owner Thaksin Shinawatra has made an audacious bid for Ronaldinho and before you start to titter at the thought of the 2002 World Cup winner joining a team that is struggling to finish in the top half of the Premiership, the word from Spain is that it is a serious possibility.
The 28-year-old has apparently been seen clutching a copy of Manchester City's new blueprint for success; a plan that involves constructing a team around the one-time PSG star during the transfer window.
With self-confidence at a low ebb it is thought that the Grêmio graduate is eager to join a team at which he will once again be the big fish, rather than part of an impressive shoal, to provide a much needed ego boost at the very least. Manchester City fits the bill and a €20million pay check might help smooth the way.
AC Milan will have their say, of course, and have some rebuilding of their own to do in the summer after struggling in Serie A and suffering an usually early exit from the Champions League at the hands of Arsenal. The Rossoneri's aging team currently occupy fifth place in the league, four points behind Fiorentina, and are set to miss out on Champions League football next season
Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti is expected to get the axe and chairman Silvio Berlusconi wants to lure Ronaldinho to the San Siro to form a Brazilian trio, with starlet Alexander Pato and FIFA World Player of the Year Kaka - although there is some debate as to how they would co-exist.
Media mogul Berlusconi has launched a charm offensive through the press and the former Italian Prime Minister makes it sound like the deal is just a mere trifle away from being completed. 'Ronaldinho would gladly join us, not least because there are many Brazilian team-mates here waiting for him and he knows at Milan we treat everyone very well,' he said.
The latter part of that statement is an obvious swipe at the way Berlusconi perceives Barça have treated Ronaldinho: alluding to an alleged smear campaign in Spain that president Joan Laporta vigorously denies.
Although manager Frank Rijkard has always insisted that he has no grievance with the 28-year-old, Ronaldinho continues to sit on the sidelines and the Spanish press has been full of rumours of late night partying by the 'overweight' forward.
In March, with Ronaldinho still out of the first team, Barcelona controversially publicised a medical report that contradicted the playmaker's claim that he was struggling with an injury. The report concluded that Ronaldinho was suffering from no visible tendon or muscle damage.
Catalan conspiracy theorists were quick to point their fingers in the direction of Laporta, who, they claim, had somehow influenced the content of the medical assessment. The Barça president was equally quick to describe his accusers as having 'twisted minds'. Adding that it was quite possible for Ronaldinho to feel discomfort without a serious injury appearing in a scan.
The botched PR job gave a glimpse that something sinister was simmering under the surface at Barcelona and it bubbled over again on Wednesday when the president of Barcelona's economic commission, Xavier Sala Martin, said the club had indeed used injuries as a way of camouflaging disciplinary action against certain players.
Martin was speedily contradicted by Rijkard and sporting director Txiki Begiristain insisted there was medical evidence to prove Ronaldinho and Deco were, and are, indeed injured - evidence that has remained unpublished this time around.
Injured or not, it certainly appears that Ronaldinho, whose last game for Barcelona was the 2-1 defeat against Villarreal on March 9th, has pulled on the famous No.10 shirt for the last time. The Brazilian has fallen from Champions League conquering hero to villain. He has become the scapegoat for all that is perceived to be wrong at the Catalan club.
Barça languish seven points behind leaders Real Madrid in La Liga and the fans have launched a white-hankie protest to call for the head of either Laporta or Rijkaard. Some of the more disgruntled supporters have even started turning up at training to tell the players just how lazy they think they are.
Ronaldinho seems to be bearing the brunt of the bad press and if his brother is not yet looking for a new club for his client, as he insists, he better start doing so immediately.
• If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.