Ronaldinho: It's win or bust for me now
As the last World Cup season kicked into gear back in 2005, Ronaldinho was universally regarded as the finest player on the planet.
Consistent genius is not a quality too many have perfected over the years, yet the 'goofy one' seemed capable of producing just that as he sparked up stages aplenty with Barcelona and Brazil and targeted glory in a World Cup finals that could have confirmed his legendary status.
As it turned out, the 2006 jamboree in Germany proved to be a tournament to forget for Ronaldinho and Brazil as both the star man and his celebrated team failed to live up to their billing in alarming fashion. A quarter-final exit at the hands of France was all too predictable after some poor displays in the group stages and 'Ronnie's' fall from hero to zero was a rapid one.
Just a few weeks after winning the Champions League with Barcelona, his star was on the wane as the next season got underway and he has never fully rehabilitated himself on the world stage in the years that have followed.
Now 29, he should be at the peak of his powers, yet it is as if his glory days seem long gone. After being eased out of Barcelona in 2008, Ronaldinho's move to AC Milan was designed to reinvigorate his career and yet he has rarely looked like the player who was feared by all in his new Rossoneri colours.
Substituted in the harrowing 4-0 defeat against local rivals Inter in his last Serie A outing, he is in need of a starring performance as Milan take on Livorno this Saturday.
"I realise that I don't have the right to fail this season," begins Ronaldinho. "It really is win or bust for me from now on. I had such high hopes after arriving at Milan and was devastated I could only partially show everybody what I'm capable of.
"Now I have got a second chance to make a great impact here and I'm hoping to turn the negative feelings I had into one big positive. I'm 150% ready to show everyone in Italy the real Ronaldinho. I'm burning to give the Milan fans the trophies they crave, as well as a lot of spectacle and entertainment. Every player at Milan is expected to find that little bit extra to get the club back on the right path as we need to be winning every season.
"That is especially true now that we are without Kaka and his departure leaves me feeling as if I have a lot of new responsibilities. We've lost a world-beater and a standard-bearer of the club, but now we have to go forward. If the fans stick with us, we can deliver in both in Serie A and the Champions League and it is up to me and the other senior players to lead the way and inspire those around us."
Ronaldinho's positive vibes need to be backed up with performances and the early signs are not good for a Kaka-less Milan this season. New coach Leonardo is already under pressure and the senior players in his squad need to fuse together quickly to create a competitive unit as Serie A swings back into gear after the international break.
"It has become a trend to say Milan are in crisis," continues Ronaldinho. "When I look at all the champions we have in this squad, I don't feel desolate and we can bounce back from our disappointments. I have never been one for half-hearted ambition. We have the ability to beat Inter, Juventus and the rest to the Serie A title and simply have to believe it.
"The journalists may not consider Milan to be serious contenders anymore, so it's up to us to prove them wrong. This lack of respect will spur us on and one big difference compared to last season is that we are all fit now.
"The Gods were not in our corner last season because the injuries we suffered were beyond belief, totally crazy. When you lose key guys like [Alessandro] Nesta, [Gennaro] Gattuso and [Andrea] Pirlo for long periods, there are bound to be bad consequences. We were fighting with only half our weapons, so hopefully we'll be playing to another script this season.
"Also, we are all fully behind our coach and want to help him to succeed at Milan. Leo is a very intelligent guy. Of course, as a Brazilian he has a romantic approach to the game, but at the same time, he has absorbed a lot of ideas from European football. He's a clever organiser and knows how to communicate with top players."
A return to form for Ronaldinho may be the quickest way for Leonardo and Milan to answer their critics and the man who wears the No.80 shirt insists his motivation is as high as ever as he enters another World Cup season.
"I started last season on cloud nine and felt as if I was getting my old sensations back," he concludes. "I was enjoying myself again and when I scored the winner in the derby against Inter, I felt as one with the fans.
"Then it did not progress. I had a leg muscle injury and in the second half of the season the coach (Carlo Ancelotti) didn't want to use me. He thought the team had a better balance without me. Naturally I didn't agree and I tried to show in training that I still had a lot to offer the team. It had no effect as I don't think I was Ancelotti's type of player.
"Now I want to prove I can be as good as before. I very much appreciate that the club owner Silvio Berlusconi and Leonardo have faith in me. It's great to have their backing and it's also fantastic that my team-mates are close to me. They want me to succeed and I always perform at my best when I'm completely at ease in my surroundings. That's the way it is for me in Milan today.
"I'm determined to prove that Ronaldinho did not die when he left Barcelona. I'm still only 29 and far from at the end of the line. I have plenty more goals to aim for, both collectively with Milan and individually."
They may be the words of a player trying to convince himself that his revival is imminent, but those who have watched Ronaldinho in action over the last couple of years can only come to the conclusion that he is a player in terminal decline.