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Jan 11, 2011

Ronaldinho's eyes firmly on 2014

For all of the problems on and off the pitch in Ronaldinho's career over the past few years, none has had more of an impact on his future than missing out on the 2010 World Cup for Brazil.

The pain of being left behind in the summer was tempered by a recall to the squad for the 1-0 friendly defeat against Argentina at the end of last year, but his decision to return to his homeland to play club football with Flamengo is rooted in his desire to reclaim his place at the centre of the national team.

"This is the start of an important stage in which everyone is looking at the World Cup and I'd like to be here to continue my career in Brazil," he revealed.

No-one can argue that it is the most important stage of his career. At 30, many footballers are considered to be at their peak, a blend of experience and passion pushing them on to greater things. Why, then, does it feel like one of the finest players to have played the game is simply taking the easy way out?

Milan's summer investment in the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robinho and Kevin-Prince Boateng has marginalised Ronaldinho and he has not put up much of a fight when displaced from the team. While he played 34 league games last season, contributing 12 goals and 14 assists to the cause, he has only started seven games in 2010-11 and has looked a shadow of his former self when given a chance to shine. The Rossoneri's capture of Antonio Cassano in January - after his much-publicised falling-out with Sampdoria president Riccardo Garrone - was the final nail in the Brazilian's coffin.

It is no secret that Ronaldinho has struggled to impress since his move to Italy. Consistently underperforming, the Brazilian was not anywhere close to the dazzling superstar who lit up the world as the World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. In truth, he has not shown his top form since his penultimate year at Barcelona and a series of injuries, off-pitch problems and personal distractions have seen him slip out of the select group considered the world's best.

Some may view his decision to head back to Brazil as evidence for this, but a number of players have decided to return home after suffering disappointment in Europe, believing that the Campeonato Brasileiro could reinvigorate their international careers.

Fred (Fluminense), Vagner Love (Flamengo), Diego Tardelli (Atletico Mineiro) all still have ambitions of being in the squad for 2014 after catching the eye of new Brazil coach Mario Menezes, while the 31-year-old Kleberson (Flamengo) has also returned to the fold (albeit making just one substitute appearance in South Africa) after his performances in helping his side to three trophies in 2009.

With 2014 in mind, the desire to pick up titles in his homeland is another key reason for Ronaldinho's return. Of late, there has been a growing trend of former greats who have returned to Brazil as their 'last hurrah' and, even though they are nearing retirement, their will to win is still burning strong.

The likes of Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo (both Corinthians), Deco and Belletti (Fluminense) are all in the twilight of their careers but have been driven by the desire for silverware in an environment where they feel comfortable - and one that is far from the harsh spotlight of European competition.

The fact that so many young Brazilian players leave their homes early in their footballing life to seek fame and fortune in Europe means that, in later life, they still maintain a need to prove themselves in their domestic league. Ronaldinho may embody this as he has claimed that he "didn't get the chance to win many leading titles in Brazil", as he left Gremio for Paris St-Germain in 2001 after winning his only Gaucho state championship with the club in 1999.

Flamengo can certainly offer him the chance to increase his medal tally, but not all have been impressed with the motives behind Ronaldinho's move. Brazilian legend Pele believes it is all about money and that the midfielder has been pitting the big clubs against each other in order to hold out for the biggest payday. Having courted moves to former club Gremio and Corinthians before finally committing to Flamengo, is his move financially motivated?

"It is not acceptable for Brazilian clubs to continue acting in such a manner to buy a player - it is a way of cheapening the game," Pele told Globoesporte. ''Meanwhile, [Ronaldinho] is not going to play because he likes his chosen team, because he loves them, because he wants to show the Brazilian public that he can still play. He will play for whoever gives him the most, and I think that is wrong."

Whatever the real motivation behind Ronaldinho's choice, it is clear that it is the best move for him at this point of his life. Critics will point to his lack of commitment to prove himself at Milan or even at another major European club, but he will benefit from a spell back in his homeland and his homeland will certainly welcome him with open arms.

If he is able to bring himself back to fitness and form for Flamengo, there is no reason he could not bring his considerable experience to the Brazil side in four years' time. Spurred on by this desire, the world will watch with eager eyes for a glimpse of the former great back to somewhere near his best.

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