If you watched soccer in the 2000s and early 2010s, there was one name that signified creativity, flair, and always left you scratching your head with a move that would blow an opponent out of his socks. That name was Ronaldinho. Ronaldinho, a product of Porto Alegre, Brazil, grew up to become one of the most skilled players of all time, using creative footwork and freestyle skills to blast past a defender and score.
Ronaldinho Gaúcho debuted professionally for Grêmio as a teenager, moving to Paris Saint-Germain at the age of 20. He was there for 2 seasons before he made a huge move to Barcelona, where he became arguably the best player in the world. At one point, he played so well in an El Clásico match against Real Madrid on the road at the Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid fans gave him a standing ovation.
Ronaldinho was a bonafide star for the Brazilian national team for 15 years. As one of the main centerpieces of Brazil’s style of play, nicknamed “Joga Bonito,” his agility, dribbling, pace, set piece accuracy, and ability to use tricks and no-look passes to destroy an opposing defense made him lovable the world over.
He got his skills from his love of futsal. He played the game a lot growing up and was a national superstar at an early age. It’s that experience on the cramped futsal courts that emphasized superior technical ability as well as creativity and the use of tricks that he took to the open green field, where he had space to work and leave opposing players looking foolish. He was one of the players that made the elastico popular, a move that he learned by watching video of his idol, Brazilian star Rivelino. He made use of the move so much, parts of Africa call the move “The Gaúcho.”
If you thought Ronaldinho was just a guy that could do tricks on the field, think again. He has a list of accolades as long as his highlight reels. He scored 33 goals in 97 appearances for Brazil. He bagged 280 goals in his club career for Grêmio, PSG, Barcelona, AC Milan, Flamengo, Atlético Mineiro, Querétaro, and Fluminense. He’s won a World Cup, a Copa América, a Confederations Cup, an Olympic bronze medal, 2 La Liga titles, 2 Spanish Super Cup championships, a Serie A title, a Copa Libertadores championship, and a Champions League title. He won the Golden Ball and Golden Shoe at the 1999 Confederations Cup, the Bronze Ball at the 2005 Confederations Cup, a Ballon d’Or, 2-time FIFA World Player of the Year and 2-time FIFPro World Player of the Year. He’s made several world XI, and fellow countryman Pelé named him to the FIFA 100, naming him one of the best 100 players in the history of the sport.
Ronaldinho was easily one of the greatest players you will ever see in your lifetime. He’s the ultimate playmaker who was a human highlight reel, a walking soccer mixtape. He played like kids do, but he did it with the creativity of a thousand men. He turns 40 next month, but though he retired officially in 2016, he gave the world a plethora of moments that will live forever.
For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.