Ronaldo de Assis Moreira was the world’s best football player in the 2000s. Before Lionel Messi, Cristian Ronaldo, Neymar, or Kylian Mbappe, Ronaldinho was the player every child wanted to emulate. From his football headband to his first touch to dribbling, kids wanted to be just like Ronny. Ronaldinho had mesmerising skills, lightning speed, and a creative side that few other players possessed. The Brazilian developed his close control and fantastic skills by playing futsal as a child. The small-sided football game akin to five-a-side helped Ronaldinho from an early age. The ball control and skills learned on the futsal course would translate over to the full-sided game as Ronaldinho got older, wowing fans along the way.
Ronaldinho started his professional football career in 1998. At just 18-years old, the youngster broke into the Gremio senior team after excelling in the youth squad. Ronaldinho scored eight goals during his rookie season. It was a great return for the teenager, but more was to come from the football headband wearing Brazilian. Ronaldinho tallied 23 goals in 48 games in 1999 and in 2000, he scored an unbelievable 41 in 49 matches. The youngster was another exceptional Brazilian No. 10. However, he was still a relative unknown.
Long before Paris Saint-Germain was fuelled by Qatari oil money and football transfers reached nine figures, Ronaldinho signed for the French club for £4.5 million. Alongside the likes of Jay-Jay Ochoa and Nicolas Anelka, Ronaldinho showed the rest of Europe what they had missed out on. The Brazilian helped PSG win the Intertoto Cup in 2001 and scored 13 goals in his first year at the club.
The long haired, football headband wearing No. 10 was growing in stature, but it was the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea that made him a household name. Ronaldinho led a star-studded Brazil to the World Cup trophy thanks to two goals and two assists. His most memorable moment came against England. Ronaldinho’s looping free-kick from 35-yards out is still remembered by fans for its brilliance.
The goal was the catalyst for the flamboyant midfielder’s boom in popularity. In 2003, Barcelona paid £27m for Ronaldinho’s signature and for the next four years, the Brazilian was unplayable. It was during Ronaldinho’s time at Camp Nou that he became synonymous with the football headband. From thin headbands to hold his long hair back to thick football headbands that covered much of his head, Ronaldinho became known for his headwear.
Barcelona won two La Liga titles and two Supercopa de Espana with Ronaldinho in the team. His crowning moment came in 2006 when he led Barcelona to a Champions League Final win over Arsenal. Five months earlier, the headband wearing footballer was honoured with the Ballon d’Or trophy as the world’s best football player.
In 2008, Ronaldinho joined Italy's AC Milan. His influence at Camp Nou had declined as Argentine Messi joined the first-team. He spent just two and a half seasons at the San Siro. It was a time of regression for Ronaldinho as off the pitch forces took away his on-field presence. Regardless, he was still seen as one of the world’s greatest players and he returned to Brazil in in January 2011 to continue his career.
Back in South America, he won trophies with Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro. Most impressively, Ronaldinho led Atletico to the Copa Libertadores trophy in 2013 scoring four goals in 14 games in the tournament. In 2015, the football headband wearing player joined Brazil’s Fluminense on an 18-month contract. However, feeling his body had given enough to football or seeing that he didn’t have the skills he once possessed, Ronaldinho asked for his release. In 2018, the great Brazilian officially retired from the game.
Ronaldinho will long be remembered for his mazy, powerful runs. Before Messi and Ronaldo were household names thanks to their fantastic play, Ronaldinho was the world’s best.
By Drew Farmer