Barcelona Ex-teammates tell all
His magic created pure nostalgia at the Camp Nou and Ronaldinho was simply one of the best players in recent footballing history, as the images of the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in 2005 prove, giving him a standing ovation as he dominated a Clasico.
With two LaLiga Santander titles and another from Serie A, alongside a Champions League, two Supercopa de Espana trophies, a World Cup, a Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year twice, his trophy cabinet is impressive.
“He turned the club around, he helped to recover our self-esteem which was low,” said Pep Guardiola, reflecting on Ronaldinho’s arrival at Barcelona in 2003.
“He was one of the pioneers of enjoying football,” said Luis Enrique.
“There are so many stories about him that I will never forget, he’s the best player that I’ve seen play without wanting to compare, what I’ve seen him do only he can do,” said Bojan Krkic.
“I always said that the player I best understood was Aimar, but Ronaldinho was the one who most surprised me, you didn’t know what he would do, a sombrero, play with his back to you, turn, I’d never played with someone so unpredictable.”
Another player who remembered his skills was Luis Garcia.
“Whether he looked at me or not, the ball always came to my feet, he’s undoubtedly the most spectacular player I shared a changing room with,” Garcia said.
“He’s the best I’ve seen on a pitch because he was able to do everything you could imagine him doing, physically he was strong, technically the best you can imagine,” added Santi Ezquerro.
“His joy was contagious and his optimism in his way of being and way of playing, he was unique and different and it spread through the team and all Cules,” explained Andres Iniesta.
“One of my stories I remember is the surprise when he came out of the shower doing keep yuppy without a towel or anything, without drying himself, he was doing skill to the music naked and we were crying with laughter,” remembers Gerard Lopez.
“In the typical games of three against three it was impossible to take the ball of him, if you gave him the ball, your team would win 100 percent,” said Joan Verdu.
“We did races and he would stay 30 metres behind, it seemed like he was dead and had spent three nights without sleeping, but then he’d wake up and go past us all like a fly,” Sergio Santamaria recalls.
“I remember fans watching training over the wall and they were in shock at what he was doing,” said Orial Riera.
With youngsters, Ronaldinho had a special treatment as he always kept an eye out for the talents coming through.
“I was with the youth team, they called me to train alone with him because he was suspended for some reason, he told me he’d score five freekicks out of 10 and I said no, three, and he did it, it was spectacular,” goalkeeper Ruben Mino says.
“In a game against Sevilla, he said to me ‘if you have any problem, give it to me and I’ll sort it’,” Santamaria added.
One player was so in awe, he tried to replicate his look.
“When I went to Barcelona I grew my hair long like him, when he realised he said ‘You look like me!’ and my dad took a photo of us,” Jeffren Suarez jokes as he remembers.
“Ronaldinho was happy being on the pitch, training and having the ball at his feet, others didn’t smile like that, but enjoying and being happy is what he does, the key to being successful.”
“Being number one today doesn’t oblige you to be number one tomorrow, from outside it seems beautiful, but not all athletes feel comfortable,” explains sports psychologist Lorena Cos.
“Being there has a series of demands that not everyone is able to offer and not everyone is prepared for.
“Many say that he was a shooting star, and when he was there he shone brightly, but Ronaldinho didn’t want to be the best, although that didn’t make him lose his magic.”