John Mac Ghlionn

What happened to Ronaldinho?

He never quite lived up to his potential

  • From Spectator Life
(Getty Images)

Cast your minds back to 2005, a time when it was considered cool to record your favourite song to use as a ringtone on your phone, iPod Nanos were everywhere, the Crazy Frog drove every parent in the country crazy, and Ronaldinho was named the best football player on the planet.

A lot has changed in the 18 years since, The Crazy Frog has been permanently silenced, no one (except yours truly) still records songs to use as ringtones, and Ronaldinho has served time in prison. What happened to him, a man who was, for sheer entertainment value, arguably the best football player to ever walk the face of the earth?

When it comes to derailed careers, there appears to be something in the Brazilian water

The Brazilian legend, now 43, once appeared solely on the back page of newspapers. Today, you are more likely to see his name appear on the front pages. Recently the ex-footballer, real name Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, testified at a congressional hearing in his home country, where he denied involvement in an alleged £49 million crypto pyramid scheme that happened to bear his name.

The scheme, titled ‘18kRonaldinho’, promised daily returns on crypto. Unsurprisingly, the returns never materialized, and the whole scheme was found to have been constructed on a foundation of lies. Soon after, a lawsuit was filed against the firm, seeking £49 million in compensation.

An incredulous Ronaldinho claimed that he was never approached by the company, never partnered with the company and that the company used his iconic name and iconic image without his permission. Ronaldinho also claimed that rather than being seen as a culprit, he should be seen as another victim of the purported scam.

The football icon may or may not be guilty of participating in this potentially fraudulent scheme. That is for the court to decide. What is not up for debate, however, is his Icarus-like fall from grace.

Since retiring, his life has been what’s best described as tragicomedy. In July 2019, 18 months after hanging up his boots, 57 properties belonging to the star were seized. His two passports (Brazilian and Spanish) were also confiscated. Accused of unpaid taxes, Ronaldinho and his brother appeared before a judge, where they were ordered to pay sizable fines. After failing to pay, they had their passports suspended.

Then, in March of 2020, Ronaldinho and his brother were back in the news again. This time they were questioned by police in Paraguay. Rather incredibly, Brazil’s answer to Rodney and Del Boy had used fake passports to enter the country. Ronaldinho would end up serving 32 days in Paraguayan prison, and another 4 months under house arrest, albeit in a luxurious hotel. In the space of just a few years, the legend went from playing football in the Nou Camp to playing football in prison

For those who had the joy of watching Ronaldinho in his prime, there is little need to be reminded of just how good he was. Wearing that perpetual toothy grin, the attacking midfielder made a career out of humiliating his opponents. When Ronaldinho took to the pitch, nutmegs and stepovers were mandatory. Messi and Ronaldo aside, since his retirement some years ago, we really haven’t seen any other player come close to rivalling his brilliance, his sheer audacity to take on opponents and leave embarrassed defenders sitting on their derrieres. This is what makes his demise particularly sad, even pathetic.

In truth, Ronaldinho was always a wild one. In 2008, when he was playing for Barcelona and was at the top of his game, Pep Guardiola became boss of the Spanish giants. The first thing he did was place Barca’s best player on the transfer list. Why? Because Ronaldinho lived by a ‘play hard, party harder’ philosophy. With a penchant for late nights, booze, gambling, and loose women, Ronaldinho’s lifestyle did not sit well with Guardiola, best described as a fashion-concious Marcus Aurelius. Moreover, Guardiola supposedly wanted to protect Lionel Messi, who adored Ronaldinho, from the Brazilian’s bad habits. Pep’s decision affected both players in profound ways. Messi’s career flourished and Ronaldinho’s floundered. Although the Brazilian enjoyed success in Italy with AC Milan, where he played alongside greats like David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he never quite recaptured those glorious days in Spain.

When it comes to derailed careers, there appears to be something in the Brazilian water. Along with Ronaldinho, other superstars like Adriano, Deco, Robinho, and Pato have seen promising careers curtained by an inability to control their urges. So much potential. But, for these men, football always seemed to come second to samba, sex, and inordinate amounts of scandal.