Are Flamengo the wrong club in the right place for Ronaldinho?

The former FIFA world footballer of the year is back home. Here, TV Globo’s football commentator Jon Cotterill looks at how cash-strapped Brazilian clubs are bringing back the stars

Ronaldinho Gaúcho’s transfer from AC Milan to Brazil’s biggest club, Flamengo, made the headlines all over the world. The club’s website, already geared up to cater for the estimated 38 million Rubro Negro fans, crashed due to the massive demand for news on the player.

The 30-year-old is following in the footsteps of big names such as Ronaldo, Robinho, Roberto Carlos, Adriano, Fred and Elano who have all returned home in recent seasons.

But financing the transfer fee and wages of super stars like Ronaldinho is well beyond the means of any Brazilian club. The attacking midfielder’s move is one more example of the growing trend in the country of sponsors and sports marketing companies stepping in to make a deal possible.

Traffic Sports are paying the bulk of the player’s salary, which is reported to be around £380,000 a month. Before switching to Roma in July 2010, Adriano was believed to be earning a similar amount cobbled together from sponsors Olympikus, Ale and Bozzano.

Sample Ronnie's sheer delight at being unveiled at Flamengo

Brazilian investors have caught on that money can be made from having a famous face on their products and even though Ronaldinho Gaúcho’s career appears to be on a downward spiral, the signing could turn out to be a real cash cow for the moneymen and Flamengo.

As well as the increased revenue, the returning stars have delivered on the pitch and helped their clubs pick up domestic honours. Corinthians won the São Paulo state league (the Paulista) and the Brazilian Cup with Ronaldo in 2009. Flamengo and Adriano won the league the same year. In 2010, Robinho led Santos to the Paulista and the Brazilian Cup, and Fred played a part in Fluminense’s success in the national league.

Flamengo’s coach, Vanderlei Luxemburgo, called Ronaldinho’s arrival ‘the biggest signing ever in Brazilian football’. While the former Real Madrid manager recognizes the 30-year-old’s marketing value to Flamengo, he says that it’s more important that the player leads the club to glory on the field. 

After failing to make Brazil’s World Cup squad for South Africa, Ronaldinho believes that playing in his homeland will strengthen his attempts to return to the national squad. Though Gaúcho will be given more time on the ball than he was accustomed to in Europe, he may find the task of getting back on to the international stage harder than he expects. While the medals have come for the returning stars, only Robinho has managed to keep his place with the national team.

Ronaldinho’s fate rests on a club that is once again going through a major rebuild. After winning the league in 2009, Fla survived relegation by the skin of their teeth last year. With five championships to his name, Luxemburgo is the Brasileiro’s most successful coach. However, he hasn’t won the league since 2004 when he was at Santos and his last ‘rebuild’ almost led Atlético Mineiro to disaster in 2010.

Ronaldinho is expected to bolster an attack that produced just 41 goals in 38 games in the league last season. While Flamengo want to win the Rio state championship (the Campeonato Carioca) for local bragging rights, their priority will be the Brazilian Cup as taking the trophy will earn the club a place in next year’s Libertadores. 

Can Ronnie contine his involvement with the national team?

After 2010’s debacle, success on the pitch is naturally a big concern for Flamengo. But the Rubro Negro’s are also looking for a quick commercial return on their investment.

Hours after the attacking midfielder put pen to paper on Monday evening, the Rio outfit were selling shirts with Ronaldinho’s name on the back for a princely sum of R$159.90 (£60). However, initial sales have been slow as fans are waiting for the arrival of the 2011 kit that will be launched in February. 

Flamengo are keen to repeat the financial success they had with Adriano. In 2009, Fla sold 932,000 items bearing the clube’s name – Adriano’s number ten shirt was responsible for 80% of this figure. Replica kits sales were four times higher than in 2008 and at one point, the club claimed they were selling a jersey every 14 seconds. With Ronaldinho on board, Flamengo can expect an even greater turnover.

However, one place where shirt sales will be rock bottom is in the blue, black and white half of Porto Alegre. In the days before he finally signed for Fla, it seemed certain that Ronaldinho was on his way back to his first club, Grêmio.  But after embarrassing the tricolor Gaúcho by spurning their offer, the player and his agent (his brother Roberto Assis) have become hate figures at the Estádio Olímpico.

Palmeiras were equally enraged. After announcing that they had met all of Ronaldinho’s financial demands, they too were snubbed. Both club directors and coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, continue to vent their anger at Ronaldinho and his brother.

Fans flock to see Ronaldinho - but will they all buy new shirts...?

Clearly, the pair have done themselves no favours in the way they handled the transfer and it’s a near certainty that Ronaldinho will be ‘injured’ for the away ties at Grêmio and Palmeiras.

Signing Ronaldinho was a feather in the cap for Flamengo and for Brazilian football in general. But there are questions over the player’s motives for returning home when he has the ability to be mixing it with the best in Europe.

His critics argue that the midfielder peaked five years ago and that he’s been on a steady decline ever since. Ronaldinho has stated that his principal reasons for going home are to win domestic silverware and to re-establish himself with the national side in time for the World Cup in 2014. But from a purely footballing perspective was Flamengo the right choice? With Ronaldinho’s predilection for the nightlife, many suspect that it could be the case that Fla is the wrong club in the right place.

While Brazil coach Mano Menezes thinks it’s an advantage that the player is back, he didn’t go as far as saying that Ronaldinho would be in the squad for the friendly versus France on February 9th.

The playmaker has plenty of time to get his form back. But he’ll be 34 when the World Cup comes around and Ronaldinho will have to be in top shape if he’s to stand any chance of helping Brazil lift the trophy in their own backyard.