Interviews

The big interview: Ronaldinho – "I was 48 hours from joining Man United... and then Sandro Rosell called"

Ronaldinho

Who was the best player he ever came up against? 
How tough a decision was it to leave Barcelona? And why didn't he join United before that? Your questions answered... 

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This wide-ranging career reflective was published in 2014, since when Dinho has left Atletico Mineiro, spent a season with Mexico's Queretaro and an unhappy two-and-a-half months with Fluminense. FourFourTwo has interviewed him again since.

In January 2018 he finally announced his retirement from football, drawing the curtain on a glorious career in which he wowed one and all with his fun-loving, unique style of football. So what's next? Well, music – as the man himself told FFT. "I want to study, to learn sound engineering and producing," he said. "I’m very curious about it. I want to have a studio built at my home. A lot of musicians come to my house to perform because they know how much I love what they do."

Here's what he made of his own career...

Having a football legend as guest editor comes with many perks. One of them is access to his little black book of superstar contacts. This is how we managed to secure face time with Ronaldinho at short notice, when he was “extremely busy” in the run-up to the World Cup.

“Ronaldo always invites me to the parties he organises. I couldn’t miss the one he's throwing as FourFourTwo’s editor,” grins Ronaldinho as FFT greets him at his home in Belo Horizonte.

The last time we spoke to the former Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona forward, it took months of back and forth between him and his brother Assis (also his agent) before we could settle on a date. Even then there were last-minute cancellations, requiring a renegotiation of the date, time and venue. This time, a single phone call and a couple of days later, we’re sitting alongside the two-time World Player of the Year, taking in the night air on his poolside patio.

At the age of 34, Ronaldinho – the name originally given to Ronaldo before this man turned up – still looks fit enough to play; a muscular version of the snake-hipped twenty-something who terrorised Spanish defenders between 2003 and 2008.

“Ronaldo was so good to me in the Seleção; I ran twice as much because he was in the team,” he says. “That’s how I found time to do this. It feels great to run for our No.9 again – or should I say the editor? Let’s start…”

FACT FILE

  • 1998-2001 Gremio 52 games (21 goals); 2001-03 PSG 86 (25); 2003-08 Barcelona 207 (94); 2008-10 Milan 95 (26); 2010-12 Flamengo 71 (28); 2012-14 Atletico Mineiro 85 (27); 2014-15 QuerEtaro 29 (8); 2015 Fluminense 9 (0)

Did you really score 23 goals in a game when you were a teenager? How bad were the opposition?!
Aled White, via email

I did, but those kids were terrible! They only played in physical education class, for fun. But I was already in a youth team, which explains a lot. It was in fifth grade and it was never that easy again. I should say that this was earlier than when you see me in those ads as a kid playing futsal. That came later. Against proper opposition.

Which footballers did you love to watch when you were growing up? Were there any you imagined being when you played?
Bea Smith, Edinburgh

Oh, many of them. My brother Assis, Rivelino, Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo. Diego Maradona was special, too. I always enjoyed watching him, including everything he did even before the matches. He was the most playful; the one I liked the most in that sense of playing with the ball. Maradona could dribble at speed towards the goal. He had such a different technique from everyone else. I couldn’t do keepy-uppies with oranges like he did, though – my mother didn’t want me to waste food! 


Maradona

Maradona's 'playful' style inspired a young Ronaldinho

What are your memories of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, watching as a teenager? How much of an impact did they have on you as a young footballer?
Alex Metcalfe, via Facebook

The 1994 World Cup victory was essential for me to decide to be a footballer. When I saw that, it was clear that was what I wanted to do, and not stick to indoor football. I loved futsal and it was difficult for me to give it up. In 1994, it was great to see one player do so much for the team. If all the teams had one player like Romario, it would have been much tougher for Brazil in that tournament. Brazilians learned in 1994 that a team must be complete – it must know how to defend.

Four years later I was already thinking about 2002. As a matter of fact, I thought of playing in the World Cup since I was 15, when I played for Brazil’s under-17s for the first time. In 1998 I already knew what it was like to go to Brazil’s training ground in Teresopolis and I had already seen all the pictures of the greats on the wall there. I had already won the U17 World Cup for Brazil in 1997. The defeat [in the 1998 final] wasn’t hard for the players, but it was for the supporters.

When did you pick up the name Ronaldinho [meaning ‘Little Ronaldo’]? Was it when you became a professional footballer, or before that?
Dan Laing, via email

Well, there was another Ronaldo before me! People close to me never call me Ronaldinho. When I scored my first great goal for Brazil in 1999, Brazil’s 
most famous commentator called me Ronaldinho Gaucho because I come from Rio Grande do Sul state and because he called Ronaldo 'Ronaldinho' too at that time. It was tricky, man! 

INTERNATIONAL

  • 1999-2013 Brazil: 97 caps (33)

Were there any other clubs interested in you when you signed for PSG? Was the waiting period while Gremio went through the courts frustrating for you?
Phil Asquith, via email

Yes, there were other clubs. I can’t even remember which now. It was such a difficult moment that I chose to forget most of it. I spent two months at the gym, all alone. 
I don’t even like to think about it.

What is your fondest memory from your time in France? Are you pleased to see PSG succeed now? Do you think they could win the Champions League?
Hugo Martin, Paris

The derbies against Marseille are what I remember the most as I scored in almost all of them, including one at the Velodrome. It was PSG’s first win there in a long time. I still love PSG. It was my first club in Europe and I had two-and-a-half great seasons there. I follow everything they do. Well, actually I watch all their goals – I get bored watching 90 minutes. I like to see the goals over and over...

OK then, the free-kick against England in 2002. Did you see David Seaman off his line?
Steven Armitage, London