The most common and in fact only real comparison ever made between 2 great footballers of different eras is that of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi. Both are diminutive left-footed Argentine number 10′s, blessed with the best dribbling ability the game has ever seen. With strength and speed that belies their stature, combined with extraordinary close control, they beat defenders at a rate that no one has matched.
And in the early day’s of Messi, there were eerie similarities. 2005 saw Messi make his international debut against Hungary, the same opponent Maradona debuted against. In 2007 Messi scored against Getafe with a goal identical to Maradona’s ‘Goal of the century’ and then a couple of months later he scored with his hand against Espanyol, going unpunished as Diego famously did with the ‘Hand of God’.
But since then, the differences between the two players careers have grown and grown. Messi has so far spent over 20 years at one football club, Maradona represented 6 across 7 different spells. Leo though only 33, has already scored well over twice as many career goals as Maradona and has appeared in well over 200 more senior matches. Messi has scored over 30 goals for his club in 13 consecutive seasons, Maradona only scored over 20 goals twice in Europe. Messi has so far won 35 major honours in club football, to Diego’s 9. Maradona has lifted the World Cup whereas Messi has never won a senior international trophy and Messi has scored over twice as many goals for Argentina, with over 50 more caps so far.
Simply put, they have had very different careers and lived very different lifestyles. I feel greater similarities are to be found between Maradona and another 21st-century footballer, who also wore the number 10 shirt for Barcelona, Ronaldinho.
Maradona and Ronaldinho both spent 10 seasons in Europe, played for 3 European Clubs, and spent 2 seasons at their first European club. They played by far the best and most consistent football of their career and reached their highest highs at their 2nd European club. Here both men won 5 major honours, including 2 league titles and a European trophy. Maradona played 52 more games for Napoli and scored 21 more goals than Ronaldinho for Barcelona, which makes it likely that if they’d played an identical amount of games, they’d have an almost identical goal tally.
Both won the FIFA World Cup with a 2-0 knockout stage win over Belgium, a 2-1 Quarter-Final win over England, and beat Germany in the final. Both also scored goals in the Quarter-Final which were the best remembered of the tournament and highly embarrassed the England goalkeeper.
Here are some stats which highlight some more similarities in their respective careers:
Club trophies won: Maradona 9, Ronaldinho 12. Number of Clubs: Maradona 6 (in 7 spells), Ronaldinho 8. International caps: Maradona 91, Ronaldinho 97. International goals: Maradona 34, Ronaldinho 33. Competitive Internationals: Maradona 46, Ronaldinho 52. Goals in Competitive internationals: Maradona 17, Ronaldinho 17. European club goals: Maradona 160, Ronaldinho 145. Total senior goals: Maradona 345, Ronaldinho 299. Freekicks scored: Maradona 62, Ronaldinho 66.
Maradona was a classic Number 10, a creative playmaker operating from a free role either as an attacking midfielder or a 2nd striker. His game was renowned for his dribbling which due to his low centre of gravity, stocky physique, acceleration, quick feet, close control, agility and his ability to quickly change direction made him extremely difficult to stop. Despite a solid goal return, Maradona’s game was about more than just scoring goals and individual runs, his vision, passing and creativity made him a fantastic team player also.
Ronaldinho also could operate as a Number 10, playing in a free central role as an attacking midfielder, though he could also be deployed on either wing to devastating effect. Ronaldinho was an extremely effective playmaker as like Maradona he possessed outstanding vision and creativity with great passing ability.
He was also a world-class dribbler with underrated pace and acceleration, as well as athleticism, balance and ball control allowing him to take on opponents. He was one of the most effective ever 1 v 1 at beating players with his tricks, feints, stepovers, nutmegs, as well as sheer unpredictability making him extremely challenging to handle. Ronaldinho was also known for his technical skills, flair, creativity and touch.
Maradona and Ronaldinho are the most skilful players to ever reach the top of the game. More so than anyone else who has become the number 1 player on the planet, they were freestyle footballers. Maradona was one of Ronaldinho’s idols as a kid, and it’s easy to see why. Only Ronaldinho himself could cast a similar spell over the ball, Diego seemed to be almost at one with it, manipulating it in any way he wanted.
Whether doing keep-ups with his shoulders, head, heel or slices as naturally as other players do them with their feet, Maradona had an artists understanding of the ball. And not just footballs either, his feet could do whatever he wished with golf balls, rolled-up socks, anything he could make resemble a football he juggled with.
Maradona and Ronaldinho were two players who you didn’t need to see in an an-game situation to be entertained by. Just throw them a ball. This was evidenced with the well-known video of Maradona warming up before a UEFA Cup Semi-Final against Bayern Munich set to ‘Life is Life’ by Opus. Preparing for the game as if he’s arrived too early for a kickabout and is waiting for his mates to show up, Diego plays with an unbelievable rhythm.
This sense of rhythm and fun didn’t leave Diego once the game had kicked off, with regular rabona’s and roulette’s (which became known as the Maradona turn due to the level he perfected it) elevating the entertainment for everyone in attendance.
This is where I think his game is more similar to Ronaldinho’s than that of Messi’s. Lionel though brilliant to watch is nowhere near as flashy, applying skills only when absolutely necessary. For Ronaldinho however, skills always felt necessary. No look passes, pannas, elasticos (known also by some as ‘the gaucho’ due to Ronaldinho’s mastery of the skill) were all regular features of Ronaldinho’s arsenal.
Like Maradona, Ronaldinho was always worth watching before a game had even kicked off. And in training he was capable of getting his teammates to stop dead in their tracks and just stand around watching him perform his skills. An example of Ronaldinho’s ridiculous skill level compared to everyone else, was when he and a number of other top professionals took on the ‘Blindfolded Keepie Uppie challenge’ where as the name suggests, you attempt to do kick-ups whilst wearing a blindfold. Benzema managed 5, Lewandowski 7, Xavi 8 and Ronaldinho.. 44.
It’s maybe a strange thing to say about a player who some consider the greatest of all time, and most consider in the top 3 of all time, but Maradona could’ve done even more in football. What he was able to do was limited by injuries courtesy of the many dreadful fouls he endured, bouts of lacking motivation, a lifestyle that led to drug addiction, weight gains & crash diets, and 2 drugs bans that meant he scored just 15 league goals after his 30th Birthday.
And as well, it shows how good Ronaldinho was that a career that saw him become the only player to win the World Cup, the Champions League, the Copa Libertadores and the Balon d’or (not to mention 2 La Liga’s and 2 FIFA World Player of The Year Awards) is seen by many as one that could and should have been better. A lack of dedication and discipline, combined with his hedonistic lifestyle off the pitch led to Ronaldinho’s physical decline coming a lot sooner than it should have. That said I think it’s unfair to boil his whole career down to just his years at Barcelona (where he did for a while have the focus and dedication to become the best player in the world) and dismiss everything else. There was still plenty of very good performances afterwards for AC Milan, Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro, where he thrilled the supporters with his quality.
Maradona was in many ways an individualist, for example, he had his own fitness coach and his own doctors, never using the doctors employed by his club side or national team, but he was also very much a team player. A technical leader, he was loved by his teammates because he took all the pressure, all the attention on his shoulders, freeing the team up to go out and play without burden. The best example of the deep respect Maradona’s teammates had for him was in a clip from the Napoli dressing room following their historic first Scudetto win in 1987, where the players all sing as though ultras rather than colleagues: “Oh mama, mama, mama, do you know why my heart is racing? I’ve seen Maradona! I’ve seen Maradona! and Mum I fell in love with him!”
In a different way, Ronaldinho was also an excellent team player. When Ronaldinho was at the peak of his powers, a 16-year old Argentine came to his attention. Here he saw a player he knew could be something special. Ronaldinho became a sort of big brother figure to Messi from that point on, helping him as much as possible. For an introverted young kid to have the best player in the World take such care and interest in him, must have been a tremendous boost. There was no ego from Ronaldinho, no jealousy or attempt to keep the teenager ‘In his place’. When Messi was 17, Ronaldinho introduced him to Kobe Bryant as “someone who will be the best footballer of all time” and in an interview with Four Four Two magazine, the current Balon d’Or holder claimed Messi was already better than him.
Diego Armando Maradona was born October 30, 1960, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and was raised in the Villa Fiorito shantytown, on the outskirts of the capital city. His love of football came very early, when he was given a ball as his first toy at 3 years old, and slept hugging it all night. Growing up in a shack without water or electricity, when Maradona joined the Argentinos Juniors youth team at just 8 years old he and his parents soon realised that their only way out of this hardship was for Diego to make it as a footballer. He already played with an ability way beyond his years and a small, skinny physique quickly beginning to garner attention.
As a ballboy for Argentinos Juniors 1st team games, he would go on to the pitch at half time and entertain the crowds with his skills and tricks, as well as an extraordinary acceleration when dribbling the ball. On one occasion as the 10-year old Diego exited the field for the Argentinos-Boca Juniors game to re-commence, the fans chanted “Let him stay! Let him stay!”. As Maradona continued to seemingly get better with every match he played in the youth teams, Argentinos Juniors had already pinned all their hopes on him before he’d even joined the first team.
They already recognised him as the only player they had who could raise serious funds in the future, and in the meantime would be able to improve the team. He was promoted to the first team aged 15. youth team at just 8 years old he and his parents soon realised that their only way out of this hardship was for Diego to make it as a footballer. He already played with an ability way beyond his years and a small, skinny physique quickly beginning to garner attention.
Ronaldo de Assis Moreira was born March 21, 1980 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. He lived in a wooden house in the middle of a favela, until his brother Roberto 8 years his senior, was gifted a home in a more affluent area by Grêmio in an effort to get him to stay with the club and reject the interest of Italian club Torino. Tragedy would soon strike for Roberto and his younger brother however when Roberto returned to the house to celebrate his 18th birthday only to find his father drowned in the family swimming pool.
From a young age, Roberto would train his younger brother in one-on-one football sessions, after noticing he too had a real talent for the game. Ronaldinho said of this time “Roberto forced me to juggle the ball as many as 500 times. He stood to watch me do it and would never go until I’d completed it. This took all the fun out of it for me, and at that age, it made me very angry. I cried. I didn’t understand. But later I understood what he wanted.”
Roberto’s football career was going well, he had played for Brasil’s under 20′s team and won 3 consecutive state titles with Gremio, the future looked very bright when more misfortune struck the family. Roberto suffered a serious injury and was let go by Gremio. He moved to FC Sion in Switzerland and with his older brother and father figure since the passing of his Dad now living far away, Ronaldo felt an increased urgency and responsibility to step up and make it as a footballer to help the family financially.
He had learned a lot from his big brother, who despite being prevented from fulfilling his potential due to injury was still able to etch out a career in football, with journeyman career-making appearances for many sides including Vasco De Gama, Fluimenese and Sporting Lisbon.
Ronaldo played Futsal and Beach Football as well as 11-a-side football and all this honed his ball control and skills. Often the smallest and youngest player on each of the teams he played for he quickly was assigned the nickname ‘Ronaldinho’ meaning ‘little Ronaldo’ which has always stuck throughout his career despite him growing to over 6 feet tall. He was 13 when he received his first media attention after scoring all 23 goals in a 23-0 win for his side at Futsal (though he did later say “those kids were terrible!”). After starring at the Under 17 World Cup, Ronaldinho followed in his big brothers’ footsteps by signing for Gremio.
Maradona and Ronaldinho both had their youthful innocence cut short and were forced to see Football as more than fun but as a way out of their hardships at a very young age. As a mere child, Maradona had all his families hopes pinned on him for a way out of extreme poverty and Ronaldinho experienced the hardships of life early too with the death of his father and career-damaging injury to his brother. But despite all the external pressure and as well the huge demand they put on themselves to succeed for their families, their pure love for football never wavered.
Maradona made his first-team debut for Argentinos 10 days before his 16th Birthday. A few minutes after entering the pitch, he nutmegged an opponent. A few weeks later he made his first start, with then vice-president Settimio Aloisio recalling “What really struck me was the joy there seemed to be in his playing. What seemed unique was that he didn’t seem to have any fear, he was so self-assured, so determined. It was the first time he played a full 90 minutes in the first team and he did it with all the confidence of a player who had been playing top-class football for at least six years.”
In Diego’s first season for the club in 1976 they finished 2nd bottom of the Metropolitano Championship. In his final season, they finished 2nd top. He scored 116 goals in 166 appearances, including a Messi-Esque 69 in 71 in his last 2 seasons. Maradona was now too big and too good for the team, and it was time for Argentinos Juniors to get the big payday they hoped years of nurturing this talent would get them. Maradona joined the club he always dreamed of playing for, Boca Juniors for $4M.
Maradona scored 28 goals in 40 games for the club, including a memorable goal in his first Superclasico at La Bombanera stadium against River Plate. The 1981 season brought him his first trophy in senior football, when Boca secured the Metropolitano Championship, the clubs first title for 5 years, by a single point. They had finished 6th in the competition the year before Diego joined.
Ronaldinho made his debut for Gremio in 1998, and by his 2nd season, the teenager was already showing himself as one of the top Brazilian players in the world. A real breakout moment for him came in the Campeonato Gaucho, the State Championship, usually won by one of Porto Alegre’s biggest sides, either Gremio or rivals Internacional. Gremio came out on top after a sublime performance from Ronaldinho where he tormented and terrorised Brazil’s World Cup-winning captain Dunga, on one occasion flicking the ball over his head.
Ronaldinho scored 58 goals in 125 appearances for Gremio, 52 in 87 excluding his debut season and 28 in 37 in his last full season. This was enough to convince Paris St. Germain to spend 5 million Euros to bring him to the French Capital.
Maradona and Ronaldinho both began their professional careers for their local sides, neither club the most glamorous or prestigious of their country, but both rapidly stood out with their performances. Ronaldinho was transferred to Europe in half the time with his first 3 seasons in his native country as opposed to Maradona’s 6, highlighting the change in Football between the late 70s, early 80s and the late 90′s, early 00′s.
In 1978 Argentina had won the World Cup with just one player playing outside of Argentina, and coach Menotti had warned Maradona that Argentina fans would not accept him leaving to play his domestic football in Europe, he did not join a European club until his 7th season. By the time Ronaldinho was on the scene, Europe’s stranglehold over Football meant it was the only place to play for the game’s best talents. Maradona played 206 games in the country of his birth before joining FC Barcelona for a then world-record fee of £5 Million pounds.
Maradona described his time at FC Barcelona as the ‘unhappiest period of my career. He found German coach Udo Lattek’s hard early-morning training sessions unsuited to his lifestyle and had a relationship with Barcelona’s then-president Jose Luis Nunez which was hostile from the off.
The free-spirit of Diego quickly found the atmosphere of Barcelona oppressive, he felt the cold, calculated stuffed shirts of the Barca boardroom looked down on him as a naive, uneducated outsider.
Maradona was used to getting his way in Argentina and was not a man who could easily accept authority over his life. Whilst Barcelona as an institution was not a club willing to bend for one man, no matter how talented he was with a football.
The early signs on the pitch, however, were promising. The team received a standing ovation leaving the pitch away to Red Star Belgrade in the Cup Winners Cup, after a 4-2 victory with 2 goals each for Maradona and fellow foreign star signing Bernd Schuster. But the ego’s and personality clashes of Nunez, Maradona, Lattek and Schuster meant it was never likely to last. After Maradona had spent his first-ever Christmas away from Argentina in a state of depression, and not long after he’d returned from a prolonged absence due to viral hepatitis, Lattek was sacked, which did not displease either of Barcelona’s star players, with Schuster referring to the manager as a ‘drunkard’.
Lattek was replaced by Cesar Menotti, Argentina’s World Cup-winning manager who had managed Diego in the Under 20s and the senior national side. It was hoped by the Barcelona hierarchy that this would be the man to bring the best out of Maradona.
The appointment of Menotti wasn’t the only thing bringing comforts of home to Maradona’s life. He did everything to recreate the life he’d known in Argentina, acquiring the friendship and services of Argentines living in Barcelona to provide him with Calabresi and sandwiches just like he’d known in Buenos Aires. But whenever Maradona and his clan would hit Las Ramblas, which was often, he had to accept he wasn’t in his beloved Argentina anymore. He was in a place with wealthy, educated people who looked down on him and his friends, fuelling Maradona’s inferiority complex which he battled all his life due to his poor upbringing.
It was also during this time in Barcelona that Maradona first began taking cocaine, and though he was able to keep this a secret from Barca, some reports of his activities including regular house parties into the early hours with prostitutes in attendance did make it back to an increasingly exasperated board. The Maradona-Nunez conflict continued to intensify, with Jorge Cyterszpiler, Maradona’s then-agent responding to comments from Nunez in the press by phoning him and calling him a “son of a bitch”.
4 days before the King’s Cup final between Barcelona and hated rivals Real Madrid, Nunez refused to allow Maradona to travel to Munich for a testimonial match, a lack of liberty which infuriated Maradona. The team were able to capture the trophy, however, beating Real 2-1 with a 90th-minute winner, in a game both Maradona and Schuster ran. It had been a turbulent debut season, however, to say the least, the team had finished 4th behind Athletic Bilbao, Spanish champions for the first time in 27 years, and the two Madrid clubs. They had also been dumped out of the Cup Winners Cup by Austrian minnows Memphis. Maradona scored 23 goals in 35 appearances but injuries and illness had limited him to just 20 league games and 11 goals.
Maradona’s second year was to be defined by yet another rivalry, this time that of coach Menotti and Athletic Bilbao manager Xavier Clemente. In a war of words due to differing football philosophies similar to that of Brian Clough and Don Revie in England, Menotti made public his disdain for what he considered (not without reason), the thuggish football of Bilbao saying “the day they decide to be a bullfighter rather than a bull on the pitch it will play better football.” Clemente responded saying he would take no lessons from an Argentine who spent more time pursuing women than teaching football skills.
The stage was set for a series of violent matches to take place between the sides that season. With Barca leading Bilbao 2-0 at the Nou Camp early in the season, Goikoetxea, subsequently named ‘the Butcher of Bilbao’ delivered one of the most brutal fouls Spanish football had seen on Maradona. Menotti demanded Goikoetxea be banned for life, as it was he was hit with a 10-game ban instead.
This came as little consolation for Maradona who had long complained about the harsh treatment he received from defenders in Spain due to little protection from referees. This tackle, feared possibly career-threatening at the time, kept him sidelined for 3 months.
A few weeks after his return to fitness, Maradona lined up to face Bilbao again, this time at the San Mames stadium. Maradona led his team heroically through another brutal match, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win for his side in one of the dirtiest matches seen at the stadium. Maradona’s duels with Bilbao didn’t end here though, and they would reach a stunning conclusion in the 1984 King’s Cup final in front of 100,000 spectators and half of Spain’s watching public.
After a 1-0 defeat featuring the usual Bilbao treatment whenever Diego went near the ball, and racist insults towards him regarding his Father’s native American Indian ancestry, he was given a ‘fuck off’ sign by unused Bilbao substitute Sola, and Maradona subsequently knocked him to the floor before kneeing him out cold. Chaos ensued with a mass brawl involving all the players, with flying kicks everywhere you looked. Maradona was at one stage knocked to the floor with a Bilbao player standing over him, when out of nowhere a teammate jumped in with a huge kick to the players back sending him flying. Maradona left the pitch with his Barcelona shirt torn, he would never wear one again. The brawl resulted in 60 people being injured as fans rained missiles down on players, coaches and photographers.
The board had seen enough, Maradona’s time with Barcelona was up. He scored 38 goals in 58 games for the club. There had been some highs, beating Real Madrid in the King’s Cup and the short-lived Spanish League Cup final, where after scoring one of the all-time great El Clasico goals in the 1st leg at the Bernabeu he was given a standing ovation by the Real supporters.
But there had also been just as many lows, and overall Maradona had failed to do what he was signed to do, establish Barcelona as Spain’s number 1 team again. A move was required for all parties, as Maradona’s spending and bad business moves made on his behalf had left him with so much debt only a huge signing-on fee would take care of it.
This came in the shape of another world record fee, £6.9M to Italian Club Napoli. Both Maradona and Barcelona would benefit from the move, as under Terry Venables Barcelona won their first league title for 11 years by 10 points (in the days of 2 points for a win) and reached their first European Cup final the following year, losing on penalties to Steaua Bucharest. Ironically it took the departure of Maradona to get Barcelona to do what his arrival was supposed to do for them.
Ronaldinho chose long-time sleeping giants Paris Saint Germain when better teams were perhaps interested in signing him for one reason only, to ensure he would be a regular starter in order to convince Brazil manager Scolari that he should be the 3rd name in the attack alongside Ronaldo and Rivaldo.
For the first few months, his plan seemed to have backfired spectacularly. After getting the all-clear to play from Fifa, after a messy legal procedure between PSG and Gremio, he still struggled to get the all-clear to start from manager Luis Fernandez, so was forced to watch players such as Gabriel Heinze, Mauricio Pochettino, Jay-Jay Okocha and Nicolas Anelka from the bench for much of the time before being introduced into games in the second half more often than not.
This slow start was doubly concerning due to the form back home of Ricardo Kaka who was banging them in for Sao Paulo. At the halfway stage, it looked likely it would be Kaka starting for Brazil and if Ronaldinho didn’t find some form, he would be a doubt to even make the plane.
Ronaldinho began to make an impact before the winter break, and after his fortunes had an even greater upturn. Okocha went to the African Cup of Nations and Anelka was loaned to Liverpool. Ronaldinho was going to become the main man in the PSG attack if he could seize his chance. He scored in the first 4 games back, including a brace against Guingamp.
By mid-march he was making it look easy, looking as though nothing was more simple to him than dribbling through a defence and beating the onrushing goalkeeper as he did not once but twice against Troyes.
Despite only starting half the league games, Ronaldinho finished the season confirming himself as PSG’s best and most important player, as well as their top scorer with 13 goals and earning a place in the Ligue 1 team of the season.
Ronaldinho returned for his second season at PSG as a World Cup winner, however, his upward trajectory at Paris which had begun in the second half of his first season would not continue without dips. Manager Luis Fernandez criticised Ronaldinho’s enthusiasm for Parisian nightlife, claiming he focused on it more than Football. Another source of frustration for him was a typical one for managers dealing with Brazilian players, the long trips back home Ronaldinho took during the season, which Fernandez bemoaned never ended when scheduled. Ronaldinho fired back at his manager’s criticism that “it seems to bother him that I am happy.”
The league campaign was a very disappointing one, to say the least for PSG, finishing 7 places lower than in Ronaldinho’s first season, coming in 11th place. On a personal level, there was some satisfaction for Ronaldinho in winning the award for Ligue 1 goal of the season, with a brilliant solo goal against Guingamp. Accelerating suddenly before the first man has even had a chance to get close to him, he plays a one-two around another, then dinks the ball over a slide tackling defender, waits for the ball to drop then dribbles into the box, throws a stepover to make space for the shot then lifts the ball quite wonderfully over a helpless goalkeeper. Pure Ronaldinho magic.
Paris also reached the Coupe de France final after 2 goals from Ronaldinho in the semi-final got them there, however, they were beaten by Auxerre in the final with a last-minute winner. With a season outside of Europe on the horizon, it was time for Ronaldinho to move on to the next phase in his career. He scored 25 goals in 77 games for the Parisians.
Maradona & Ronaldinho moved to Europe aged 22 and 21 respectively, and both spent 2 seasons with their first European club. Both displayed the talent that made them at times unstoppable, but the flashes of genius were accompanied by a lack of consistency needed to go beyond the promise and potential they were showing to become as great as they undoubtedly could be. In this time, both players also discovered a love of a certain party lifestyle that would remain throughout their respective careers.
75,000 Napoli supporters packed into the Stadio San Paulo to see the official presentation of Diego Armando Maradona as a Napoli player. For all present that day, the Saviour had arrived. As one local newspaper put it “despite the lack of a mayor, houses, schools, buses, employment and sanitation, none of this matters because we have Maradona.“
Maradona found himself feeling instantly more at home than he had ever felt at Barcelona. The poor background he came from as well as having a Mother of Italian descent gave Maradona an immediate affinity with the city of Naples, in the poorer, economically disadvantaged South of Italy. He could also relate to the feeling of being looked down upon that Neapolitans felt from those in the more affluent and politically prioritised North.
During Maradona’s time in Italy, the North v South hatred was at its peak. The Maradona signing itself had political motivations. Upon hearing of Juventus’ interest in signing the Argentine, Napoli were determined to get one over on the more illustrious then-champions, who already boasted that summer’s standout player at Euro 84, Michel Platini. After his experience with Schuster, Maradona was reluctant to again share the limelight so was instead happy to join the side in the Southern region, a region that had never produced a Serie A winner. Napoli, a club formed in 1926 had to that point won just 2 major honours, both Coppa Italia’s.
Though the team he was joining had a modest history to date, the league he would playing in was by far the best and most competitive in the world. Though a defensive league with emphasis put on the ‘Cattenacio’ style of play, featuring tight man-to-man marking and a sweeper, Maradona could atleast rely on better protection from referees than he’d received in Spain.
Unlike in Barcelona, where the snobbery in high society left Maradona on the outside, Maradona found in Naples he was embraced wherever he found himself in Italy’s most densely populated metropolis, including alongside the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, who had extraordinary influence in all matters in the city at this time. Carmine Guiliano, of the powerful Guiliano clan was only too eager to place himself alongside Naples’ new messiah. And Maradona for his part seemed to find himself more comfortable in this company, than he’d ever felt with the distant and alien Barcelona hierarchy.
Hellas Verona were champions for the only time in their history in Maradona’s debut season, with Napoli having to settle for 8th place. This improved to 3rd in the following year, though off the pitch Maradona had his first serious problems with long-time girlfriend Claudia.
Maradona’s 3rd season saw him hit the peak of his considerable powers. Fresh off the back of inspiring Argentina to the 1986 World Cup trophy, his encore was delivering Napoli to the promised land as they took their first-ever Scudetto, with a league double over Juventus proving decisive. Winning Serie A sparked a week-long party in Naples, so often the butt of the North’s jokes, it was they who were laughing now. Maradona had put Napoli and the entire city of Naples on top of Italy, and in doing so his standing amongst the people could not have been any higher. In the eyes of the adoring Neapolitans, he was more than a footballer, more than a man even.
Maradona and Napoli were unable to retain their crown, ending the season with 4 losses and 1 draw as they lost out to Milan by 3 points. This was the season problems between Maradona and Napoli president Corrado Ferlaino began to materialise. Napoli who had so far accepted his unwillingness to be controlled had grown frustrated at his missing training sessions and the following season with Maradona injured or missing from training all the more regularly, Napoli ended further away from the Scudetto.
Though still 2nd they finished 11 points behind Internazionale and were beaten in the Coppa Italia final. Things reached their lowest moment to date that season when Maradona took himself off just 17 minutes into a game due to injury, this was greeted with jeers and whistles from the supporters who had once revered him as their King. This infuriated Maradona, but there was redemption in the Uefa Cup which Napoli won beating Stuggart in the two-legged final, after dispatching Juventus and Bayern Munich to reach it.
But Maradona was beginning to feel trapped again. This feeling was exacerbated by him finding out about Olympique Marseille’s interest in signing him only after Ferlaino had rejected the offer. An increasingly frustrated Maradona began lashing out and making enemies in the media, who did not accept his outspoken complaints without backlash.
After a slow start to the 89-90 season, with the World Cup that summer looming ever closer, Maradona’s motivation soared again and he had his most prolific season for Napoli, scoring 16 in 28 league games as they finished 2 points above Milan to take the Scudetto for the 2nd time in 4 years. Maradona had responded to the adversity by climbing back to the top, it was the final time in his career he would sit there.
“Ronaldinho was responsible for the change in Barca. It was a bad time and the change that came about with his arrival was amazing. In the first year, he didn’t win anything but people fell in love with him. Then the trophies started coming and he made all those people happy. Barca should always be grateful for everything he did.” – Lionel Messi.
Though it would maybe be a stretch to compare the FC Barcelona that Ronaldinho joined in 2003 to Napoli, the fact is the club was not in a good place. Trophyless for 4 seasons, having gone through 6 different managerial reigns in that time, the club hadn’t finished above 4th for 3 years and the season prior to the Brazilian’s arrival, Barca had their worst league position for 15 years, coming in 6th, as 3 different managers tried and failed to turn their fortunes around.
Making matters even worse during this trophy drought, their bitter rivals Real Madrid had taken their star captain Luis Figo and just to rub it in had won 5 major honours including 2 Champions League titles. It was them enjoying the stability of one coach, with all this silverware coming under Vincente Del Bosque.
2003-04 brought Barcelona a new President Juan Laporta, a new manager in Frank Rijkaard and now it needed a new star player. Laporta earmarked 3 players of which he felt 1 was needed to bring Barcelona back to the top: Thierry Henry of Arsenal, David Beckham of Manchester United or Ronaldinho of PSG.
Henry had unfinished business left at Arsenal, Florentino Perez made Beckham his latest and most glamorous Galactico to date, leaving Ronaldinho. And though Real Madrid passed upon him, with the words of a Real Madrid executive “He is so ugly that he’d sink you as a brand” reflecting Real Madrid’s new Business first, Football second approach which had led to the bizarre sacking of Vicente Del Bosque, the path to Ronaldinho was not completely clear for Barcelona. Premier League Champions Manchester United was very close to securing the 23-year old but in the end, they couldn’t get it over the line and instead had to settle for a skinny 18-year old winger from Sporting Lisbon.
Ronaldinho started as he meant to go on in his very 1st league match at Camp Nou. With Barca trailing to Sevilla, he received the ball on the left inside his own half and 8 seconds later he had the ball in the net. Arriving into the Sevilla half he cut inside past one then another and let fly from 30 yards, it was in as soon as it left his foot, cannoning in off the crossbar with the keeper beaten by unbelievable power and precision.
The Brazilian was unable to prevent the Catalans 5th season without silverware, but 03/04 was a big improvement on the previous year. After a bad start saw Barca in 12th place after 18 matches, the team put together a run of 17 league games without defeat featuring 14 wins, including away at the Bernabeu for the first time since 1997. Ronaldinho provided the game-winning assist in the 86th minute with an immaculate chip to Xavi who scored with a finish equal to the pass. In the end, the team finished in 2nd place, behind Champions Valencia but above Real Madrid who had gone backwards under Carlos Quieroz, opening an opportunity for a new force in Spain.
04/05 saw the arrival of Samuel Eto’o from Real Mallorca who proved the ideal partner for Ronaldinho in the attack. Barca became the Champions of Spain for the first time since 1999 but was stopped in the Champions League by Chelsea, who beat them 4-2 at Stamford Bridge despite a very memorable Ronaldinho goal.
“It’s like someone pressed pause and for three seconds all the players stopped and I’m the only one that moves.” — Ronaldinho on his Stamford Bridge masterpiece.
Ronaldinho scored 13 goals in his 2nd season, the same as Maradona managed in his 2nd season for Napoli, but 05/06 would see Barcelona’s star man go up another level and take the club with him. In 29 league games Ronaldinho scored 17 and assisted another 18, but to focus on numbers would be to downplay what the Brazilian was doing on a weekly basis at the time.
He was making La Liga defenders look as out of their depth as amateurs would against him. How could they hope to stop him when he was using skills they had never even seen let alone come up against before? At this time Ronaldinho alone was worth the entrance fee, you knew he’d do something to bring a smile to the face of every single spectator, and maybe a shake of the head due to sheer disbelief at the audacity of the tricks Ronaldinho would not only attempt but pull off.
And this was not just reserved for the defenders of Espanyol or Real Zaragoza, Ronaldinho treated every match, every opponent the same, no matter the importance of the game, he was going to play it his way.
Never was this more apparent than when Barcelona travelled to the Bernabeu in November of 2005. It was in this month that Ronaldinho won the Balon D’or for the one and only time, winning above English midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to add it to his FIFA World Player of the Year awards for 2004 and 2005. He shown why he was the number 1 player in the world in what was the first El Clasico for the future world’s best player, a young long-haired Argentine.
But on this occasion, it was the senior players and one in particular who stole the show. With Eto’o giving the visitors an early lead, Ronaldinho doubled it just before the hour mark first skinning Sergio Ramos, before leaving Ivan Helguera and Iker Casillas flat-footed and helpless to stop the genius in full flow.
However, he wasn’t done yet. 20 minutes later, running past Sergio Ramos with an ease which was only matched in the finish, which left Iker Casillas shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, perplexed and powerless. At this point, certain sections of the Madrid fanbase felt obliged to applaud Ronaldinho. And not just 1 or 2 either. As the Barcelona players celebrated with their maestro, many Madrid fans can be seen on their feet giving a standing ovation to the man who had single-handedly demolished their team.
They knew their Galacticos of Beckham, Raul, Zidane, Robinho and Ronaldo had been thoroughly outclassed by the player deemed too ugly to sign. There was nothing ugly about his performance that night, as he took Real apart with beautiful simplicity, becoming the first Barcelona player to win applause from the Bernabeu since Diego Maradona.
The result was indicative of the gulf that had developed between Barca and Real, as Barca retained their title finishing 12 points clear of their rivals. And in the Champions League Barca were also able to enact revenge on Chelsea before meeting AC Milan in the semi-finals. Just a single goal was scored in 180 minutes, coming from a sumptuous Ronaldinho through ball and finished expertly by Ludovic Guily.
The final saw FC Barcelona meet Arsenal, and despite an early red card for the Arsenal keeper, Barca trailed with 15 minutes to go but was able to turn the game around to win just their 2nd European Cup ever and first since 1992. In 45 games Ronaldinho scored 26 and assisted 24, he was the top provider in both La Liga and the Champions League.
After a hugely underwhelming World Cup, Ronaldinho was able to pick up right where he left off at Barcelona at least, scoring 21 La Liga goals in 32 matches, the highlight being a special overhead kick against Villarreal.
However, Barca missed out on the title, due to their head to head record with Real Madrid. With both clubs finishing on 76 points, a 2-0 Real Madrid win in November decided the destination of the title and Barcelona’s far superior goal difference, with more scored and fewer conceded counted for nothing. This was tough to take, but Ronaldinho had racked up 50 goals and 38 assists in 2 seasons. And at 27, Barcelona’s number 10 appeared for all the world to have many years left at the top..
Following the 1990 World Cup which saw Maradona lose the final, the game after declaring Italian fans “hijo de putas” as the cameras panned on him for whistling out the Argentine national anthem in the Stadio San Paulo, supposedly his Kingdom, things would go from bad to worse on his return to the stadium for Napoli.
For now, there was a drive in the police’s scrutiny into organised crime in Naples, and no one with connections to the Camorra was guaranteed immunity, including Diego Maradona. His time of everyone turning a blind eye to his off-field activities was up. It was the worst kept secret around that drug problems were beginning to affect his football, and media hints about the dark hole Maradona was falling down with the grip drugs had over him were appearing more and more frequently.
As police investigated the Camorra, listening into conversations, Maradona found himself being taped by police, requesting cocaine and prostitutes. This led to a police investigation into Maradona, meanwhile, Napoli chose this time to abandon their lax random drug testing regime, and Maradona was randomly tested twice, both by Napoli doctors and outside doctors brought in by the club. Both tests returned positive. Diego returned to Argentina, but there was no escape from his problems. A police raid at a house he was staying at found him asleep next to grams of cocaine, he was arrested.
Maradona received a 15-month ban from football, having his final season with Napoli cut short after scoring just 6 goals in 18 league games and 10 in 26 in all competitions. His final goal for the club felt like a fitting one at the time, a consolation penalty in a 4-1 defeat away to Sampdoria. Napoli finished the season in 8th, where they finished in Diego’s 1st season with the club. The cycle had been completed and Maradona’s Neapolitan dream had turned into a nightmare.
In 07/08 Ronaldinho found himself afflicted with regular injuries for the first time in his career. It couldn’t be put down to bad luck. He had lost his motivation and had stopped looking after his body. His partying and lack of dedication to training saw him lose his peak physical condition. Barcelona’s best and most important player just the season prior, Ronaldinho found that even when he was fit a place in the starting 11 was now hard to secure with the continuing emergence of Lionel Messi and the signing of Thierry Henry.
Barcelona had a poor season, finishing 18 points behind champions Real Madrid and 10 points behind 2nd placed Villarreal. It signalled the need for a change. Rijkaard was to be replaced in the summer by former Barca midfielder Pep Guardiola, and Juan Laporta declared Ronaldinho needed a new challenge to revive his career. Ronaldinho’s season ended prematurely with an injury, after 9 goals in 26 games, numbers almost identical to Maradona’s last season in Naples.
Ronaldinho’s final goal also came in an away defeat where his side shipped 4, as they went down 4-2 to Atletico Madrid. Though the Brazilian’s goal was a touch more special, coming with a spectacular overhead kick.
Just a year on from seeming irreplaceable for Barcelona, Ronaldinho was now surplus to requirements. He joined AC Milan, after rejecting Manchester City who under their new Abu Dhabi owners had placed a bid of £25.5 million.
Maradona and Ronaldinho played by far the best and most consistent football of their career for their 2nd European club. Maradona scored 115 goals in 259 Napoli games, Ronaldinho 94 in 207 for Barcelona. Not including penalties, Maradona scored 73 and Ronaldinho 75.
Maradona made his Argentina debut in 1977 aged 16 though missed out on making the World Cup squad the following year which Argentina hosted and won. Diego had to make do with the 1979 World Youth Championships instead, where he netted 6 in 6 including 1 in the final in a 3-1 win over the Soviet Union.
Maradona’s first World Cup came in 1982, in the country he was then plying his trade. Expectations on Barcelona’s new signing were huge, but it didn’t go to plan. He scored in just 1 of the 5 matches he played, a brace against Hungary and was sent off against Brazil, as his frustrations at his repeatedly rough but unpunished treatment at the finals reached boiling point.
Maradona entered the 1986 World Cup with his head in a bad place. With an illegitimate child on the way, conceived from an affair, Maradona was grateful for something to occupy his focus and he played the tournament like a man with nothing on his mind other than to lead his team to glory.
In the Quarter-Finals, Argentina met England in the first match between the sides since the Falklands War.
The match came to epitomise Maradona’s legacy as he scored the 2 most famous goals ever within 4 minutes of each other. After England defender Steve Hodge could only lift the ball back in the direction of his own goal, the 5 foot 5 Maradona rose in the air to direct the ball over the outstretched fist of the 6 foot Peter Shilton. Just like the England keeper, Maradona went at the ball with his hand but in such a way both the referee and the linesman missed it. Diego later described the goal as being a “little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”. The goal subsequently became known as ‘the Hand of God’.
If Maradona’s first goal demonstrated his win or die mentality, the second showed the pure artistry of the game’s most gifted genius. Receiving the ball in his own half, Maradona dribbled past anyone in a white shirt before rounding Shilton and slotting home ‘the goal of the Century’. Maradona had secured his place as Argentina’s favourite son, restoring much needed national pride after the humiliation of the Falklands defeat.
3 days later Maradona single-handedly took Belgium apart, again scoring a brace including another spectacular solo goal. A world cup winning assist in the final against West Germany gave Maradona 5 goals and 5 assists in 7 matches, he played every minute for his side. In the best individual performances ever produced at the FIFA World Cup, Maradona scored or assisted 10 of Argentina’s 14 goals.
The 1990 tournament was the second time Diego played a World Cup in the country where he was playing his club football and he was counting on the support of the Naples people to help him and his team retain the trophy. All seemed to be well after Argentina bounced back from a shock 1-0 defeat to Cameroon by beating the Soviet Union in Naples in front of a supportive crowd, Maradona’s hand again playing a part as he handled on the line to prevent a certain Soviet goal and again got away with it.
A 1-1 draw with Romania meant Argentina scraped through in 3rd place and met Group C winners Brazil in the round of 16. Maradona got revenge for 1982 as he produced his best moment of the tournament to brilliantly set up the only goal of the game for Cannigia.
After beating Yugoslavia in a shootout despite a miss from Maradona, Argentina met Italy in Naples. Maradona aimed to stoke tensions between the North and the South, encouraging Neapolitan’s to support the man who had brought their football club so much success and joy, instead of their National side with him saying “The Italians are asking Neapolitan’s to be Italian for a day, yet for the other 364 days in the year they forget all about Naples.”
His attempt ultimately proved unsuccessful evidenced by the whistling out of the Argentina national anthem, but Maradona scored the decisive kick in the shootout to put his side into their second successive World Cup final. They would meet Germany again, but that’s where the similarities would end, as the 3-2 final of 4 years ago was replaced with a dour, bad-tempered game in which Germany won 1-0.
After returning from a 15-month suspension for drug use, Maradona was left out of the Argentina squad which won the 1993 Copa America, but during a humiliating 5-0 home defeat to Colombia in a World Cup Qualifier, the fans began to chant for Maradona, their cries getting louder as one goal after another hit the back of their net. The saviour answered their calls, captaining the side as they narrowly squeezed past Australia in the qualification play-off.
In the months approaching the World Cup, Maradona was more motivated than he’d been for years. Training harder than ever at a remote farm free of all distractions, he had a dramatic weight loss, transformed from the bloated out of shape Diego the world had become familiar with. Intense training, a drastic diet, vitamins, minerals, weight reduction drugs and short-term energy providing drugs were responsible for Maradona dropping almost 3 and ½ stone.
Diego’s lack of confidence in conventional medicine meant he relied on his own personal doctors to get him in the best condition possible for USA 94, these being Fernando Signorini and bodybuilder Daniel Cerini. Signorini had serious concerns about Cerini due to the use of anabolic steroids by his girlfriend in a bodybuilding contest which led to a positive drugs test in 1989, but nobody in Team Maradona ever dared speak out against another member of the team, if that person had Maradona’s trust.
And just like Maradona had complete faith in his team, the Nation of Argentina as well as his own teammates had complete faith in him to power them to a successful World Cup. And their faith seemed well placed after the opening game which saw Argentina take Greece apart 4-0 with a Batistuta hattrick. Maradona made it 3-0 on the hour mark, after a passage of team play which highlighted the extent to which the team was playing on the same wavelength. Maradona’s celebration was his most famous ever, as he ran straight at the camera, wide-eyed with passion running through him.
At half-time during Argentina’s 2nd match, a 2-1 win over Nigeria, Maradona was one of two players on each side drawn for a random drugs test. At full-time Maradona left the field hand in hand with a nurse, riding a wave of positive emotion after back to back World Cup wins. He was about to come crashing down.
Maradona tested positive. An over the counter, weight reducing drug containing a FIFA banned performance-enhancing supplement provided to him by Daniel Cerini was responsible. The relationship and lack of trust between Cerini and Argentina team doctors were so bad that neither was kept up to date with what the other was giving to him, so Argentina was left unaware of the drugs Maradona was taking. Though given the controversy surrounding Cerini they could’ve taken a guess, no one would dare challenge a Maradona man, all that mattered to anyone was that he was on the pitch. Well after this he wouldn’t be as he received his 2nd 15-month ban in 4 years.
FIFA found Diego not guilty of consciously taking performance-enhancing drugs, and believed he was unaware of its components. But regardless he was hit with a ban for breaching Fifa doping regulations. Here Maradona’s history as a drug user went against him. At the Mexico 86 World Cup a Spain player was found to have PED’s in their system, but he escaped punishment with only his doctor being banned.
There was no such luck for Maradona who never wore the shirt of his beloved Argentina again. Argentina’s World Cup too effectively ended there as without their talisman they lost to Bulgaria and Romania who knocked them out.
Like Maradona, Ronaldinho also garnered some attention for his performances in a FIFA World Youth Championships, the U’17s version which took place in Egypt in 1997 with Brazil romping to the title scoring 21 goals for the loss of just 2.
1999 was a very busy year for Ronaldinho on the international scene, first, he appeared in the U’20 World Championships, before receiving his first cap for the senior team in a 3-0 win against Latvia. Ronaldinho was 19 at the time and in just his 2nd season as a pro, this became even more impressive when he was selected for the 1999 Copa America and scored his first goal for the Selecao at the tournament.
It was the other 2 R’s: Ronaldo and Rivaldo who were the stars of the show though, as they helped themselves to 5 goals apiece, as Brazil won the trophy. It was the following week at the Confederations Cup where the teenager truly broke out on the International scene, as he scored in every game bar the final, winning the award for best player and top scorer with 6, including a semi-final hat-trick against Saudi Arabia. Brazil went down 4-3 in the final though to hosts Mexico.
The following year Ronaldinho was part of the U’23 squad that competed at the Summer Olympics in Sydney. He was in fine form heading into the tournament, scoring 9 goals in 7 pre-tournament games but the Olympics itself was a disappointment with Brazil exiting at the Quarter-Final stage.
At the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup Ronaldinho scored 2 and assisted 3 as his country won their 5th title. The victory held many parallels with Maradona’s triumph with Argentina in 1986. Like then, Brazil became champions 8 years after their previous win.
And like Maradona, Ronaldinho met and beat England 2-1 in the Quarter-Finals. With England leading 1-0 and the first half drawing to a close Ronaldinho received the ball just inside his own half and took off dribbling, running straight at the heart of the English defence. After beating Ashley Cole with a stepover and a turn of acceleration he kept his cool to slip a perfectly weighted pass to Rivaldo who didn’t disappoint.
Just as Maradona did in the ‘Hand of God’ game, Ronaldinho made his 2nd key contribution to the final outcome just a few game minutes after his 1st. 5 minutes into the second half, Ronaldinho stood over a free-kick 40 yards out. With keeper David Seaman off his line anticipating a ball into the box, the ball instead flew over his head and landed just under the crossbar and inside the post.
The goal was considered a freak, a stroke of good luck for Ronaldinho with him mishitting an attempted cross. And many people still hold that opinion to do this day, but I do not. The ball is so far away from any Brazilian player, I can’t see how a player as talented as Ronaldinho could misdirect a ball so bad as to completely miss out on everyone on his team. Seaman was stood in a bad position, too far off his line for a keeper of short stature and Ronaldinho saw an opportunity to go for goal and executed it perfectly.
This goal being dismissed as an accident I think is of great disservice to the Brazilian. But regardless just like the Hand of God goal Maradona scored, Ronaldinho also caused an England keeper to feel great embarrassment.
A red card shown to Ronaldinho prevented it from being a perfect afternoon for him as it forced him to miss the Semi-Final. Both Maradona and Ronaldinho’s sole World Cup victories also featured a 2-0 win over Belgium and a victory in the final against Germany.
Ronaldinho’s next tournament was the 2005 Confederations Cup which he also won, receiving the man of the match for his performance in a 4-1 final win against Argentina in which he also scored. Hopes were high heading into the 2006 World Cup that Brazil could retain the trophy. But the 3 R’s of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo which worked to devastating effect in Japan and Korea, was replaced by a top-heavy attack of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Ronaldo. All these stars together didn’t gel as Ronaldinho turned out the worst performances of his stellar international career and Brazil were eliminated in the Quarter-Finals.
Two years later at the Beijing Olympics Ronaldinho was selected as one of Brazil’s overage players as they took the Bronze medal, but he was cut from a Dunga’s initial 30-man squad for the 2010 World Cup, where Brazil were unable to improve upon a Quarter-Final exit. Ronaldinho was captain for a 2013 friendly against Chile, but was not called up for the Confederations Cup that year that Brazil won or the 2014 World Cup they hosted.
Maradona won 91 caps for his national side scoring 34 goals and Ronaldinho won 97 caps, including atleast one a year for 14 years and scored 33 goals. Both men scored 7 in their most prolific years for their country.
Reaching The End
After serving his first 15-month ban Maradona joined his former Argentina manager Carlos Bilardo at Sevilla. Overweight and undisciplined Maradona rarely performs and doesn’t endear himself any further to his employers by spending many nights in a local brothel with his teammates. His lack of fitness and absence from training leads Bilardo to feel unable to trust him to finish a game and he substitutes him. Maradona calls him a “son of a bitch” as he leaves the field. In the dressing room, the two come to blows with Diego later saying “we punched the shit out of each other.” The game would be his last in a Sevilla shirt.
Maradona is then offered a reprieve at Newell’s Old Boys but seems unable to motivate himself. The energy-boosting drugs he’s taking at the time mean that after an initial burst of energy he fades badly in games. His stay is short-lived.
Whilst serving a second drugs ban, Maradona tries his hand at management with Deportivo Mandiyu, but they are relegated in a match where Diego is seen on camera calling the referee “a thief, a liar and a gutless coward without balls.” When the ban is over Maradona returns for a second spell with his beloved Boca Juniors where the curtain comes down on his career on his 37th birthday after 31 games spread across 3 seasons.
Ronaldinho scored his 1st goal for Milan in a 1-0 derby win over Internazionale. However, after a good start, he struggled with fitness and often started games from the bench. A lack of dedication in training and late-night partying led departing manager Carlo Ancelotti to declare “The decline of Ronaldinho hasn’t surprised me. His physical condition has always been very precarious. His talent though has never been in question.“
Ronaldinho did much better in his 2nd season under Leonardo, a fellow Brazilian who was more lenient towards his nighttime activities. Ronaldinho scored 12 and assisted 14, more than anyone else in that season’s Serie A. Likely Milan’s best player that season, he scored 2 braces against Juventus, home and away, and a hattrick against Sienna.
However, the following season, the arrivals of Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, plus the stricter coach Massimiliano Allegri saw Ronaldinho’s time in Milan come to an end. Referring to a night Ronaldinho was spotted out in the early hours a couple of days before a Milan Derby, Allegri said in a press conference that “it was not an hour for an athlete to be awake.” That quote applied to many nights during Ronaldinho’s stay in Italy, one night at a Music festival he was implored by Milan fans to go home in order to be ready for training tomorrow, the Brazilian just laughed and told them not to worry. He was determined to enjoy himself and didn’t care who saw him.
This would change when he returned home to Brazil and joined Flamengo, with the club setting up a telephone hotline if they spotted the new club captain enjoying a night out, such were their frequency. 20,000 Flamengo supporters were present for Ronaldinho’s unveiling and although there were some good moments such as when he hit a hat-trick during a 5-4 win against Santos in a game they’d trailed 3-0 in, he, in the end, cancelled his contract and sued Flamengo over lack of payment.
Ronaldinho then joined Atletico Mineiro and won the Bola de Ouro (league’s best player) award in his 1st season. In his 2nd season, he won the Copa Libertadores, the first in Mineiro’s history, with Ronaldinho contributing 4 goals and 7 assists to the success. Mineiro lost the first leg of both the semi and the final 2-0 but won both ties on penalties.
Ronaldinho was awarded the 2013 South American Footballer of the Year. At the FIFA World Club Cup, following a semi-final match, Ronaldinho was mobbed by the players of Raja Casablanca, as they stripped him for souvenirs as a memento from sharing a pitch with their idol.
Ronaldinho then moved to Mexico side Queretaro where the highlight came in an away fixture to Club America where he scored twice in a 4-0 win and received a standing ovation from the home fans. Things were not as positive at his next and final club Fluimenese, where he appeared just 9 times before deciding to quit the club, no longer happy with his level.
Maradona scored 311 goals in 589 games in club football and Ronaldinho 266 in 699. Both players will be fondly remembered by everyone who saw them on a football pitch, for their contribution to the beautiful game.