Ronaldinho's Atletico Mineiro Renaissance Could Lead to 2014 World Cup Success

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistOctober 22, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 05:  Ronaldinho of Brazil looks on during the International friendly match between Brazil and Ghana at Craven Cottage on September 5, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

In 2005, Ronaldinho was on top of the world.

In that year, the Brazilian picked up his second consecutive FIFA World Player of the Year award, he helped Barcelona win a La Liga title and he was regarded as one of the greatest attacking midfielders in the game. What's more, he was a reigning World Cup champion, and in that calendar year, he scored 27 goals in 47 outings.

His career continued to flourish in 2006, when he helped Barca win the Champions League and retain La Liga, he scored his 50th league career goal with a beautiful overhead bicycle kick (above) and his personal accolades included FIFPro World Player of the Year and UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.

In the seasons that followed, however, Gaucho's career trajectory began to slide. He started missing games due to injury. He was overweight. His discipline at training suffered when it was clear he was becoming a little too preeminent on the nightclub scene.

When Pep Guardiola took charge at Barca, a perennially injured Ronaldinho failed to make the cut, and he was sold off to AC Milan.

The Brazilian's performances in Italy were mixed. He was losing the pace that made him famous, and his reputation was marred by a webcam sex-tape scandal, a prolonged battle with his weight and an addiction to nightlife.

Reports of all-night parties the nights before games were rife, and in 2008 he gave an insight into his concept of professionalism by defiantly telling Italian newspaper La Stampa: "After work I like to have fun. And that's what nightclubs are for – to hell with the moralists."

Evidently, he was having a good time, but Gaucho surely noted his fall from grace when he was excluded from Dunga's 2010 World Cup squad. With his career apparently in decline, things suddenly looked bleak for the bucktoothed legend.

However, against all odds, a move back to the Brazilian Campeonato with Flamengo has proved to be a catalyst for a career renaissance.

In the 2011 season with Flamengo, he scored 21 goals––roughly a goal every other game–– and helped the team earn the Taça Guanabara, Taça Rio and Campeonato Carioca.

Based on his improved form, he was invited back onto the Brazilian national squad in September 2011 by manager Mano Menezes for a friendly against Ghana. Ronaldinho will be 34 years old when the World Cup is staged in his home nation, but all signs currently suggest that a call-up could be coming that would ameliorate his exclusion in 2010.

Gaucho's resurgence has continued in the 2012 Campeonato campaign with his new side Atletico Mineiro. These days, we see no longer headlines about the 32-year-old falling out of nightclubs, but plenty about his game-stealing displays.

A few weeks ago he scored a hat trick in Atletico's 6-0 win over Figueirense, despite the fact that his stepfather had died of a heart attack the previous day. After the first goal, he wept with emotion (see video above). Last weekend, he put away one of his trademark free kicks against Fluminense, only to have it controversially ruled out.

Ronaldinho's best days may be behind him, and he will never again be the player who stunned us with his skill and pace at Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona. But his demons are also behind him, and a rich new vein of form has been opened as he plies his trade in the Brazilian domestic league.

Among youngsters like Neymar and Oscar, Ronaldinho would by no means be the brightest star in the Brazilian 2014 World Cup nebulae, but if his renaissance continues, his experience could prove invaluable.