Ronaldinho: Can He Make the Brazil National Team for the 2014 World Cup?
He is a player who will forever live in the hearts of football fans worldwide. Indeed, Ronaldinho's five-year spell at Barcelona last decade ranks among the greatest periods of individual brilliance ever seen in the game. He was simply untouchable.
The iconic No. 10, though, has seen his career fade since his departure from Camp Nou. He failed to ignite in a two-year stint at Milan, and his return to Brazil with Flamengo was an unmitigated disaster, largely due to off-pitch incidents.
After a disappointing showing against Ghana, though, former coach Mano Menezes decided that the experiment had failed—Ronaldinho was no longer able to keep pace at the highest level.
Just over a year later, though, the calls for his return to the Seleção can be heard again.
Following an acrimonious end to his time at Flamengo, Ronaldinho was offered redemption in the form of a short-term contract at Atlético Mineiro.
The results have been impressive.
The ponytailed playmaker came into the club under unusual circumstances. For the first time in his illustrious career, there had not been a clamour to secure his signature. Ronaldinho was tainted by accusations of poor professionalism, as well as a general feeling that his best days were just a distant memory.
Atlético, though, gave him his chance and have been rewarded greatly for their gamble. The Porto Alegre-born star has inspired a club that was close to relegation last campaign. Alongside the likes of rising star Bernard and former Manchester City striker Jô, Ronaldinho has led a revival.
Reward came this past week as, having helped the club to second place in the league, Ronaldinho was named the Brazilian championship Player of the Year.
The difficulty for new Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari will not be deciding whether Ronaldinho is worthy of a place to take on England in February. On current form, he could undoubtedly offer a useful contribution.
The issue will be whether there is enough reason to believe that the two-time FIFA World Player of the Year will still be performing at these levels in eighteen months' time, when football's biggest festival visits Brazil for the first time since the country's famous Maracanazo defeat of 1950.
Ronaldinho has undoubtedly been in fine form for club side Atlético, but his lifestyle still draws criticism. It was the main reason behind his exit from Barcelona in 2008 and remains an issue that he has never fully resolved.
I want to see him behave like a player that wants to be a world champion. He needs to change a few things.—Mano Menezes, former Brazil coach told Arena SporTV in March 2012
He has enjoyed a fine season, without question, but there are legitimate concerns that he cannot maintain this form in the long run.
He enjoyed a similar purple patch at Flamengo, but performance levels dropped off after a few months. That said, the club's inability to pay their player on time undoubtedly contributed to his decline in both form and professionalism.
Questions should also be asked regarding his ability to transfer this recent form onto the international stage. As everybody knows, the domestic game in Brazil is an entirely different beast. In this regard, there are several factors to consider.
If Brazil are to compete with the likes of Spain and Germany at the World Cup, it will not be through the sort of tactics seen in the Brasileirão. The attacking midfielders cannot simply ignore their defensive work and linger on the halfway line, waiting for the ball to be launched forward by the defence. That would be disastrous.
Thus, Brazil are going to need players who will close down, track back and, when in possession, offer a dynamic presence. In Brazil, Ronaldinho is afforded space to play the game at his pace.
As he found on his last attempt at international football, though, the pace of the game could be too much for him.
With those arguments against his recall, what are the arguments in favour?
Will Ronaldinho make the 2014 World Cup?
Well, firstly, his previous working relationship with Scolari can only help. Ronaldinho helped Brazil to their fifth World Cup triumph in 2002 under the veteran manager and will hope that this relationship can earn him another shot.
Scolari will not accept underperformance, but could be willing to give his former charge a chance to prove himself ahead of the Confederations Cup.
Ronaldinho may not be the same player he once was, but does he need to be? With the energy of young starlets Neymar and Oscar around him, there is an argument that the former Barcelona man could be accommodated. That is something Felipão must consider.
What Ronaldinho has shown this season is that he still has the skill and guile to unlock defences, even if it is now normally with a pass rather than his dribbling abilities. The Atlético star also offers more of a threat from set pieces than any current member of the squad.
We are all aware that we have a dual responsibility in this tournament. The first is to present a type of football that honours our tradition.—Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian president at a press conference in December 2012.
Scolari is truly in a fortunate position regarding creative options: Oscar, Neymar and Lucas Moura are all brilliant players and should still improve over the next 18 months. However, the trio will be aged just 22, 22 and 21 respectively when the tournament comes around.
This is where Ronaldinho, Robinho or Kaká could have some use. Ronaldinho has enjoyed a fine campaign, Robinho is still adored in his homeland and Kaká has performed well since recall to the squad earlier this year.
It would be a mistake to rely on the trio given their indifferent form in recent years, but their experience could prove invaluable as part of a very young squad. They will not all be involved, but it is likely that Scolari will look to involve one or two of the three—even if just as an option off the substitutes' bench.
With Brazil hosting the tournament, the team simply have to perform, and must do so with a style and panache worthy of their traditions.
Scolari now has three months to consider whether a fit, focused Ronaldinho can be the showman that the Brazilian public so desperately crave.
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