Ronaldinho Gaucho Returns for Showdown with Pep Guardiola in Club World Cup

Robbie BlakeleySpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 12, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 22:  Ronaldinho Gaucho of Atletico MG during a match between Botafogo and Atletico MG as part of Brazilian Cup 2013 at Maracana Stadium on August 22, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Few can deny Atletico Mineiro's task in becoming Club World Cup winners is a tougher ask than that of Corinthians last year. For the out-of-sorts Chelsea unit that Corinthians came up against in Japan last year read Bayern Munich, a side who have just swept away title challengers Borussia Dortmund 3-0 away from home.

But in the returning Ronaldinho Gaucho, out for more than two months with a thigh injury, Atletico have a man who, in the twilight of his career, has his own vendetta against Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola.

Guardiola is the man who famously drew a line under Ronaldinho's Barcelona career back in 2008 after a five-year spell which saw the club win two Spanish titles and their first Champions League (European Cup) title in 14 years.

Ronaldinho's star may have faded since those halcyon days, but the two-time World Player of the Year is the leading light in Atletico's attacking force.

His career, having stalled first at AC Milan and then Rio giants Flamengo, has enjoyed a renaissance in Belo Horizonte.

Ronaldinho played the best football of his career at Barcelona
Ronaldinho played the best football of his career at BarcelonaDenis Doyle/Getty Images

The slower pace of the game in Brazil has allowed his vision and precision to come to the fore. In addition, living far from the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro seems to have curbed his nocturnal activities, which meant he never endeared himself to the Flamenguistas.

Now, with what could be the jewel in an already glittering crown, he stands in the way of Bayern and their threat to sweep away all before them.

The South American and European champions must, of course, negotiate their respective paths to a meeting in the final. But a contest between the man considered the walking definition of modern coaching and the craque he deemed surplus to requirements, now 33 years of age, has the word "showdown" written all over it.

Pep Guardiola called time on Ronaldinho's Barcelona career
Pep Guardiola called time on Ronaldinho's Barcelona careerJulian Finney/Getty Images

Atletico's game is built around attack and primarily the passing range and expert probing of their No. 10. The last 18 months, since Ronaldinho made a surprise move to Atletico, have been excellent for the Minas Gerais outfit.

They ran Fluminense close in the Campeonato Brasileiro last year before lifting the Copa Libertadores this past July. Now they are going after the grand prize in South American football, the one opportunity a club gets to mix it with a European powerhouse.

For Atletico, in their first Club World Cup appearance, Ronaldinho's experience will be invaluable. Flanked by the exciting Fernandinho and tireless Diego Tardelli, the three work to provide for lone hitman Jo in a 4-2-3-1 set-up.

Coach Cuca has used the past few months to experiment with varying team selections and formations, even attempting to play without a fixed forward, but has eventually settled on the tried and tested.

Now he can boast a fully-fit Ronaldinho within his ranks. The veteran will be free to float and hunt for openings at will, ably supported by Fernandinho, who at times appears to have the ball glued to the end of his boot such can be the difficulty in getting it off him.

Guardiola can try to improve on Bayern's treble won last year by Jupp Heynckes. Having lost the DFL-Supercup to Borussia Dortmund, the Club World Cup would mean the opportunity to claim a quadruple trophy haul in a single season.

Bayern go into the tournament as clear favourites. But Ronaldinho, ready for the final challenge of the calendar year, the curtain call to the Brazilian season, still possesses the intelligence and foresight to give Atletico a fairytale ending and earn some personal vindication against the man who ended the most successful phase of his career.

Guardiola shut the door on Ronaldinho more than five years ago. December 21 in Marrakesh could be Ronaldinho's golden chance to return the favour.