Ronaldinho: Where Did It All Go Wrong with Brazil's World Cup Year?

Robbie BlakeleySpecial to Bleacher ReportMarch 18, 2014

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Ronaldinho of Brazil in action during the International friendly between England and Brazil at Wembley Stadium on February 6, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Brazil have wrapped up their friendly programme prior to their World Cup squad announcement on May 7. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari now appears to have a firm idea of the ins and outs after a year of friendly auditions, not to mention a Confederations Cup title, since he took over from Mano Menezes.

The approach of the two managers differs in one significant way. During his reign, Menezes was insistent his attacking quartet needed an experienced head, someone who had been through the rigours of a World Cup previously.

In his free-floating 4-2-4 formation, the Corinthians boss always found room for either Ronaldinho or Kaka, who have played at two and three World Cup tournaments respectively.

Ronaldinho missed a penalty against England in Luiz Felipe Scolari's first game back in charge
Ronaldinho missed a penalty against England in Luiz Felipe Scolari's first game back in chargeMike Hewitt/Getty Images

After arriving for his second stint as Selecao coach, Big Phil initially followed a similar train of thought. Appointed in November 2012, his first match wasn't until the following February, against England at Wembley.

Ronaldinho started the game as the side's No.10. In what had become a depressingly similar pattern, he flattered to deceive—missing a penalty that would have given Brazil the lead—and has not worn the famous yellow shirt since.

The turning point in Scolari's thinking was the Confederations Cup. Neither veteran was present, Brazil lifted the trophy, and both former European greats have since been discarded.

At 33 years of age, clearly the-two time World Player of the Year's best days are behind him. But surely, a player of Ronaldinho's experience, and above all ludicrous talents, could have found his way into the national setup, for the country's most important World Cup since 1950.

Ronaldinho at his majestic peak was a beauty to behold. His goal against Real Madrid for Barcelona during the 2005/06 season at the Bernabeu, gliding past players as if he was skating across ice, before finding the bottom corner of the goal, epitomised his standing in the game.

He played alongside some excellent players at Barcelona. The likes of Carles Puyol, Xavi and Samuel Eto'o were all pivotal in putting the club back at the pinnacle of Spanish football.

But none captured the imagination like the Brazilian No. 10.

His fall from grace has been long and painful. Until now, when, three months before the World Cup kick-off, the Atletico Mineiro playmaker finds himself in a position where the likes of the industrious efforts of Hulk, or the untested Chelsea midfielder Willian are assured World Cup squad members, whilst he remains on the periphery, in all likelihood for the remainder of his career.

Where did he take a spectacular turn for the worse? From lethargic games for Barcelona to a largely anonymous spell at AC Milan, where his hunger and desire for the game seemed visibly expelled from his body, he found himself back in Brazil by January 2011.

Ronaldinho has rediscovered some of his form at Atletico Mineiro
Ronaldinho has rediscovered some of his form at Atletico MineiroBuda Mendes/Getty Images

And his decision over which club to join set his career back 18 months. It was considered a given that when the former Brazil star washed back up on these shores, he would return to boyhood club Gremio, but instead he joined Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo.

Flamengo thought they had hit the jackpot with Ronaldinho, not only in sporting terms but in marketing prospects as well.

What promptly followed was a train wreck.

A string of substandard performances and a public fallout (in Portuguese) with then-coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo blighted his time in the Cidade Maravilhosa.

Sixteen months was the period of time Ronaldinho stayed at Flamengo. Forty-five minutes was the duration he looked like the Ronaldinho of old.

The game was Santos versus Flamengo in the Brazilian league championship. Neymar, then of Santos, had played a blinder during the first half, scoring the goal that would win the 2011 Puskas Award.

Ronaldinho came out for the second half as if insulted by the youngster's daring. He turned on the magic like the flick of a switch, scoring a second-half hat-trick in an unforgettable 5-4 win for Flamengo.

But it was a brief cameo in over a year of crushing disappointment.

Where he has shown more encouraging signs of his old self is current club Atletico Mineiro. He is entering his third season with the side, having lifted the Copa Libertadores last season.

But, despite more chances than he perhaps deserved, the international stage is now a step too far. Ronaldinho has shown, during the 2012 season when he mentored Bernard, who now occupies a place in the national squad, that he still has plenty to offer the game.

Inside the four white lines, though, that contribution has become more limited than many ever thought possible.