Barcelona: To Settle Or Not To Settle, That Is The Question
As the contract is readied, the ink not yet dry, Ronaldinho's move to AC Milan brings me to look at the hard truth about current politics and Camp Nou and say the exit strategy of the biggest assets at my club Barcelona have been thus far, foolish and at best ham-fisted.
Barcelona have had to settle for a fee of about €21 million (£16.7 million) for the Brazilian, rising by €4 million if various clauses are met. Barcelona said that the agreement in principle was reached thanks to the player "renouncing his right to 15% of the fee."
The initial fee represents a €6 million increase on Milan's opening offer but is almost £9 million less than Manchester City's bid and only a third of the €60 million the Rossoneri tabled last summer—a bid rejected as inadequate.
How Barcelona wish they could turn the clock back. Rarely has a club made such a mess of selling its greatest asset and they are currently dealing with Samuel Eto'o little better. So bad have their tactics been that City's approach actually stood a chance.
Though he was twice Fifa's world player of the year, Ronaldinho's only real suitor for a time was a club that has not won anything since 1976. That is the level at which Barça pitched him—and they would have been delighted to accept City's £25.5 million bid.
The 28-year-old was reluctant to have his future decided for him but feared he might have to go to City. He waited for another club to ride in and rescue him and Milan, at long last, have done so.
The Milan coach, Carlo Ancelotti, earlier revealed he hoped the 28-year-old would give his side a much-needed lift ahead of the new season. "The important thing is to have champions and Ronaldinho without a doubt is one of them," said Ancelotti.
So keen were Barcelona to offload him and so determined was he to join a big club, even if they had failed to qualify for the Champions League, that they have had to cut their losses and accept Milan's offer.
It was understandable that Barcelona were determined to be rid of Ronaldinho. Caught at the centre of a civil war with Eto'o, he became a focus of dressing-room conflict and was seen as a protégé of Sandro Rosell, the former vice-president who left the club after falling out with the president, Joan Laporta, and is now preparing his own bid for power.
When Eto'o launched his infamous attack on Ronaldinho in February 2007, he suggested that his team-mate attended "eight of every 50 training sessions." It was only a slight exaggeration: over the past two seasons the Brazilian attended fewer than half. "Ronaldinho is in the gym" became a running joke and there was no hiding his expanding girth.
But the problem was not that Barcelona wanted him out; it was that their desire became so public. It was Barcelona themselves who leaked stories of a night out 24 hours before a game and whose ham-fisted handling of the Brazilian twice saw him withdraw from the squad on the morning of a match.
Johan Cruyff spent the year attacking him in his newspaper column and it was a club official who publicly admitted that "injured" players—Ronaldinho, Deco, and Rafael Márquez—had been ditched, while board members revealed that they no longer saw the Brazilian as "recoverable."
Barcelona even revealed that he no longer sold as many shirts as he once did.
The new head coach, Pep Guardiola, then applied the coup de grâce, confirming an open secret: Barcelona no longer wanted Ronaldinho or indeed Eto'o.
Never mind the money, we want them out was the message. Their prices fell at a stroke, the number of suitors did too and Barcelona's purchasing power tumbled with them, complicating bids for Emmanuel Adebayor and Alexander Hleb.
Suddenly City stood alone, glimpsing an opportunity handed to them by a club who had turned an auction at Sotheby's into a clearance sale at Poundland. Yesterday Milan ended City's dream, but it, like Ronaldinho, was good while it lasted.
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