Former Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb has said the Catalans made the decision to sell Ronaldinho and Deco in 2008 to protect Lionel Messi from their influence, as the two would often turn up to training drunk.
Hleb spoke to Voka TV (h/t Goal), saying the Blaugrana were afraid the two would "bring down" Messi: "Ronaldinho and Deco came to training drunk. That's why Ronaldinho and Deco were sold in 2008. Because they were afraid that they would bring down Lionel Messi."
He also spoke about his time with the Catalans, saying he never wanted to join them in the first place:
"Frankly, I initially did not want to go to Barcelona at all. I wanted to go to Bayern Munich or stay at Arsenal. But the agents were telling me to go as it was Guardiola who was calling.
"When I moved to Barca, I lived with Thierry Henry for a while. He said to me: 'Stay until you find something. What is in the hotel? It's boring'. And so I spent a month with him.
"He always said to me: 'Why did you go to Barca?! Well, call me, I would explain everything!'"
The 38-year-old moved to the Camp Nou in 2008 after a successful spell with Arsenal, but spent more time away on loan than at the club in the next four years. Per Sky Sports, his contract was eventually terminated by mutual consent in 2012.
Deco and Ronaldinho both won two La Liga titles and the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League with the Catalans and were established superstars by the time they were sold in 2008. The former moved to Chelsea before finishing his career at Fluminese, while the latter joined AC Milan and later had stops at Flamengo, Atletico Mineiro, Queretaro and Fluminese.
Pep Guardiola became manager of the first team at the end of the 2007-08 season, and he immediately told reporters Deco, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o were not in his plans for the squad, per the Guardian's Daniel Taylor. Eto'o ended up staying for one more season and scored the opening goal in the Champions League final win over Manchester United.
Two years after his departure, Ronaldinho wrote an open letter to everyone connected to the club, professing his love for the Blaugrana:
"As you all know, I don't normally talk in public a lot and I'm not one for big farewells, but I would like to take advantage of this occasion to thank you all for everything we shared together during the five years I defended the Barca shirt. They were certainly the best years of my life, both professionally and personally. I honestly think we enjoyed so much whilst we were together."
Messi had been regarded as the biggest talent in the club's academy long before he ever made his senior debut at the age of 16, so Barcelona were likely determined to protect and nurture him as best as possible:
Over his career, the Argentinian has won La Liga 10 times, as well as four UEFA Champions League titles.