Ronaldinho Seeks Rio Redemption

Brazilian Mauro Cezar tells Póg Mo Goal how Rio’s grand for returning Ron

PORTO Alegre is known as “Cidade Sorriso” or Smile City. It’s appropriate then, that it should export the most famous buck-toothed grin in world football. An odyssey that traversed three of Europe’s most renowned cities came full circle this week whenRonaldo de Assis Moreira returned to his homeland, though this time to the sprawling mass of Rio de Janeiro and the fanatical following of Flamengo.

Ronaldinho, shunned by his international manager at last year’s World Cup to the dismay of his countrymen, and shaking off a stagnant loss in form, seeks soccer salvation in the shadow of the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

Twenty thousand fans turned out at Flamengo’s modest sports club to bestow an overwhelming welcome on the former PSG, Barcelona, and AC Milan star. Seriously, what were Blackburn thinking?

Wishing he was among the adoring crowd, Rio native Mauro Cezar, a life-long fan of the club gives his thoughts to Póg Mo Goal.

“The biggest thing is that for Ronaldinho to return to Rio will make him extremely happy,” enthuses Mauro, who shares that joy.

Flamengo are one of the biggest supported clubs in Brazil boasting an endless list of former stars including Zico, Romario, Bebeto, and Adriano.

Mauro has been a Flamengusta since he was 9-years-old, attending games with his older brother Alex.

“The squad at that time was considered one of the best in the history of Brazilian club football with players like Zico, Junior, Socrates, and Falcao.”

All were members of the 1982 World Cup side. While the victorious Boys from Brazil of 1970 are often considered the greatest team of all time, for many Brazilians, including Mauro, the ’82 outfit was better.

Beaten by eventual champions Italy in the quarter final, they have earned the unwanted moniker, ‘the best team to never win a World Cup.’ (Could we attach that to Big Jack’s side of 1990? How about “The best team to only score two goals and reach the quarter-finals without winning a game, to never win World Cup?”)

The Italy side, of course, included Marco Tardelli scoring that winning goal in the final against Germany.

Many Brazilians were adamant that Ronaldinho should have been included in last year’s squad in South Africa but put it down to the obstinance of the manager Dunga. We Irish can empathise, though admittedly the bloated images of Andy Reid can’t be compared to those of Ronaldinho and his lapses at Carnival time in Rio. It can’t exactly be put down to the Festival of World Cultures in Dun Laoghaire.

Mauro insists Ronaldinho would have went to the last World Cup if Dunga were not the manager.

The player who began his career at Gremio has struggled to return to the heights of his time at Barcelona and was also linked to his old club alongside Blackburn Rovers this week. Ronaldinho was exceptional at the Nou Camp but in his last few games at Milan, he rediscovered his form, opines Mauro.

“He is not as good as he was in 2004-5 (World Player of the Year twice in succession) but he is better now. If he had gone to Blackburn, his football would suffer because of the style played there.”

Many on this side of the world question Brazilians’ ability to hack it in the so-called better leagues in Europe and would see Ronaldinho’s return home as the winding down of his career.

Not so says Mauro who is adamant the player has returned to Brazil to regain his form and confidence as his only aim will be to make the World Cup in 2014.

“Adriano returned to Brazil to Flamengo and won the championship and is now at Roma. His family still live in one of the bigest favellas in Rio. Robinho returned to Santos but is now at Milan. Ronaldinho played at PSG, Barcelona, and Milan but right now he prefers to return to Brazil. Everyone will know him there. He will be a superstar.”

The Blackburn Rovers story was never a runner. The lack of a stylish footballing pedigree would not have endeared them to Ronaldinho,

“He would have went to Chelsea, Liverpool, or Man United but not Blackburn. He is only 31 and good enough to play for a top team in England,” says Mauro citing Roberto Carlos who, at 37, is still playing at Corinthians. Ronaldinho has not endured any really big injury over his career. His body is still good enough to play for another 3-4 years and he has highlighted the London Olympics and the World Cup in his homeland as the reasons behind his move.

Brazilian players are notorious for partying hard when they take a trip home, especially around Carnival, and images of the bloated Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were targets for ridicule when those star names graced European sides.

But in Brazil, they won’t care too much. “Ronaldinho will know he is a star. He can do anything, party as much as he likes and he knows he will still be in the team.”

Flamengo narrowly avoided relegation in the league last season, with the action going to the last day.

Next week the Carioca, the Rio state championship kicks-off, running until April, and then the Brazilian season commences.

Along with Sao Paulo, Flamengo boast the most national titles (six each). Their biggest rivals are Vasco Da Gama and the animosity between the two is intense. The club attracts fanatical supporters in massive numbers throughout this vast country. According to our narrator, they have the best songs, commissioning new anthems for each home game which are often then copied by other sides. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, other clubs would dearly love the magnetic appeal Flamengo holds for Brazilian footballers.

“All players want to come to Flamengo because of the fans. If you ever have the chance, go to the stadium to see Flamengo. You’ve got goosebumps; the guys go crazy.”

Premier League supporters simply do not measure up.

“Take Chelsea, for example, they don’t support the team. But Spurs compared to Chelsea, they sing, they enjoy the game more.”

Already, Mauro’s eyes light up when he thinks of the 2014 World Cup coming to Brazil.

“The people will have the best time of their lives. The hospitality is amazing. Every country will be amazed. Everyone who loves football loves to see Brazil perform. It’s like seeing USA play basketball. Imagine if you can beat Brazil at the World Cup in Brazil?”

The natives are conscious that the Selecao (The Selection) are the second team for many lovers of the game.

“Everyone wants to watch them. Imagine seeing Brazil play as the host nation. Everyone is a fan. The samba, the girls dancing, even better.”

Painting a picture as dazzling as the South-American sun, Mauro leaves us with an enticing thought.

“Imagine if Italy, Spain, Germany, Ireland won the World Cup in Rio. How huge would that be for them? We won the World Cup, in Brazil!”

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