Vol. 5 Num 558 Wed. December 21, 2005  

A class apart

Ronaldinho's second successive award as world player of the year here on Monday simply confirms him as head and shoulders above the rest and sits easily with the European award he picked up last month.

But as long as a decade ago, well before he finally departed native Brazil to join Paris St Germain, the 25-year-old's path to success at both club and international level seemed already mapped out.

Ronaldinho, who left the French league side in 2003 for the Catalan giants, may owe some of his early success to his older brother Roberto Assis although most will agree his is a special kind of individual talent.

Ronaldinho was only eight years old when Roberto, nine years his senior, became head of the family after his father Joao Da Silva Moreira was killed in a swimming pool electrical accident.

Roberto was an emerging star with Gremio but his hopes of becoming a Gremio great were compromised by a serious knee injury which led to him playing second-tier football in Switzerland with Sion, then in Japan and Mexico. Now Roberto is very much in the picture - he is his younger brother's manager and adviser.

Ronaldinho followed in his brother's footsteps, emerging as an even hotter talent at Gremio's youth set-up before he left for Europe after a protracted contract dispute.

It was from an early age that Ronaldinho began to nurture the kind of skills that have left dozens of the world's best defenders kicking out at thin air.

"I loved dribbling. I loved to play in the living room, round the furniture or in the garden with my dog," he said. "That was always what I loved doing the most."

Having been voted the outstanding player at the under-17 world championships in Egypt in 1997, won by Brazil, Gremio quickly rejected a six-million-dollar offer for Ronaldinho from PSV Eindhoven.

It was an understandable approach. Only a year before the Dutch giants had sold his compatriot Ronaldo to Barcelona. That year Ronaldo won the first of his two Ballon d'Or awards.

Ronaldinho did not make his full debut for Gremio until 1999, but little convincing of his potential was needed when he scored 15 times in 14 matches.

He was then called up by Vanderlei Luxemburgo to the Brazil squad for that year's Copa America in Paraguay.

Again, he didn't disappoint when given the chance to prove himself. Coming on as a late substitute against Venezuela, he scored a well-remembered goal that left Brazilian television replaying it the next day, comparing it with the equally-impressive goal Pele scored against Wales in the 1958 World Cup.

Ever since PSG beat off a host of other keen observers to whisk Ronaldinho to Europe in 2001, his stock has gone sky high.

His mazy runs, deft feints and eye for goal - not to mention the flamboyant dances which form part of his celebrations - have added a new dimension to the European game - even at arch rivals Real Madrid, whose fans applauded his second of two goals in a 3-0 win earlier this season.