MILAN (Reuters) - Once hailed as the greatest player of his generation, Ronaldinho heads back to Brazil more famous for his late night partying and questionable weight then his erstwhile sidesteps and outrageous overhead kicks.
Like fellow Brazilian Ronaldo before him, the former world player of the year’s fall from grace has been remarkably quick and AC Milan fans have only seen rare glimpses over the last three years of the brilliance he displayed at Barcelona.
Ronaldinho is set to leave Milan with six months remaining on his contract and is talking to Brazilian teams such as first club and hometown side Gremio, normally the move of player at the very end of his career not at just 30 years of age.
A perceived lack of dedication in training and too many stories of him being spotted in bars in the early hours sapped Milan’s patience and he had mainly been a substitute in the first half of the season under new coach Massimiliano Allegri.
“To lose a player with the quality of Ronaldinho is a shame for everyone. However, he wanted to make a life choice by going to Brazil,” Allegri told reporters.
His lifestyle, which Allegri said was not befitting of an athlete after Ronaldinho was again pictured outside a late-night club, has ultimately been the attacker’s downfall although to keep up the incredibly high standards he managed in his early years at Barca was always going to be tough.
Commentators the world over raved at some of his skills with several clips of his mindboggling tricks becoming You Tube hits.
He won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002, his free kick goal in the quarter-final against England going down in folklore, before joining Barca from Paris St Germain in 2003 having been heavily courted by Manchester United.
His ponytail, huge smile and superb ball control made him a global phenomenon and the 2004 and 2005 FIFA world player gongs were richly deserved.
A Champions League winner’s medal with Barca in 2006 was oddly the beginning of his problems and when Milan bought him for about 19 million euros ($24.97 million) amid huge fanfare in 2008, most Nou Camp watchers knew his partying had got out of hand.
Carlo Ancelotti, Milan coach for Ronaldinho’s first season in Italy where he scored the winner in the derby with Inter, could see the tell tale signs of an unfit player past his best.
“The decline of Ronaldinho hasn’t surprised me,” Ancelotti said recently. “His physical condition has always been very precarious. His talent though has never been in question.”
Ronaldinho, whose troubles meant only mid-table English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers made a bid to keep him in Europe, hopes that by being back in the Brazilian league he can force his way into the national team again and play in the 2014 World Cup on home soil.
He was omitted for last year’s showpiece in South Africa despite a half-decent season with Milan but was recalled by Brazil for November’s friendly defeat by Argentina.
But to fulfil his World Cup dream, the talented Ronaldinho has to rediscover his love of the game and keep his love of partying under control.
Editing by Ken Ferris