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Is Ronaldinho’s Flamengo exit the final act in an intriguing career?

Six years is a long time in football. In 2006, Ronaldinho had the world at his feet after a string of virtuoso displays for Barcelona and Brazil.

This week, it has emerged that the Brazilian, now 32, has had his contract at Flamengo terminated via a court case.

The episode is another dent in the reputation of a player who was once considered the best footballer of his generation.

Having won the FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2004 and 2005, Barcelona’s Ronaldinho was the hottest property in world football. Dazzling displays, typified by outrageous skill and incredible vision, left opposition defenders baffled as to how best neutralise his talent.

This was no more apparent than in November 2005, when fans of Barcelona’s biggest rivals - Real Madrid - gave the playmaker a standing ovation after an outstanding second goal. Ronaldinho was then expected to wow the world once more at the 2006 World Cup, where Brazil were the holders after a number of Ronaldinho-inspired displays in 2002.

Falling stock 

Since then, things have mostly gone downhill. As so often happens to the face of major tournaments, Ronaldinho was disappointing and Brazil only made the quarter-finals.

Although he had inspired Barcelona to Champions League glory just a few weeks before, Ronaldinho’s stock was about to fall further.

Despite his pedigree and reputation, the Brazilian was slowly pushed to the peripheries of Barcelona’s squad as a young attacker called Lionel Messi continued to improve and, after another mediocre season, the Brazilian was shipped off to AC Milan.

Despite the odd reminder of his brilliance at Milan, Ronaldinho would never again reach the heights he scaled in 2005.

A decent, if unspectacular stint in Italy ended with the announcement that the Brazilian would return to the country of his birth to play for the nation’s most popular side, Flamengo.

Against arguably weaker opponents, Ronaldinho again shone briefly, netting 14 goals in 32 games for his new side, a spell which saw him remain in contention for a place in the Brazil squad.

However, since the start of the year, his form has been poor and he was jeered by his own fans last weekend after being substituted.

What next for Ronaldinho? 

This week’s news poses questions about what Ronaldinho’s next move will be.

Famously courted by Blackburn Rovers owners Venky’s 18 months ago, a move back to Europe could be an option but, at 32, it is unlikely to be at one of the continent’s biggest clubs.

Big money moves to Malaga, Anzhi Makhachkala or even former club Paris Saint Germain are possibilities if Ronaldinho decides not to remain in Brazil.

To go to such great lengths to leave such a popular club is a departure from the Ronaldinho we all grew up admiring and appreciating.

Never without a smile, the Brazilian mirrored the passion and adoration for the game of a young child, showing great flair, enthusiasm and an almost reckless desire to express himself.

It is this need for freedom which has perhaps forced Ronaldinho’s hand.

Nevertheless, although he is approaching the end of his career, the man with amazing sleight of foot could still be worth a punt for adventurous clubs. There may still be life in the magician yet.

By Doug Elder

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