Little star, shining bright

He made such a huge impact as a teenager that Paris Saint-Germain broke the world record transfer fee for a teenager to bring him to the club:

Ronaldinho — or little Ronaldo is a regular for Brazil and was one of their stars during the 2002 World Cup win. He scored a freak goal against England and generally played well but was slightly overshadowed by the other two “R’s”, Ronaldo and Rivaldo.

Brazilian fans were devastated when Luiz Felipe Scolari opted against reuniting the famous “Ro-Ro” duo, and left the controversial Romario at home. Auriverde supporters could soon, however, be consoling themselves with another legendary partnership - the “Ronalds”, and the new black pearl Ronaldinho, top-class striker and dazzling dribbler, could well eclipse his older team-mate at the 2002 FIFA World CupTM Korea/Japan.

Talent runs in the de Assis Moreira family. Ronaldinho’s father was a footballer, his brother Roberto enjoyed a long and successful career with Gremio Porto Alegre, and the youngster followed in their footsteps. Ronaldinho Gaucho burst onto the scene when he was crowned champion and top scorer at the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Egypt in 1997. At the Copa America in 1999 in Paraguay, he scored an unforgettable goal against Venezuela — lobbing one defender, dribbling past another as if he weren’t there and humiliating the keeper with a sublime finish, earning him numerous comparisons with the great Pelé. He certainly could not have hoped for a better first goal for the Seleçao.

He signed for Gremio in 1998, but left the club just two years later after his reputation had spread worldwide. He was on the wanted list of several European clubs, but it was Paris-Saint Germain who managed to secure his services. Although he landed in the French capital in the spring of 2001, it was August before he would play his first official match after a legal wrangle between his former club and his new employers over the small matter of several hundred million French Francs. Ronaldinho made a slow start to his PSG career but soon became one of the stars of the team. His dribbling and free kicks were the class of the French championship and he went on to score nine league goals, his incisive performances earning him a place in the Seleçao.

When he twice finished top-scorer, in the 2000 FIFA Confederations Cup (with six goals) and in qualifying for the Olympic Games in Sydney (nine goals), Ronaldinho began to eclipse his idol Romario, culminating in Scolari abandoning the veteran for the precocious youngster. “I’ve known him since he was 14,” admitted Romario. “He followed me when I was at Gremio and in the youth teams. It’s easier for me to play for the Seleçao. We know each other as well on the pitch as off it.”

The Gremio prodigy has asserted himself more and more with each appearance, becoming almost indispensable to Scolari’s plans. His alertness and daring have revived a Brazilian attack practically moribund since the injury to Ronaldo.

The versatile Ronaldinho is as comfortable wearing the number 10 shirt as he is leading the attack, but with Ronaldo back in business, a partnership between the two could be devastating. Each blessed with exceptional pace, incredible dribbling and finishing that most players can only dream of, the two Brazilian strikers believe their time has come. “I prefer to play with Ronaldo, because I know him best,” the darling of the shantytowns recently admitted, before going on to underline his faith in his own ability. “I think I’m good enough to play every match. But I still have to prove myself both in training and at match level.”