Eighteen months later, those same Milan fans might be entitled to ask themselves if he was worth all the fuss. Even no less a figure than
"If it had been up to me, I would have gone down another, more long-term road rather than buying a player for the immediate short term," Berlusconi junior told reporters during a TV business fair in Monte Carlo in November, in reference to "
When Brazil coach
Unconfirmed sources told us that a dejected "Dinho" was even thinking of chucking it all in. He had had enough. Dunga, meanwhile, merely urged people to leave the player alone and allow him to regain his best form.
Which, curiously, is what he appears to have done at the end of 2009, when there were tantalizing indications that perhaps, just perhaps, the former World Player of the Year might still be capable of getting back up there. As Milan has switched to a more attacking lineup (
Even on a disappointing night which saw Milan held 1-1 in the Champions League by Marseille, Ronaldinho was arguably the best news of the game for Milan. As the former European champions struggled to contain a determined Marseille in the second half, Ronaldinho was noticeable not only for the quality of his play but also, unusually for him, for the enthusiasm with which he covered and chased back. At one point, he was seen excitedly urging the San Siro faithful to get behind the team.
If owner Berlusconi had written the script, that is how it would have gone. As far as the powers that be at Milan are concerned, this just has to be Ronaldinho's season. Last summer, of course, he may well have served as a pawn in the chess war of never-ending rivalry that underlines all relations between Milan and city cousins Internazionale. He tended to look like Milan's answer to the bold move which a month earlier had seen Inter hire the "Special One," former Porto and Chelsea coach
Now, in this post-
By the end of last season, beset by a series of niggling injuries and regularly consigned to the bench by Ancelotti, there was little sign of such a revival for Ronaldinho. The season had begun well with him picking the best possible match to score his first Serie A goal for Milan: namely, a winning header against Inter in the first derby of last season. But that perfect start proved to be a mirage and, to a large extent, it was all downhill from then on.
It may well be that the change of coach at Milan has proved beneficial for Ronaldinho. When he says that it is easy to work with the new man in charge -- compatriot
"I find it really difficult to be stuck on the bench," says Ronaldinho. "I'm glad only when I get a chance to do the thing I like best -- to play. I was unhappy, but now, I'm enjoying my football again."
Some Milanello observers also point to his more professional lifestyle. In other words, these days, Ronaldinho spends much more time on the training pitch than on the dance floor.
Those observations may be a trifle unkind, but it was significant to hear an old Milan warrior like
Milan fans will be hoping he is right. They will be hoping that at 29, he can climb back to where he once was, right at the very top of the greasy pole of world acclaim.