Ronaldinho unlocked the box which brought about the current dominance of Spanish football
As Spain rewrite the history books and win their third major tournament in a row, their dominance on international football is confirmed. Since their Euro triumph in 1964 this was always a nation which was under achieving, always possessing good players, yet who were never able to perform with consistency or with the mental strength required to win a major tournament. Yet in 2008 something changed, success occurred and from that winning has become a habit. Could it be that one player was the catalyst for Spanish football's current dominance?
Since 2008 Spain have won the Euro’s twice and the World Cup, and their youth sides are winning tournaments too; the under 21's successful last summer in the Euro Championships and the U-19's won the Euro Championship this season to name a few. For Spanish football it has been a remarkable achievement.
In this same period the world have been blessed with the performances of Barcelona, who have dominated club football with their possession based style, possessing some of the best technically gifted players to have graced the football. There have been many reasons have been given to why Spain and Barcelona have dominated world football these past several years, whether it is the improvement in coaching quality laid down twenty years ago, the impact of Cruyff at Barcelona and his ability to transform the club into the Dutch model in terms of style and youth development and even perhaps the removal of Raul from the Spanish national side, as to reasons why Spain have begun winning things?
All of the reasons are in some ways valid and have contributed to the amazing achievements that the Spanish have accomplished. Yet developing players is one part of the development of successful teams, for me there is something else which is required, the will to win and most importantly, the knowledge of how to win. Could the key to the success which has glittered Spanish be down to one man, a Brasilian who arrived at Camp Nou in the summer of 2003?
The Second Choice
As the 2002/03 season was coming to an end there was much talk that Man Utd were willing to sell David Beckham as he was becoming “too big for the club” and Ferguson was of the opinion that a change was needed. The media was awash with reports of a player from PSG who was been sought as Beckham’s replacement. His name was Ronaldinho and he was reportedly the next big thing out of Brasil. The events which transpired after would affect the future of the clubs involved dramatically.
Barcelona had gone through a terrible period, the Joan Gaspart era had been disastrous and Barcelona had not won anything since the 98/99 season. In the 2001 and 2002 seasons Barca had finished 4th and in 2003 Barca finished 6th! The club was in serious need of a change and with the new presidential elections ongoing, one man, Joan Laporta, was promising to bring David Beckham to Camp Nou. Beckham was Laporta’s golden ticket to getting the Presidency of FC Barcelona, yet he was outmuscled by their rivals Real Madrid (the connection with adidas was a big factor also I am sure). Following missing out on Beckham, Laporta had to produce a big name to appease the fans who voted him in and Barcelona decided to snatch Ronaldinho from under United's noses for a fee of £25m.
With the arrival of a new President, a new young manager in Frank Rijkaard, and a marquee signing in Ronaldinho, the club appeared set on a new course, a course which perhaps even the board and fans did not expect, and one which laid the foundations for the dominance of Barcelona today.
A New Period at Camp Nou
The first season under Rijkaard saw the side finish 2nd behind Rafa Benitez’s Valencia, yet the signs were promising, and Ronaldinho was impressing the Camp Nou with his skill, speed and flair. His talent was recognized across the world and he duly picked up the World Player of the Year award in 2005 for his remarkable performances.
And it was in the 2004/05 season where Ronaldinho put Barcelona back on the map. Major changes happened that season, out went Luis Enrique, Marc Overmars, Kluivert, Davids and Cocu and in came Samuel Eto’o, Deco and Giuly for a combined total of £55m. The changes brought the La Liga title and thus ended their six year wait for a title.
The performances of Ronaldinho and Eto’o earned them places in FIFA’s World XI and Ronaldinho was named FIFA World Player of the Year for 2005. And the following season would see Barcelona win the league again and overcome Arsenal in Paris to win the Champions League. The side which three ago had finished 6th in La Liga were now European Champions and playing the best football in the world, possessing the best player in the world.
The Champions League success would be Rijkaard’s and Ronaldinho pinnacle in their careers at Camp Nou as the following season Barcelona lost out to Capello’s Madrid by head to head record and struggled in the Champions League. In 07/08 Barcelona were distinctly poor, reports of a lack of discipline from Rijkaard meant that players like Ronaldinho did not perform to their best and this Barcelona side had lost it's way and needed a new change.
We all know what happened in 2008 when Pep Guardiola arrived and Ronaldinho and Deco were moved on, Eto’o was deemed surplus until he impressed Guardiola and the decision was vindicated by the treble success.
In the summer of 2008, Spain played some excellent attacking football and tasted success in a major tournament for the first time since 1964. The team which had always under achieved had finally overcome their mental deficiencies and impressed the world with their technical brilliance, with Xavi in particular showing his quality and deservedly winning player of the tournament.
Is it possible that Spain's success arrived on the back of Barcelona's triumph since Ronaldinho's arrival, especially success in the Champions League in 2006? Players like Valdes, Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta were experiencing success and playing with some of the world's best players in Ronaldinho and Eto'o. For these Spanish players, the era of Ronaldinho developed their game and belief to win leagues and trophies. With players coming through the youth ranks in Pique and Messi (Fabregas left when Ronaldinho arrived) experiencing the majestic abilities of the man along with the success which came from the presence of him, it is no surprise that their skills and talent were enhanced and their desire to be successful at Barcelona grew even more.
Could it be that Ronaldinho was the catalyst for all the work Cryuff had done, he was the ignition which lit the flames in these players, enhancing their belief that their style of play could be successful. Before Ronaldinho arrived, Barcelona must have felt in the midst of an existential crisis, yet his arrival brought back the belief and produced success.
Although Guardiola removed Ronaldinho from the club when he arrived, he had inherited a group of players who knew what success was and who were hungry to win more. Remember too that Spain had just won the Euro’s that summer, meaning that players like Valdes, Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol had experienced success again. Their knowledge of how to win was enhanced and therefore Guardiola was fortunate to inherit such a beautiful mix of talent and hunger, with players like Iniesta, Messi and Bojan ready to step into the shoes of Ronaldinho and Deco.
Although Ronaldinho’s career at Barcelona dwindled, his influence on the fans, of Barcelona and all over the world, was perhaps the biggest influence on modern football. He single handily put Barcelona back on the map after so many years of being just an average European side. His arrival signified the start of a new era full of style, flair and importantly success for the club.
What if Beckham had arrived?
How ironic therefore that he was the second choice option after Beckham, a player who represented the old school style of play of the 90’s whereas Ronaldinho represented the future of the game, or more so the new "cycle" of the dribbler. Imagine if Barcelona had snapped up Beckham and United had got Ronaldinho, would the landscape of football be different now? Fortunately, he arrived at Camp Nou and the rest they say is history. Ronaldinho was the type of player which the 90’s had seemingly left behind and who opened the footballing world's eyes to a new era of football. His majestic performances for Barcelona reignited the club as a dominant force and set in place the players and mentality seen at Camp Nou and in Spain today.
The game we see today has much to owe to this player; players with skill, speed and flair are more common in the game today. Yet it has hard for many to match his pure brilliance. His performances for three years were some of the greatest seen and whereas Messi is purely prolific, Ronaldinho gave the world wonder and awe. The success which we have witnessed since from Spain and Barcelona, is in a large part down to him. Barcelona have much to thank the Brasilian for, so too does Spanish football, because although the talent in Spain was evident, the ability to win things had been the obstacle needed to overcome, Ronaldinho unlocked that box and out of it was born the dominance of Spanish football, which appears not likely to go for quite a long while.
I will leave you with the words of Ray Hudson on Ronaldinho "As electrifying as a hairdryer thrown into a hot tub, like Betamax, they don't make them like that anymore"
What do you think? Please comment below if you agree or disagree.