Friday afternoon question: Will Ronaldinho leave Barcelona?
Marca and the rest of the Madrid-based media seem convinced of it, meaning we could be about to see the former World Player of the Year following the well trodden path of such luminaries as Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Romario, Juan Roman Riquelme, Luis Figo, Hristo Stoichkov, Bernd Schuster and Maradona.
All of these players underwent the transformation from Nou Camp idol to persona non grata in a remarkably short space of time.
Maradona left for Napoli after a traumatic two-year spell at the club marked by a bout of hepatitis, a horrendous tackle by Athletic Bilbao defender Andoni Goikoetxea, rumours of drug taking and a mass brawl after the final of the King’s Cup.
Schuster was ousted after walking out following the team’s defeat in the 1986 European Cup and a subsequent legal wrangle with the club. Romario and Stoichkov were not on speaking terms with then coach Johan Cruyff when they left the club.
Ronaldo departed at the peak of his powers after just one glorious season with the Catalans in which he racked up 34 goals in 37 matches, deciding that he would get better treatment at Inter Milan.
Luis Figo, of course, famously defected to Real Madrid after he was offered a more succulent deal by presidential candidate Florentino Perez, while Rivaldo was revered for the wonderful hat-trick that put Barca in the Champions League only to be ushered out of the side door a year later.
Other top Barcelona players such as Gary Lineker, Steve Archibald, Ivan de la Peña and Patrick Kluivert could all have left under better circumstances. Ronaldinho’s career at Barcelona appears to be following a depressingly familiar line.
Having guided Barcelona to two league titles and victory in the Champions League in his first three seasons at the club he is now being accused of failing to pull his weight.
Fitness problems, no-shows at training, a series of below-par performances on the pitch and rumours about late nights have all served to tarnish his reputation. Some of the local media even say that Barca will be prepared to let him leave on a free transfer at the end of the season, while the latest stories suggest he could exercise FIFA’s article 17 and buy himself out of the contract for a song.
It is hard to believe that only two seasons ago he was the most sought-after player on the planet. What is it about Barcelona’s tendency to devour its own sons?
We asked at the start of this season whether it was time Barcelona let Ronadinho go, and the consensus was that it would be too great a loss for the club. I wonder how many people have changed their minds.
Simon Baskett, Madrid
PHOTO: Ronaldinho reacts during the Atletico Madrid-Barcelona match in Madrid, March 1. REUTERS/Susana Vera