In preparation for tomorrow’s Brazil-Argentina “friendly”, we in the CultFootball pressroom have been having some exchanges as to whether or not Ronaldinho’s form warranted his call up to the side, especially after having been so unceremoniously dumped for the summer’s big tourney in S. Africa. Mark Gannon, our man in Brazil, lays it out plainly below.
I watched the season of The Simpsons after Conan O’Brien left to take over Late Night, but I didn’t like it, so I stopped watching the show. The next year, friends started telling me about episodes that actually sounded good. It seemed like the show might actually be back on track, so I thought I might try to watch it again. I’d still forget to tune in most of the time, and on the occasions when I did, it sucked. But frequently, when I didn’t watch, my friends would tell me about the episodes, and they sounded really good.
I mention this because I’ve been thinking about it since getting Sean’s e-mail, and it occurred to me that I’ve never actually watched a Milan game in which Ronaldinho played well. I’ve seen Milan games without him, Milan games in which he didn’t play well, and highlights of Milan games in which he did play at least well enough to make the highlights. But I don’t think Ronaldinho has ever had a good game for Milan when I sat down and watched the whole game.
I think Ronaldinho probably should have been on the Seleção for the 2010 World Cup, but I don’t expect him to be a starter in 2014 at age 34.
He is already a very different player from the one he was when he shone at Barça, and a good part of the difference looks to me like bad aging. That said, his peak was so high that he can still be a very useful player.
I was under the impression he was actually playing well recently, but my basis for that impression is more than shaky. People whose soccer knowledge I respect have said good things about Ronaldinho recently. And Mano Menezes appears to be basing his call-ups on performance and not reputation. I have been reading a lot about him watching games, not just on TV but going to games and watching from the stands or the boxes.
He spent some time in Europe just going to club games. That’s when he had the well-publicized one-on-one with Ronaldinho. So it seems he’s interested in seeing players actually playing rather than just watching highlight videos and going by reputation. These things lead me to suspect that Mano and others believe Ronaldinho can play well now (and so maybe Sean just got his own taste of Ronaldinho’s “Mid-90s Simpsons Effect”).
Given that Ganso, who is likely to be the creator guy when he’s healthy, still isn’t back to playing at Santos yet after surgery, and given that BRA-ARG is as big a rivalry match as there is anywhere in the world (and it always seems to have excellent talent on both sides), I think the idea is to bring in a player who’s unlikely to be a big part of the team in 2014 to do a specific job for one game.
Another reason I believe Ronaldinho may actually be playing well enough to contribute to the Seleção in a positive way: people in the Brazilian media who have been very critical of Ronaldinho over the years are now speaking highly of him. Given conflicting info from people who watch a lot of soccer, I went to my best source on the subject of Ronaldinho: an Italian citizen who identifies much more with Milan than with the Italian national team.
As long as I was asking, I asked him about all 4 Milan players on Mano’s list for the Argentina game. He says Pato has not been playing well for Milan for about 3 weeks now. He says Pato is not integrating well into the attack schemes. My friend said Robinho has started playing better and shows great skill as an attacking forward. He thinks the best thing Milan could do now is “sell high” on Pato and keep Robinho. FWIW, Pato would be a starter on my seleção until he played himself out of the position. He has been excellent for the national team under Mano and I just don’t watch enough Milan games to have any real idea of how he’s playing there. I have to admit that my friend’s comments have me concerned.
My Italian friend had a lot of good things to say about Thiago Silva. He said that when Thiago isn’t playing, Milan’s defense really sucks. He said he can’t believe Thiago is 100%, and if Thiago aggravates his ankle injury playing for the Seleção, my friend is going to be some pissed. And about Ronaldinho? I’ll let Loris state his opinion in his own words:
And then there’s Ronaldinho. He’s playing well or, at least, well enough. It is clear from the flashes of brilliance he can still show that – if he wanted to (i.e., he trained his ass off and got back some fire and intensity) – he would be one of the top 3 players on the planet. Sadly for Milan, and I suspect the selecao, he is no longer driven or motivated to excel. He’s still quite good. I definitely want him in the lineup, he can still wreak havoc in defenses (you basically have to put 2 people on him or have a guy marking him and a guy ready to go after him when he gets by the first man), but he is not what he was, nor will he ever be. I would still play him because he is a player that can “pull a rabbit out of a hat” when all is lost (sort of like what Baggio could still do on one leg at the end of his career), but he will not mark (commits stupid fouls when he tries) and can no longer blow by two-three people (can blow by one, but the second guy stops him). He has tremendous vision and has become quite the assist man. I like him, a lot, but I dream of what he could have been if he had wanted to.