Barcelona’s game against Sevilla is moved to a midnight start because the club presidents are fighting over who knows what -- Ronaldinho doesn't care. Play at seven, midnight, six in the morning — whenever, just play. Around the locker room, the other players look antsy. Ronaldinho is drinking good mate. He’s kicking the air to keep his legs loose.
Sem problemas esta noite, pessoal. Sem problemas!
If anyone should be nervous, it’s Ronaldinho. This is his first game in front of the Barcelona crowd, and they are eager to see what 30 million euros has got them.
Brazilian made, the club bought him in Paris. He is supposed to be a speedster with control. Shifty and dangerous, with good ideas. A free-kick specialist. He plays like a good actor, you see him figure out the problems on the screen.
Some say he will be the club's savior, and that makes the skeptics start to glow.
He’s a partier.
He’s about the show.
His hair is too long.
Barcelona hasn’t won a trophy in four years, and last year, they finished sixth in the league. The club needed something big, so club President, Joan Laporta, promised he’d sign David Beckham. Probably not the gaudiest thing a president has ever promised, but possibly one of the most unlikely. Beckham had already told Real Madrid — of all teams, Real Madrid — that he would sign with them. Laporta’s promise vaporized and he looked foolish. Ashamed? Not a politician. Laporta scoured the market. Beckham was the biggest name, but who were the sharks circling? No shark is bigger than Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Who did he want?
Ronaldinho didn’t fit in at Paris Saint-Germain. The French were too stuck up for him. They prefer elegance, he is flash. Commitment issues? Sure, but nothing breeds commitment like playing for the best. Paris Saint-German is not that. Laporta went to Paris and put €30 million on the table, Paris looked at Ferguson, Fergie walked away.
The skeptics fed.
What’s good in Paris, is mediocre in Barcelona.
Brazilian stars, like all stars, fizzle out.
They talked as much as they could in the run-up to the season. The club had bought the most explosive player on the market. There was hope around the Camp Nou, and hope is what skeptics eat.
Finally, midnight. The Barca players trot out of the tunnel and onto the field.
Before kickoff, each starting Barca player is announced. The song between the announcer and the crowd starts with the announcer giving the player’s first name, a pause for the crowd to chant the player’s last name, then the announcer says it himself.
“Carlos — Puyol — Puyol.”
“Xavi — Hernandez — Hernandez.”
Ronaldinho doesn't wait long to show the Barca fans what he’ll do for them. He starts by showing them his top gear. He gets the ball and runs by his defender, a sprint into open space. He leaves him easily, but draws others, so he slows.
The crowd OOOS.
Just revving the engine.
Then it’s a pass. Sevilla’s goal-kick comes down and the ball bounces between teams in the midfield until landing at Ronaldinho’s feet.
He’ll have to do more to convince the skeptics.
Plenty of guys run fast.
A back heel pass is more flash than substance.
Saviors don’t leave others to do the job.
Move to the 58th minute. Sevilla is up 1-0, attacking on the left side, a Sevilla guy shoots and the ball goes under Puyol, right to goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Someone shouts Rono! Rono! Someone in the crowd or maybe a player. Valdes throws him the ball. Ronaldinho has the space to let it bounce. He runs next to it without taking a touch. He’s taking snapshots of the others on the field. Speed is a main component of his poison, he has his pictures, so he must go. He engages the first defender — you don’t run away from defenders, you run at them. He beats him by leaning left then accelerating right.
From his 3 o’clock, another defender closes in on him. Ronaldinho slows down. The defender keeps coming and kicks at the ball where it should be, but it’s not there. Ronaldinho has moved from first gear to fourth, then down to second in a new direction. The change in speed forces defenders to misjudge where the ball should be. Guys like Ronaldinho, Messi, Robben, guys who attack and change pace, turn perfectly capable players to mush, by varying their speed, putting them off balance, and then simply running around them.
Two defenders beat, Ronaldinho finds himself in the center of the field, 30 yards from goal, with a pocket of space in front of him, and three more defenders to go.
The skeptics look at one another.
Portuguese Translations by P.C. Solér.