“I Knew Messi Would Become Great Since He Was 17,” Ronaldinho’s Sincere Tribute to Lionel Messi After His Eighth Ballon d’Or Win. Ronaldinho’s Influence on Messi’s Journey to Stardom

“I Knew Messi Would Become Great Since He Was 17,” Ronaldinho’s Sincere Tribute to Lionel Messi After His Eighth Ballon d’Or Win. Ronaldinho’s Influence on Messi’s Journey to Stardom

In today’s post on The Athletic, Ronaldinho talked about his prediction 20 years ago about Lionel Messi – who just won the eighth Golden Ball in his career.

Ronaldinho carried Messi on his shoulders after the junior scored the first goal of his career against Albacete in La Liga on May 1, 2005. Photo: Diario Sport

Ronaldinho carried Messi on his shoulders after the junior scored the first goal of his career against Albacete in La Liga on May 1, 2005. Photo: Diario Sport

Summer 2006, Barca toured America. Ronaldinho is the current owner of the Golden Ball, after having just helped the Catalan club win the Champions League and La Liga under coach Frank Rijkaard. When visiting his close friend Kobe Bryant in the US, Ronaldinho brought along a young boy.

“Who is this?”, Bryant asked. Ronaldinho replied: “I introduce you to the man who will become the greatest football player of all time.” At that time, Bryant thought Ronaldinho was joking, so he replied: “You are the best, no one else.” But Ronaldinho waved his hand: “No way. This kid will be the best.”

The boy mentioned here is Lionel Messi.

At that time, Messi had been regularly playing for Barca’s first team for more than a year and had just returned from the 2006 World Cup with Argentina. But he is only 19 years old, many people know he has potential, but no one can clearly explain how good he is. Only Ronaldinho had that hunch.

“Me, Deco and the whole team followed Leo from the youth team to watch Leo’s matches,” the former Brazilian player recounted in The Athletic newspaper . “We believed Leo would be the best on the planet at this sport.”

And Ronaldinho was right. Messi has just set a record with the eighth Golden Ball in his career. This success had an important contribution from Ronaldinho. They are friends, brothers. And to some extent, Ronaldinho was also Messi’s advisor throughout his career. And one more thing that few people realize.

When Pep Guardiola took over as Barca coach in 2008, he ordered Ronaldinho to be sold because he was worried that the Brazilian striker would negatively affect Messi’s development. This is a real story. But its impact is broader than a decision to purge Ronaldinho. That was when Ronaldinho failed to maintain the minimum discipline of a player. The energy on the practice field is zero. He often went out at night and his indulgent lifestyle began to affect his performance on the field more quickly. Brazilian compatriot Edmilson once called you a “black sheep” in the Barca dressing room.

Ronaldinho opens up on too much partying, Lionel Messi and ...

There is more than one black sheep. Taking over Barca, Guardiola decided that Ronaldinho, Deco, and Samuel Eto’o had to leave. The first two went to Milan and Chelsea respectively, while Eto’o stayed another year and then went to Inter. “This is the time to renew the dressing room,” Guardiola said on his first day in office.

In the book: “Barca: The Creation of the World’s Greatest Team” by author Graham Hunter, there is a passage: “Barca realized that a young, enthusiastic Messi could not be led by these lost seniors. – people who treat Messi well, and Messi considers them as idols.” But Ronaldinho denied the possibility of putting Messi on the path of entertainment. “That thought is silly,” he replied when asked by a reporter from The Athletic .

And even their separation cannot deny Ronaldinho’s important role in helping Messi at the dawn of his career. The former Brazilian player helped the Argentinian junior in a thoughtful and touching way during the early stages of their friendship.

Ronaldinho and Etoo encouraged Messi after a situation where the junior was fouled in the Champions League. Photo: AFP

Ronaldinho and Eto’o encouraged Messi after a situation where the junior was fouled in the Champions League. Photo: AFP

Messi was 16 years old at that time, looking like a child. The trips to watch the youth team play that Ronaldinho recounted turned out to be accurate. “He is an alien,” Ludovic Giuly, a teammate of both at Barca at the time, replied to Diario Sport . “Then he’ll get rid of all of us.”

Going along to watch the youth team that day was Henrik Larsson. The former Swedish striker answered the BBC in a documentary about Messi broadcast before the 2022 World Cup. “When I watched Ronaldinho, I believed I had witnessed the most outstanding player,” the Swedish striker began. . “Until that day I met Messi.”

Barca coach at that time, Rijkaard, did not know much about Messi. He felt curious when many first team players as well as other coaches from the youth team and academy convinced him to let Messi join the first team regularly. He gave Messi his debut against Espanyol in October 2004 when the Argentine player was 17 years old.

But while his feet make noise on the field, Messi is quiet off it. People from the Barca team at that time remember two things most about Messi at that period: he clearly had outstanding talent, but in real life, he spoke very little, even mute.

Ronaldinho recognized both. He approached Messi, making the boy feel at home and less shy. Ronaldinho always checked to make sure Messi was sitting next to him in the dressing room. He invited Messi to sit at the Brazilian table of his compatriots at Barca during dinners, and jokingly said: Messi is the only Argentine who can eat at this table.

“I debuted for the first team at the same age as Leo, so I understand exactly how difficult it is to integrate into a dressing room full of older men,” Ronaldinho told reporter Hunter. “So to take the pressure off of Leo, I treat him like a younger brother, and we try to joke around so that Leo is as natural as possible.”

Genius recognizes genius. “At that time, Ronaldinho was the biggest star in the team,” Larsson recalled. “So when Ronaldinho pulled him into conversations, Messi felt he was respected.”

But Ronaldinho is no exception to this behavior. When Maxi Lopez first joined Barca, he also pulled his junior to a separate corner and said: “Whenever you need anything, I will always support you,” Lopez told BBC . “He did the exact same thing with Leo. They are humble superstars.”

Messi doesn’t need complicated advice. “The only thing I advised him: Play football with joy and freedom,” Ronaldinho recalled. “Just play with the ball at your feet, good things will come.”

Messi tries to follow this. He once told Hunter: “I try to copy what Ronaldinho does, but it’s simpler, I just try to have the most fun. Look at the way he always smiles on the football field, that’s also what I always care about.” “Playing soccer brings joy and happiness to me, and that’s why I stick with it.”

Ronaldinho and Messi in a training session with Barca. Photo: Times

Ronaldinho and Messi in a training session with Barca. Photo: Times

Gradually, Rijkaard let Messi play for the first team more in the 2004-2005 season. Leo’s first start in the Champions League came against Shakhtar Donetsk, but his minutes in Liga were limited because he suffered many injuries. When Barca hosted Albacete at Camp Nou on May 1, 2005, Messi replaced Eto’o from the 88th minute, and Ronaldinho seemed to spend the remaining time on the field trying to help Messi score.

As the clock ticked to the 90th minute, Ronaldinho pressed the ball for Messi to lift over the goalkeeper’s head, making the crowd go crazy. But their goal celebration was soon cut short, because the linesman raised the offside flag. Ronaldinho grinned.

Immediately after that, Deco passed the ball along the left wing, Messi controlled it with his head and hit Ronaldinho. Another pass from the senior. This time Messi gently pressed the ball over goalkeeper Raul Valbuena’s head, and the linesman’s flag was no longer raised.

Messi tried to run away to celebrate the goal in another direction, but then turned back to look for his senior. Ronaldinho came running. Messi jumped on his back, as if the predecessor introduced his successor to the crowd.

“That was always a special moment for me,” Ronaldinho recalled. “Because that’s when his career took off. Being involved in this story is an honor. Everything seemed so natural, and I was pleased to see what this young man, my friend, did well and scored the first goal”.

Their relationship is getting better and better, like brothers. Ronaldinho showed Messi how the world works. There is no one better than Ronaldinho: a trailblazing talent mentoring the next great football talent. He showed Messi what awaits the best player on the planet: teammates, opponents, media and fans are all looking at them.

As for Messi, Ronaldinho always uses the word “fate” to talk about their relationship. There was no pressure on Ronaldinho and asking him to “keep an eye on this kid, he will be very good when he grows up”. Ronaldinho protected Messi completely instinctively. They are two opposite personalities. Ronaldinho is extroverted and outside the box, where Messi’s life takes place. Loving a girlfriend since he was 21, then having a child at 25 and remaining faithful until now – the way Messi grew up – was never Ronaldinho’s favorite way.

Ronaldinho hugged Messi intimately when the two met again before PSG's match against RB Leipzig in the Champions League in October 2021. Photo: Instagram / ronaldinho

Ronaldinho hugged Messi intimately when the two met again before PSG’s match against RB Leipzig in the Champions League in October 2021. Photo: Instagram / ronaldinho

“But football can help us get closer to each other,” Ronaldinho explained. “We spent a lot of time together, traveling, playing games and becoming each other’s family, enjoying and playing together. He sat next to me in the dressing room. Leo has always been very reserved but we We can talk to each other, be close and have fun until today.”

Would Messi have become the greatest player without Ronaldinho? Maybe. But Ronaldinho has always been the most important influence on the dawn of Messi’s career. When Ronaldinho left Barca, the team belonged to Messi. The boy took over the position left by a man. Ronaldinho’s mission ended.

“It’s an honor to witness the friends around you achieving your life goals,” Ronaldinho said. “It really makes me happy.”


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