After a sluggish showing in a home defeat to Real Madrid Sunday night, Ronaldinho was off to Brazil for La Liga’s winter break. Not a moment too soon, either, as the Guardian’s Sid Lowe writes the veteran striker has been “getting the stick. And not just any old stick, either, but a bloody great plank encrusted with nails.”
When Ronaldinho arrived at El Prat last night in the comic get-up of the teenage bad-boy – sunglasses, silly hat, sparkly jacket, BA’s chains and Suggs’s trousers – it was barely an hour after the final whistle at the Camp Nou. It was the fastest he’d moved all night and rather than wagging thumb and little finger at adoring fans, he sneaked silently through a side door. If he is late back again, busy holed up in the boot of a car or working on his pneumatic drill impression, few will care. In fact, right now, plenty of BarÃ§a fans couldn’t care less if he doesn’t fly back at all.
And they couldn’t care less because last night Barcelona were beaten 1-0 by Real Madrid in what used to be called the derbi and is now dubbed the clÃ¡sico but was only classic in the way that old telly programmes which weren’t very good the first time are classic. Because a Julio Baptista goal inflicted BarÃ§a’s first home defeat for almost two years. Because they failed to score for the first time since a 0-0 with Espanyol almost three years ago. Because defeat leaves them seven points behind Madrid, closing an annus almost as horribilis as the Queen’s. Because, in an admirable display of clichÃ©d fools seldom differing, both Marca and AS’s websites declared it a “white Christmas”, while Sport and Mundo Deportivo called it “the nightmare before Christmas”. And because the league looks done already: “It’s over,” insisted Marca’s Roberto Palomar, “the difference between Madrid and Barcelona is the difference between an antelope and a lion. And I don’t remember a single documentary where the antelope wins.”
The only person Ronaldinho destroys these days is himself. Overweight, unfit and unhappy, there have been flashes of brilliance and plenty of goals – last year he scored 21 – but there’s no escaping the decline. Worse still, he’s seen as the embodiment of all that’s wrong with a Barcelona team going down the galactic route, while Madrid head in the other direction. He missed over 50% of BarÃ§a’s training sessions last season, can’t get on with Samuel Eto’o, and has already pulled out of two games this year – on the morning of the match. As one columnist put it, “Ronaldinho is the best player in the world but the worst sportsman at Barcelona”; “Dinho”, another declared, “is deceased … or gone fishing.” Last night wasn’t just about last night. For Ronaldinho it was a challenge: now or never. And as the fans whistled him from the field, the inevitable conclusion was never.