The ginga style of soccer is all about spending time with the ball so you can master it.” Some dude on the Internet.
As Brazil were trying to find their identity in the 1958 World Cup, they were told by then manager Vincent Feola to play more European, don’t play like the Brazil of yesteryear, embarrassed in previous Cups.
The European style of play didn’t sit well with an unknown 17-year-old named Pele. After a series of injuries plagued the team, Pele took the field in the quarterfinals of the Cup against Wales and after getting beat up for most of the match, he reverted back to the Brazilian style of play that would go on and make him a star – ginga.
Pele would win that ’58 Cup and two others for his country and inspired generations to come thanks to his ginga play.
Ginga combines finesse, flair, agility, and takes inspiration from samba dancing and capoeira fighting. It is strictly Brazilian and fully unique to that country and culture.
No other player in the history of Brazilian soccer embraced ginga more than Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, known to the world as Ronaldinho.
Born in the south of Brazil, Ronaldinho became a local phenom by the time he was eight. He was usually the most diminutive player on the pitch and therefore had to find clever and interesting ways to score and make plays.
As a child star in his local town, Ronaldinho then started to capture the country’s attention when he once scored 23 goals in a single game. He was 13 years old. By the time he was 18, he signed with Gremio and played professionally in the Brazilian Serie A for the first time.
His bursts of speed and ability to move the ball made opponents look like they were being asked for a dance. He, of course, would lead.
Ronaldinho’s skill and goal scoring efforts caught the attention of Europe and in 2000 he signed with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG). For the first time he’d be plying his trade outside of his country.
While PSG was his way to break through in Europe, it was the 2002 World Cup where he became a household name. Partnering up with Rivaldo, Ronaldo and having Kaka in support, Ronaldinho would star in what would be the last dominant Brazilian squad.
What Pele brought to his generation, these four horsemen of the new soccer apocalypse would bring to the Korea-Japan World Cup. With it, they also earned the attention of major clubs around the globe.
Following Brazil’s cup win, Ronaldo would go from Inter Milan to Real Madrid, Rivaldo would go from Barcelona to A.C. Milan, Kaka would spend another year with Sao Paulo before linking up with Milan but Ronaldinho would switch Paris for the Camp Nou.
Ronaldinho would inspire Barcelona for five years, scoring 94 magnificent goals in over 200 appearances. Winning the Ballon d’Or in 2005, gracing the cover of FIFA video games and inspiring a generation of young players, including an Argentine you may have heard of by the name of Lionel Messi. Ronaldinho was the king of soccer.
He was a human highlight reel in an era before YouTube, viral videos and gifs. For a brief moment, he made Barcelona fans out of many.
Winning the 2005 Confederations Cup, Brazil could not repeat the magic of 2002 at the ’06 World Cup in Germany. Ronaldinho would represent his country for the final time in 2008 where he would win an Olympic gold medal in Beijing.
The Goal Scoring Nomad
After five years with Barca, he left Spain in 2008 to link up with Kaka, Dida, Pato and other members of the Brazilian national team with A.C. Milan. He turned down a blockbuster $25 million offer from Manchester City and took less money to play in Italy on a three-year contract.
Used mainly as a supersub for then manager Carlo Ancelloti, Ronaldinho was a fan favorite. While he never quite regained the form that made him famous at Barcelona, the Brazilian looked as if he was having a blast in whatever role he was given.
By his second season, Ancelotti was gone and Leonardo was in as manager. The Brazilian started Ronaldinho and he had his best season in Italy. In many games, it looked as if it was at his Barca best.
Leonardo was sacked and in came Max Allegri. In his third season with the Rossoneri, Ronaldinho was only used sparingly. Following a dismal season, he left Italy’s Serie A to go back to Brazil.
Signing with Flamengo, he spent two seasons with the club. During this time, there were strong rumors that he would sign with an MLS club yet nothing panned out. After two years back in Brazil, he went to Atletico Mineiro where he spent three seasons scoring 27 goals in over 80 caps.
Never Stop, Never Settle
Despite getting older, Ronaldinho’s demand was still very high and in 2014, he signed with Mexican side Querétaro. There, he would pack out stadiums across the country, big and small towns. He wasn’t scoring much but his presence was felt. Becoming a marquee man for the Mexican club, at this stage, his career was fueled by his name and reputation, not necessarily by his soccer skills anymore.
Speaking of reputation, Ronaldinho liked to party and lived a jet setting lifestyle which many attribute to his downfall from the top of the soccer world. It always caused headaches for the front offices of whatever team he was playing for.
After a year in Mexico, he went back to Brazil to play for Fluminense. He didn’t live up to expectations and at the end of 2015 was out of contract.
In 2016, Ronaldinho surprisingly went to India and played in a professional indoor soccer league with Paul Scholes and Cafu. He played for Goa 5s and scored 5 goals in two games but then was forced to leave after being called by Brazil to become an ambassador to his country for the Rio Olympics. Later that year, at age 36, he confirmed his retirement.
Following the devastating plane crash that claimed the lives of most of the Brazilian side Chapecoense, there were rumors that Ronaldinho would play for the team for free as they rebuilt. The club’s front office thanked the Brazilian icon but stated they would rebuild with youth.
His contagious smile and curly hair pulled up inside a headband (or du-rag) made him immediately recognizable on the field. His swinging hips and flailing arms made it look as if he was inviting the whole world to dance with him. Whatever happens next, Ronaldinho can count the rebirth of the joga bonito style as part of his legacy. In the process, like Pele, he made “ginga” eponymous with Brazilian soccer culture.