Ronaldinho affair should serve as a cautionary tale

Cooped up inside while we wait for the ‘Exterminating Angel’ to take its leave, my thoughts turned to Ronaldinho, who isn’t at home, but rather in jail in Paraguay. Having had his Brazilian passport revoked for previous ‘mistakes’, he tried to get into the country using fake Paraguayan documentation; heaven knows what he was thinking. It reminded me of the raft of South American players who came to Spain on false passports 50 years or so ago, thanks to an industry which, it seems, is alive and well today. The Argentinian Aguirre Suárez came over as a Paraguayan, while Carlos ‘Martínez’ Diarte, Diomedes ‘Martínez’ Cabrera and Luis Óscar ‘Martínez’ Leguizamón first met over here, yet all had the same Spanish ‘father’.

A cameraman once told me about an experience he had with Ronaldinho. Asked for an interview by Canal+, the then-Barcelona player agreed to meet after training one day - but, when the appointed hour came, didn’t turn up. Club officials explained that he was ill, but would see the journalists at his house. Given his address, they went over and sat down with a player still shaking off sleep, until his brother, Roberto de Assis, suddenly told him: “It’s time.” Offering his apologies for the interruption, he went out onto his balcony to wave at a group of Japanese sightseers. Roberto, it emerged, had a tourism operator paying for visitors to Barcelona to see Ronaldinho’s house and get a wave from the man himself.

Ronaldinho (centre) and his brother Roberto Assis (second right) arrive in court in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción.

That way of going about life, squeezing out every last bob and, at the same time, evading the taxman, isn’t as common among footballers as people generally think, but there are some like that. Just as there is no shortage of adviser-agent-aides, sometimes the player’s own sibling, who boast neither training nor good sense and are armed only with their own audacity. Only a prolonged chain of errors can explain why this glorious footballer, a guy who only retired recently, is now penniless, with his assets embargoed and his passport revoked, and is sitting in prison in Paraguay. I certainly wish the lad all the best - he was great for the game of football. It’s a case that should serve as a cautionary tale for many others.