Football in South America is all but shut down as the Covid-19 outbreak spreads across the continent, but one Brazilian star is still making his mark on the game. Ronaldinho, whose last professional game came in 2015 for Fluminese, scored five goals this weekend and set up another six. Admittedly he did this from a Paraguayan jail, but such details are trivial during a global crisis.
As first reported by the Paraguayan newspaper La Nación, Ronaldinho was taken into custody in the country’s capital, Asunción, on 6 March. He and his brother had allegedly used fake Paraguayan passports and IDs, although his lawyer maintains that his client did not know the documents were falsified, as they were given to him by a local sponsor.
Ronaldinho is now in a maximum-security prison. There, he shares a cell, which “looks more like a hotel”, according to Paraguay’s home secretary, with his brother Roberto de Assis Moreira. In the same cell block is a former president of Paraguay’s football association, who was jailed for money laundering.
South American and Spanish media flocked to the story like tourists to Camp Nou, reporting every possible detail of the former Barcelona star’s life in jail. On a local radio show the warden let a few details slip: Prisoner No194 wakes up at eight most mornings, has had visits from former Paraguay star Nelson Cuevas and is “just how you might see him on television, always smiling”.
The warden would not go into details on the most important issue though: Ronaldinho’s football career in prison. Still, the rumours flew, especially after authorities denied his request for house arrest and a bond of $1.6m. Local outlets reported that the 39-year-old had been asked to play by several teams in prison but initially declined because he lacked boots. Others said he was asked to play under the stipulation that he would not be allowed to score in the tournament, in which the trophy was a 16kg roast pig.
Just days later though we had the truth. Photos and videos leaked from the jail showed the 2005 Ballon d’Or winner bringing the magic back for his new team, Negro Cumbiero. Kitted out in a vest, black boots and swimming trunks, Ronaldinho played a part in every goal of his team’s 11-2 win (the match was actually futsal rather than football) and treated his fellow inmates to a casual no-look backheeled assist.
But while the old skills are there, the lingering feeling from watching the videos is one of melancholy for a man who once graced some of football’s biggest stages. Ronaldinho turns 40 this month, and it is likely he will celebrate his birthday behind bars. It’s a feeling shared by his 2002 World Cup teammate Rivaldo: “I’m sad over what’s happening to my friend. He does not deserve it,” he said.
More information: THE GUARDIAN.