Crowned world champion while playing for PSG, Brazil's Ronaldinho will go down in history as one of the most technical - and exciting - players to have plied their trade in Ligue 1 Conforama. A tribute to the Brazilian maestro…
A veritable phenomenon in Brazil, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, better known as Ronaldinho, joined Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2001 at just 21 years of age. The capital club pulled off a real coup in clinching the promising youngster's signature, fending off competition form a number of big European clubs.
For two seasons, the man who had been wearing the Seleçao jersey since he turned 19 - and who celebrated his birthday on Saturday 21 March - showed off the full extent of his talent in France's top flight, scoring 17 goals in 55 league games and leaving a lasting mark on Ligue 1 Conforama and its fans, who will never forget his brilliant performances.
Ronaldinho's Ligue 1 Conforama highlights
Ronaldinho started his career in Europe at the Auxerre's Stade de l'Abbé Deschamps. On Saturday 4 August 2001, the Brazilian was brought on just after the hour-mark by coach Luis Fernandez, replacing his compatriot Jose Aloisio, with PSG 1-0 up thanks to Mauricio Pochettino's 40th-minute strike. However, the South American genius, coupled with Nicolas Anelka up front, couldn’t ensure victory for his side, Djibril Cissé clinching AJ Auxerre a point with an equaliser ten minutes from time (1-1).
Ronaldinho scored his first Ligue 1 Conforama goal in his eighth match. On Sunday 14 October 2001, on Matchday 10, Paris Saint-Germain hosted Olympique Lyonnais - who would go on to win the title - at the Parc des Princes. Once again starting on the bench, the Porto Alegre native came on for right-back Cristobal in the 69th minute, replacing him in a PSG side trailing 1-2 after goals from Frederic Née (14'), Jay Jay Okocha (18') and Sidney Govou (27'). This time, the Parisian No21 made a decisive entrance, taking just ten minutes to score after Jean-Marc Chanelet had brought down Bartholomew Ogbeche in the box. Ronnie stepped up to take the restlting penalty. Completely in control of the situation, he wrong-footed Grégory Coupet helped PSG to rescue a draw (2-2).
First big performance:
After a very good start to 2002, Ronaldinho was on the rise. He had just scored three goals in three matches when PSG hosted FC Lorient on 30 January for their Round 23 clash. On fire, the Brazilian put in his first big performance in Ligue 1 Conforama, scoring one goal and providing two assists in what would go down as the capital club's biggest win during the Ronaldinho era (5-0). After Frédéric Déhu (4') had opened the scoring early, Ronaldinho set up Fabrice Fiorèse (13') for the second goal. After a fine run from Mikel Arteta, he received the ball on the right and eliminated two defenders before perfectly playing his team mate in on goal with a no-look pass. For the third Parisian goal, he gave Sébastien Hamel no chance with a powerful and well-curled free-kick (40'). It was from another set-piece that he made his second assist of the evening, perfectly placing the ball on Jérôme Leroy's head (4-0, 55').
But his best move of the match was undoubtedly his solitary raid down the right, during which he eliminated six Lorient defenders before being stopped Hamel and a defender's tackle. His run was described at the time as a "wonderful solitary raid worthy of Pele" by the daily Le Parisien, and it would have been a legendary goal had he finished it off. But the tur of pace and close control was incredible: the slightest of touches took care of his first defender, and then an inspired ball around his man sent him clear. It may not have ended in a goal, but it did show everyone in France what this Brazilian magician was made of.
Away to EA Guingamp 16 years (22 February 2003), Ronaldinho pulled off another classy move to open the scoring in the 20th minute. In the Round 28 clash, Ronnie picked up the ball in midfield from Alex Nyarko, before accelerating to evade the back-tracking Didier Drogba. A one-two with Jérôme Leroy saw him Lionel Bah rooted to the spot, before he delicately lifted the ball to avoid Blaise Kouassi's tackle. After entering the box, he eliminated defender Milovan Sikimic with a body feint before perfectly chipping the ball over Ronan Le Crom. That little gem was not enough for the Parisians in the end, however, and they fell 3-2 after goals from Leroy (54'), Auriol Guillaume (61') and Drogba (68' and 89').
Ronnie, star of the Classique:
After two unnotable matches in his first two Classiques, Ronaldinho showed his greatness by giving Parisian fans two jaw-dropping displays - in both matches against OM in the 2002-03 season. In the first match, at the Parc des Princes on 26 October 2002 (Round 12), the Brazilian genius scored twice in a 3-0 victory for the Parisian side. He opened the scoring on the quarter-hour mark with a free-kick from an off-centre left-footed position. His shot made it through a forest of legs and into the area before surprising - and getting the better of - Vedran Runje.
He then doubled the lead in the 37th minute, when he wrong-footed the Marseille goalkeeper from the penalty spot. After the match, Luis Fernandez praised his player's superb performance on Canal+: "Ronaldinho's big game was exceptional. When you have a boy like Ronaldinho at the helm, he gives others a certain confidence. It's too easy for him."
Four and a half months later, the Brazilian attacking midfielder made his mark on another Classique, with a win by the same scoreline as in the first leg, away to OM on 9 March 2003 (0-3, Matchday 30). After Jérôme Leroy opened the scoring, Ronnie gave his side some breathing space with the second goal. In the centre circle, he intercepted a long pass from Franck Leboeuf and headed off alone towards goal. After avoiding Leboeuf's tackle, he delicately chipped the ball over Runje with the outside of his right foot. For the third goal, scored by Leroy, Ronnie did 90% of the work. Romain Rocchi's good throw from the halfway line put the Brazilian in front of Brahim Hemdani and, with disconcerting ease in the box, he beat Runje before sending Hemdani once again. Ronnie's low shot seemed goal-bound but, to make sure, Leroy came to tackle the ball over the line. Ronaldinho and his team-mates gave PSG a historic victory, their first at the Vélodrome since 21 May 1988, and a 1-2 win thanks to Safet Susic and Gabriel Calderon.
Ronaldinho's last goal in Ligue 1 Conforama echoed his first. On 4 May 2003, Paris Saint-Germain play host to AS Monaco on Matchday 35. Just as a year and a half earlier, he scored from a penalty kick at the Parc des Princes. After Shabani Nonda's first goal (41st) and Fiorese's equaliser (58th), the South American offered the capital club victory (2-1) by beating Flavio Roma on a penalty brought on by Patrice Evra against Alioune Touré.
While he could have ended his Parisian adventure on the pitch at the Stade Abbé Deschamps - where he made his first appearance in Ligue 1 Conforama - in Round 38, Ronaldinho played his last match against Stade Rennais on 20 May 2003 at the Parc des Princes (Round 37). PSG's No10 replaced Chiguy Lucau in the 54th minute, but he was unable to make the difference in his final game and saw his club share the points with Petr Cech's Rennes (0-0). The Brazilian left PSG for Barcelona after fourth- and 11th-placed finishes in Ligue 1 Conforama - so, without a trophy - but with the image of a brilliant player capable of turning any game on its head with a moment of magical. He went on to win the Ballon d'Or two years later.