Brazil and Barcelona icon Ronaldinho penned an open letter to his eight-year-old self for The Players’ Tribune this week, reflecting on several defining moments in his life and career, from the loss of his father and the strong relationship with his brother, through to watching Brazil win the 1994 World Cup, and making it as a footballer, first at home and then abroad.
Ronaldinho’s father died suddenly as a result of an accident when the future superstar was very young, writing the letter to himself the day before it happened.
Early on he notes, “Dad was the one who told you play creatively on the football pitch, the one who told you to play with a free style – to just play with the ball. He believed in you more than anyone.”
“You are lucky because you have Roberto,” he later went on to say of his brother.
“Even though he’s 10 years older and already playing for Grêmio, Roberto will be there for you always. He won’t just be a brother, he will become like a father to you. And more than anything, he’ll be your hero.”
Another poignant passage reads, “Where you live in Porto Alegre, there are drugs and gangs and that kind of stuff around. It’s going to be tough, but as long as you are playing football – on the street, at the park, with your dog – you will feel safe.
“Make sure you always take your dog, Bombom, out with you. Bombom is a mutt. A real Brazilian dog. And even Brazilian dogs love football. He’ll be great practice for dribbling and skills … and maybe the first casualty of the ‘Elastico‘.”
Ronaldinho was a star at Grêmio at the age of 18, a Brazilian international only a year later, and the best player in the world within five years when he joined Barcelona. It was there, at Camp Nou, that he encountered Lionel Messi, the heir to his throne at club level and globally, and his words on the Argentine superstar and the early advice he gave particularly stand out.
“At Barcelona, you’ll hear about this kid on the youth team,” he said.
“He wears number 10 like you. He’s small like you. He plays with the ball like you. You and your teammates will go watch him play for Barcelona’s youth squad, and at that moment you’ll know he’s going to be more than a great footballer. The kid is different. His name is Leo Messi.
“You’ll tell the coaches to bring him up to play with you on the senior side. When he arrives, the Barcelona players will be talking about him like the Brazilian players were talking about you.
“I want you to give him one piece of advice. Tell him, ‘Play with happiness. Play free. Just play with the ball’. Even when you are gone, the free style will live on in Barcelona through Messi.”