RONALDINHO received a vitriolic welcome upon his return to his first professional club Grêmio on Sunday, which was exacerbated by Flamengo’s spectacular collapse in a 4-2 defeat.
Thirty-nine thousand Gremistas – the highest attendance from across the weekend’s top flight games in Brazil – created a cauldron of hatred at the Estádio Olympico Monumental, with Ronaldinho facing the wrath for his decision to join Flamengo earlier in the season.
Prior to the game an inflated police presence observed as an array of banners, chants and fake money baring the face of fallen idol swarmed the Grêmio stadium, in a fixture which normally carries no great significance with the clubs being 1,500 kilometres apart.
The astounding chorus of boos that filled the stadium as Ronaldinho’s image was portrayed on the scoreboard was repeated minutes later when Ronaldinho himself appeared from the tunnel himself. The universe where, in same arena where he first made his first steps in professional footballer as a seventeen year old, seemed a parallels apart from the alienation surrounding him now fourteen years later.
With the match underway, Fla wasted no time in rubbing salt into the wounds as Deivid and Thiago Neves fired them into a two goal lead inside 34 minutes. André Lima – who ironically has worn the shirt of all three of Flamengo’s local rivals, then struck twice either side of half-time to draw Grêmio level. Grêmio themselves took the lead with little over ten minutes remaining through Douglas, before Miralles sealed the win with a magnificent effort from the edge of the area.
“Compared to the Flamengo fans, it wasn’t too much noise, no,” was the response from Ronaldinho when asked about the noise directed at him from the Grêmio fans, as he hurriedly got back onto the Flamengo team coach after the defeat.
Ronaldinho and his Flamengo teammates will have departed the southern city of Porto Alegre with their tails between their legs following Ronaldinho’s first match against Grêmio since departing his boyhood club a decade ago.
Relations between the club’s supporters and their former idol disintegrated in the height of the biggest transfer story of the year in Brazilian football, when it was confirmed the 31 year old would be prematurely ending his contract with Milan and returning to Brazil.
In what quickly evolved into a hysterical plot of claim and counter claim, Grêmio faced competition from Palmeiras and Flamengo in the race for Ronaldinho’s signature and the club knew that opportunity to bring back ‘R10’ was too big to pass. Having failed to challenge for major honours since winning the Copa do Brasil, the season after Ronaldinho had left the club, Grêmio wanted to follow the precedence set by Santos, who’d enjoyed sponsorship and marketing prosperity after securing the return of Robinho from Manchester City and both the club and its supporters were encouraged that they would be reunited with their idol, with Ronaldinho himself stating: “If it was down to me, I’d be at Grêmio.”
Palmeiras, considered as the least likely of the three interested parties continued to make defiant claims but Rio de Janeiro powerhouses, Flamengo remained largely silent, as Ronaldinho’s return to Grêmio growed in probability.
The media had even revealed that planning to formally announce the signing at a huge official party at the club’s Olymipco stadium were already underway when news broke that deal had collapsed. Grêmio had been publically humiliated and were a figure of fun throughout Brazilian football.
Within days of Palmeiras also withdrawing their interest, citing a breach of a verbal agreement with Ronaldinho’s brother and agent the ‘R10’ bandwagon rolled in at Flamengo’s Gavea headquarters on 12th January in front of over 20,000 fans.