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The old Ronaldinho is nowhere to be seen in Mexico

AFP , Friday 29 May 2015
Ronaldinho
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Ronaldinho quickly became Mexico's biggest football star when he signed with Queretaro last year, helping to sell thousands of jerseys with his famous name printed on the back.

But as the "White Roosters" play the first final in the team's history, the fans who were eager to buy the black and blue kit now complain that the Brazilian's shirt "doesn't sweat or smell like it."

It's their way of complaining that the 35-year-old former Barcelona playmaker has not performed anywhere near the level that made him a world player of the year and World Cup winner in his prime.

The honeymoon ended during the winter break when the notoriously hedonistic Ronaldinho returned from vacation in Brazil a month late for preparations for the Clausura-2015 tournament.

Last week, he didn't help his cause by storming out of Queretaro's stadium before the end of the semi-final first leg after his manager subbed him. The team lost 2-0 to Pachuca.

He was dropped for the second leg as punishment but Queretaro overcame the deficit to reach the final.

He began the first leg of the final against Santos on Thursday on the bench but entered the fray for the second half. This time, the whole team collapsed, losing 5-0, a huge scoreline to overhaul at home on Sunday.

Ambitious new owner

While some of his five goals this season were vintage Ronaldinho, commentators say he was not the factor in Queretaro's rise.

The man getting the credit is Olegario Vazquez, a communications tycoon who last year bought a club that had faced relegation and had not been paying its players.

Snapping up Ronaldinho worked out well in terms of publicity, putting Queretaro on the map, selling out home games and making bundles with sales of his number 49 jersey.

The only thing missing was the Ronaldinho of old, who dazzled Barcelona fans before gaining a reputation for partying rather than playing hard as he moved to AC Milan and then the Brazilian league.

"If only he had treated us a little bit better. We don't even ask that he play like he did with Barcelona," lamented Raul, who was among hundreds of fans camping out to buy tickets for Sunday's second leg of the final in Queretaro.

In the central city of Queretaro, known for its colonial center and its religious conservatism, there are few images of Ronaldinho.

Seeing the fading superstar in the flesh in the streets of Queretaro is nearly impossible.

Ronaldinho lives in a white mansion within an exclusive part of the city on top of a hill and near a golf course.

His home includes one of Rio's favorite sand sports, beach "footvolley" (volleyball played with anything but the hands).

A bar completes the backyard where he spends time listening to Brazilian music with frequent visitors. He lives with his brother, Roberto de Assis, who also works as his manager.

'You know how I am' 

One of his six Brazilian teammates, Danilinho, and his former stalwart at Barcelona, the no-nonsense Mexican defender Rafael Marquez, convinced Ronaldinho to move to Mexico, said the club's president of operations Arturo Villanueva.

Villanueva sealed the deal at the player's swimming pool in Brazil last year for an undisclosed amount, though it is reported to be around $2 million per season, one of the Mexican league's top salaries.

Ronaldinho's fame and affinity with fans made him ideal for Queretaro's aggressive marketing campaign, Villanueva said, admitting this came "with the good and the not so good."

"It was part of the risk that we weighed. He didn't mislead me. He said, 'president, you know how I am. I'm not going to change at the age of 34.'"

While Villanueva knew what he was getting, fans have not been as understanding.

"He came here half-heartedly and Queretaro fans measure their idols by their courage and strength on the field," said Daniel Perez, owner of the El Rinconcito bar.

While Ronaldinho has played in the 2002 World Cup and won the Champions League, Queretaro fan Leticia Gimenez would prefer if he took a seat on Sunday.

"He's too slow," she concluded.

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

 
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