Brazilians want reborn Ronaldinho
Ronaldinho's remarkable return to form has quickly made the headlines in Brazil, and fans across the soccer-crazy country are already calling for the star's return to the national team.
After struggling last year with AC Milan, Ronaldinho has put together a string of good performances that are reminiscent of when he won two FIFA world player of the year awards in 2004 and 2005.
The performances are even making Brazilian fans forget Ronaldinho's disappointing showing at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when the team was eliminated by eventual runner-up France in the quarter-finals.
His name is back on the sports pages across Brazil, and fans and commentators can't stop talking about the reinvigorated Ronaldinho.
"Brazil is not Brazil without Ronaldinho, especially the way he is playing right now," said 21-year-old Thiago Lima, a transportation company worker. "We need him back in the national team. We need him back to play in the World Cup."
A recent survey by the O Globo newspaper said 73 per cent of Brazilians want Ronaldinho to play in the national team again.
Several past players in Brazil also have been displaying their support for Ronaldinho, and even former Argentina great Diego Maradona is on board.
"I watch Milan play and all I see is Ronaldinho," Maradona told Brazilian media. "He is one of the best I've seen play and I hope he will be at the World Cup."
The calls for his return increased significantly after he scored three goals in AC Milan's 4-0 win over Siena in the Italian league last weekend, taking his total to nine. He has already surpassed his total of eight goals scored in the entire tournament last season.
"Ronaldinho revives his golden years," said a headline at the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper following the hat trick against Siena.
"Show for Dunga," GloboEsporte.com added.
Brazil coach Dunga is the only one who really matters if Ronaldinho wants to make it to the World Cup in South Africa later this year. Dunga openly criticized Ronaldinho and other Brazilian players who decided to skip the 2007 Copa America to take vacation time, and said he would not be calling up players who were not interested in being with the national team.
But the coach has also made it clear that he is a fan of Ronaldinho's football, and that his return to the national team depends on Ronaldinho alone.
Dunga actually hinted recently that he was hoping Ronaldinho would regain his form quickly so he could have a chance to summon the star in time for the World Cup.
"The doors are not closed for him," Dunga said last month. "We all know that Ronaldinho can make a difference when he is playing with joy."
The playmaker, named the footballer of the decade by World Soccer magazine last year, has said it would be a dream to play in his third World Cup with Brazil.
Fighting for position
Dunga will have his first opportunity to get Ronaldinho back in the national team on Feb. 9, when he will announce Brazil's squad for the friendly against Ireland in London on March 2.
The 29-year-old Ronaldinho will have about 20 matches with AC Milan to try to make his case before Dunga announces the final World Cup squad in May.
Ronaldinho hasn't been selected by Dunga since the beginning of 2009. He is fighting for a position mainly with midfielders Julio Baptista, Elano and Ramires, who have been constantly summoned by Dunga recently.
If Dunga decides not to call up Ronaldinho in the coming matches, he is likely to face the same kind of pressure that made former Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari an unpopular figure before the 2002 World Cup, when he declined to draft Romario even though the striker's standout play sparked a national campaign to put him on the squad.
Ronaldinho, who led Barcelona to the Champions League title in 2006, thanks his revamped performances in part to AC Milan coach Leonardo, the Brazilian who has given the player a lot more space since he took over the team last year.
"I have a good rapport with the coach," Ronaldinho said. "It's helping me with my form as I can speak to Leonardo about anything and when I go on the field I feel the coach's trust."