Friday 11 April ~
Though the Champions League semi-final first leg between Barcelona and Manchester United is still well over a week away the build-up has begun in earnest. Much of the focus so far is on disarray at the Nou Camp. Thierry Henry has said Barcelona “must improve'” to have any chance of victory, citing Middlesbrough of an example as to how to play United. Meanwhile, coach Frank Rijkaard is under pressure to resign and a Barcelona director recently claimed that some players on the club's injury list are not there for physical reasons but because of “lifestyle issues”. One such “injured” high profile player, widely expected to be in his final season at the Nou Camp, is Ronaldinho. In an unlikely early twist to this tale, he has also been linked with a transfer to Manchester City.
Ronaldinho's agent and brother, Roberto de Assis Moreira, was lavishly entertained at Eastlands last Saturday, meeting the infamous super-agent Pini Zahavi and representatives of Thaksin Shinawatra (the man himself is still preparing to fight corruption charges in Thailand). While critics noted the close proximity of this story to the season ticket renewal deadline, Shinawatra clearly believed Ronaldinho could be tempted to City while Sven-Göran Eriksson struck a note of caution: "I would not protest against it. But I don't know if Ronaldinho wants to play in the Intertoto Cup next season."
Predictably the link is now cooling. Whether City are trying a ploy to fill up their stadium or have been manipulated by agents seeking to drum up interest in Ronaldinho in Italy it seems the only person to have taken it seriously is Shinawatra, who is not at all naive in most respects but may be a little guileless when it comes to football. But the fact that Ronaldinho's agent even deigned to drop by at Eastlands shows the perilous position of both club and player. Ronaldinho was at the peak of his powers only a couple of years ago but at only 28 is now widely believed to be on a downward spiral. Man City may have hopes of becoming serious competitors for a European place, if not the top four, but employing a declining superstar with “lifestyle issues” is not the way to go about it.
Eriksson has at least taken a realistic and humorous approach to the story. But at a certain other club, where the manager is as deluded as the owner, there is talk of signing another Barcelona player – Thierry Henry. If none of the major TV networks have yet commissioned a documentary series about Newcastle for next season, they need to get on to it right now.