24 January ~ It seems that David Beckham's powers of reinvigoration are so great that they now extend beyond the former England captain and take root in his AC Milan team-mates. Ronaldinho has scored six in his last three games, the most recent a hat-trick against Siena. Milan have just about hauled themselves back into contention in Serie A and sit six points behind Inter, with a game in hand and the city derby coming up this afternoon. Leonardo's men top the form table and have only lost once in their last 11.
Some of the old magic certainly appears to be back. Ronaldinho's third strike against Siena was a cracker, dropping a shoulder and jinking the ball away before flying after it (he was always explosive over four yards) and unleashing a bullet. But it also seems that the Ronaldinho commonly associated with his time in Italy has not been exorcised just yet. Between his 12th minute penalty and second goal on 72 minutes, he missed a host of chances and his distribution was poor.
Siena are bottom of Serie A and their goalkeeper had been sent off after he brought down Marco Borriello in the box to concede the penalty, so it shouldn't have taken a lot for Ronaldinho to find his feet. When he eventually did in the second half, with some shimmering runs, it was suddenly a lot easier to remember how he used to run matches at will during his time at the Nou Camp, as time and again the Siena defence were left totally bamboozled.
The reason for this upturn in form? "Love", according to Ronaldinho. "I feel loved and I am happy. I came on the field happy and everything turned out fine," he claimed after the game. It's an unlikely turnaround to a season which began inauspiciously for both club and player, though the statistics show that Ronaldinho's contribution has been significant. In 23 games for the club in Serie A and the Champions League he has scored 11 and contributed eight assists.
As is often inescapable in a World Cup year, a player of former greatness bags a few important goals and sparks the debate over whether or not he is "back" and whether his international coach will be "sitting up and taking notice". It is all a bit Michael Owen at the moment but, aside from the connotation that international coaches are always lying down when they watch domestic football, the stories could be about to go separate ways. The 30-year-old Owen seems to be ultimately fading but it remains to be seen if 29-year old Ronaldinho's stock will continue rising after only one appearance for his country this season. A Milan derby, however, presents a vastly stiffer challenge than a 10-man Siena. Brazil coach Dunga should be an interested observer nonetheless. Rob Macdonald