Posted: Thursday June 1, 2006 1:14PM; Updated: Thursday June 1, 2006 4:38PM
Ronaldinho will wear the illustrious number 10 jersey for Brazil at the World Cup, an honor reserved for greats such as Pelé and Rivaldo.
SI.com: You once performed a move in a game against Athletic Bilbao that came to be known as the "double sombrero." Did you have the intention of doing that when it happened?
Ronaldinho: I didn't mean to. My intention was to control the ball, to get it out of there as quickly as possible. But since the other player came in very fast I hit the ball over, and he turned, and the ball didn't do exactly what I wanted it to do. So all I could think of was to do it again.
SI.com: What's the greatest feeling you've ever had on a soccer field? (Keep in mind, this interview took place on May 1, two weeks before Ronaldinho's Barcelona team won the Champions League title.)
Ronaldinho: For me soccer provides so many emotions, a different feeling every day. I've had the good fortune to take part in major competitions like the Olympics, and winning the World Cup was also unforgettable. We lost in the Olympics and won in the World Cup, and I'll never forget either feeling.
SI.com: There's been a lot of talk about a Nike guerrilla-marketing spot in which you appear to bang a ball off the crossbar over and over again from outside the penalty box without the ball ever touching the ground. It seems humanly impossible. There's no way it's real, right?
Ronaldinho: It's for real! Of course it's for real! (Playfully slaps interviewer on knee.) Are you questioning my abilities?
SI.com: You are the World Player of the Year. Are you the best player in the world?
Ronaldinho: I think I have played to a very good standard. I've had the happiness of being given that prize for two years running, but I think there are other players of the same level who could be given the prize. I'm happy that my work has been given that award, and I hope it continues.
SI.com: If you had to name your top three players in the world other than yourself, who would they be?
Ronaldinho: I could give you 20 names. Each country has two or three great players. On the Brazilian national team there are several who could be given that prize. You want names? Ronaldo, Adriano, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Francesco Totti, Antonio Cassano, Pablo Aimar, Lionel Messi. Each country has two or three high-quality players who could be included in the top group.
SI.com: You seem to have a much better relationship with Barcelona head coach Frank Rijkaard than you did with your previous club coach, Paris-St. Germain's Luis Fernandes. What's the difference?
Ronaldinho: There's a great difference. I was fortunate to play at PSG, but it took me a long time to adapt to the new culture, the new country, the new language. And the soccer they played was very different from the kind I was used to playing in Brazil. In Brazil it's very technical, whereas in France there's a lot of strength involved. So I had to adapt when we played other clubs. At PSG I didn't have the same degree of freedom to develop my style or the kind of experience that I have now.
SI.com: I've read that you have a deep appreciation for the history of soccer, that you know the full lineups of Brazilian and European teams from back to the 1970s. What's the best Brazil World Cup team ever, in your mind?
Ronaldinho: There are several. I think the 1982 team [a hugely entertaining Zico-led team that fell in the quarterfinals to Italy] was one of those that we had a great deal of hopes in. We thought they had a very beautiful style. They played the most attractive kind of soccer. And I think the 2006 team is comparable to the '82 team.
SI.com: Brazil is the runaway favorite to win its record sixth World Cup. Does this team have the chance of being the best Brazil team in history?
Ronaldinho: I believe so, because we have been playing as a team for seven or eight years. We've basically had the same players since 1999, and we've had a great deal of contact. So there's a history there.
SI.com: You were very close to the '02 Brazil head coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, whom you'd known for years since your days together at Gremio in Brazil. Scolari was more of a friend than a coach. Current Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira is tougher. How have you adapted to the new atmosphere under Parreira?
Ronaldinho: Scolari was also very tough. I had a very good relationship with him because he'd known me since I was very young. It was tough with him because he always demanded a lot of me. Parreira is doing the same. It's great to work with Parreira because as a coach he has a tremendously successful history, and he knows a great deal about soccer. And off the pitch he's also a person who is great to be friends with. He has taught us a lot.
SI.com: Could you describe the influence your late father, João, had on you?
Ronaldinho: He was one of the most important people for me and in my career, even though he died when I was very young. He gave me some of the best advice I've ever had. Off the field: Do the right thing and be an honest, straight-up guy. And on the field: Play soccer as simply as possible. He always said one of the most complicated things you can do is to play it simple.
SI.com: What are your impressions of the United States?
Ronaldinho: I love the United States. I've been there with the Brazilian national team and with Barcelona. I've never had the satisfaction of going there for free time, but that's one of the plans I have, to go there and get to know the U.S. And to see basketball, which is something I love. One of my dreams is to see live basketball there, but I've never had the time or the opportunity.
SI.com: Your full name is Ronaldo de Assis Moreira. Who was the first person to call you Ronaldinho (Little Ronaldo)?
Ronaldinho: They always called me that when I was little because I was really small, and I played with players who were older than me. When I got to the senior national team there was another Ronaldo, so they started calling me Ronaldinho because I was younger.
SI.com: Do you ever wish to be called simply Ronaldo? That is your name, after all.
Ronaldinho: I've never thought of that. I like to be called Ronaldinho [in soccer]. I've never had any problem with that. But a lot of my friends call me Ronaldo.
SI.com: I've read that your favorite film is the Fernando Meirelles movie City of God. Why?
Ronaldinho: Because I think it's a film that is a good reflection of reality in a favela. There are some very true-to-life scenes that show the truth of what I experienced and lived directly. It's a very faithful reflection of what happens in favelas. So it's one of the films that I found the most moving.
SI.com: You're very close to your brother Roberto [Ronaldinho's agent], your sister Deisy [his press coordinator] and your mother, Miguelina. Do you want to get married and have your own family?
Ronaldinho: I'd like that. I have the happiness of having a wonderful son [one-year-old João, from a relationship with a Brazilian dancer], but I would like to have a family and lots of children someday. But I'm also happy with the life I live today.