Grant Wahl will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
When the finest soccer player on Earth arrives for an interview, you half-expect him to be wearing some sort of iconic signifier, like the Pope's miter or Miss Universe's sash or a boxer's championship belt. Something, in other words, that says, Behold, the king of the world.
But here comes Brazil's Ronaldinho, the two-time reigning World Player of the Year, wearing nothing of the sort. He's decked out in NBA/hip-hop mode: a black Air Jordan ensemble, LeBron James signature shoes and enough ice -- a diamond-studded crucifix, a platinum R10 medallion and a carat-covered watch -- to make Allen Iverson blush.
Getting a private audience with Ronaldinho is no small task. But in early May, two weeks before his Barcelona team won the Champions League title and five weeks before Brazil would begin the quest for its sixth World Cup, we sat down in a quiet corner of the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona for an interview.
(Major props are in order for Hugo Pooley, a first-rate interpreter whose hard work allowed Ronaldinho to express himself in his native Portuguese.)
Make sure to check out my feature story on Ronaldinho in Sports Illustrated's World Cup preview issue this week. But for now, here are some highlights from our chat in Barcelona.
SI.com: What is the source of your soccer talent?
Ronaldinho: I come from a family where soccer has always been very present. My uncles, my father and my brother were all players. Living with that kind of background, I learned a great deal from them. I tried to devote myself to it more and more with the passage of time.
SI.com: You grew up in the hardscrabble Vila Nova favela in your hometown of Porto Alegre. How would you describe the first field you played on?
Ronaldinho: When I was 7, I started playing with a club. The only grass on the field was in the corner. There was no grass in the middle! It was just sand.
SI.com: Who were your sports heroes growing up?
Ronaldinho: My heroes were always soccer players. My brother [Roberto Assis] was a soccer player, and I lived with him. He was my idol. I always dreamed of being like my brother. So I went with him to training sessions, and he used to talk about Maradona and Pelé and Rivelino. For me they were superheroes because they were my hero's heroes -- my brother's heroes. Then later Ronaldo, Romário and Rivaldo were all players I worshipped.
SI.com: Unlike a lot of other players, you grew up playing futsal indoors. In what ways did futsal influence your development as a player?
Ronaldinho: It had a great deal of influence. A lot of the moves I make originate from futsal. It's played in a very small space, and the ball control is different in futsal. And to this day my ball control is pretty similar to a futsal player's control.
SI.com: Why are you so willing to try new moves and tricks that few other players would even try?
Ronaldinho: I think each player has an individual style. Each is concerned with giving the best to his team, and I think my best talent is dribbling and setting up goal situations, giving an assist or deceiving one of the other team's players. So I'm always seeking new ways of dribbling, new moves, including fooling the other players so I can give my best to the team.
SI.com: One of your trademark moves is the elástica (in which he jabs the ball to his right, wraps his foot around it and swerves left in the blink of an eye). Did you originate the move?
Ronaldinho: I had already seen the elástica done on video by Rivelino, an old-time player in Brazil, and then I practiced it. Ever since I was little, it's one of the moves that I've liked the best -- and one that I'm most confident about when I'm playing. All the fast movements are the ones I like doing.
SI.com: Are there any moves that you'll claim credit for inventing?
Ronaldinho: There's something that I never saw anyone else do: the elástica in the air. People do it on the ground, but I like to do it when the ball is in the air. I've never seen anyone else do that.
[I don't want to sound like a commercial shill here, but the aerial elástica really is a sick move. If you're interested, you can see Ronaldinho doing it near the end of this spot.]