Ronaldinho signs with Brazil's Atletico Mineiro
SAO PAULO (AP) -- Ronaldinho signed with Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro on Monday, less than a week after leaving Flamengo and suing his former team for unpaid wages.
Atletico Mineiro said it reached a deal with the former two-time FIFA player of the year until the end of 2012. The announcement was made just hours after television images showed Ronaldinho practicing with Atletico players in the city of Belo Horizonte earlier in the day.
"I returned to Brazil to win titles and now I'm having a new opportunity,'' the 32-year-old Ronaldinho said at a news conference. "I'm arriving at the club to give my best and to try to help Atletico win titles. I'm motivated and focused on doing my best. I feel like I still have many good years left in my career.''
Atletico Mineiro is a traditional club in Brazil but has not won any significant titles since the 1997 Conmebol Cup, a tournament it also won in 1992. It was relegated to Brazil's second division in 2005 but won the title and returned to the top flight the following year. It was the national runner-up in 1999.
Financial details of the contract signed with the 1971 Brazilian champion were not immediately released. But club president Alexandre Kalil hinted Ronaldinho will not be earning the same high salary that he used to make while playing for Flamengo, reportedly about $700,000 monthly.
"I can't talk about his salary,'' Kalil said. "But Atletico will be able to pay for it by itself, we won't need the help of a partner.''
Ronaldinho is expected to make his debut with Atletico Mineiro on Wednesday against Bahia in the Brazilian league.
Ronaldinho's contract with Flamengo was terminated by a judge last Thursday after he sued the Brazilian club for reportedly $20 million in unpaid wages and other rights.
"What happened with Flamengo is in the past,'' Ronaldinho said. "Now it's a new phase in my career and my future is with Atletico.''
Ronaldinho had said he wanted some time off to take care of his sick mother, and most Brazilian clubs said they did not intend to try to sign the player after his recent poor performances with Flamengo.
Polls conducted by Brazilian media said most fans didn't want to see their clubs trying to sign Ronaldinho.
It was a different scenario when Ronaldinho announced in 2010 that he was leaving AC Milan to return to Brazilian football after a decade thriving in European football, especially at Barcelona.
The fight for the former Brazil star involved many clubs and lasted several weeks until he announced he was joining Flamengo to begin the 2011 season, in part because of the club's huge fan base.
But after helping the club win that year's Rio de Janeiro state championship and reach a berth in the Copa Libertadores, Ronaldinho struggled with a series of poor performances amid controversies off the field.
Two months ago, Flamengo's biggest fan group published a letter on its website criticizing Ronaldinho and accusing him of being unprofessional for his alleged appearances at parties and nightclubs.
Ronaldinho denied in a television interview on Sunday any accusations of indiscipline while playing for Flamengo.
He reportedly had a spat with coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, forcing club directors to fire the former Brazil and Real Madrid coach, and recently he also seemed to be at odds with current Flamengo coach Joel Santana, who used to lead South Africa.
The club admitted it was having difficulties paying for Ronaldinho's salary after ending its partnership with sports marketing group Traffic, which had paid most of his monthly wages.
Flamengo had said it was surprised by Ronaldinho's decision to leave and promised to legally fight it. The club said Monday it was trying to block the judge's decision to terminate the player's contract.
Kalil said Atletico Mineiro's contract with Ronaldinho protected the club in case of a reversal in the legal dispute with Flamengo.
Ronaldinho helped Brazil win the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan and was in the team that was eliminated by France in the 2006 quarterfinals in Germany. He was not picked for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
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