There’s no doubt that Ronaldinho is one of the greatest football players of his generation. The Brazilian genius, who’s currently a club ambassador for FC Barcelona, is a master of pace, acceleration, agility, balance, ball control and dribbling – not to mention his penalty kicks. He’s living the dream – he’s living our dream. He’s one of football’s highest earning players, and outside of the beautiful game he works with charity and humanitarian organisations, including an official role with the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Ronaldinho, who’s now 36, recently wrote a letter to his eight-year-old self for The Players’ Tribune, who ask professional athletes about their thoughts and life experiences. It’s a really personal, candid and emotional bit of writing. When players like him become famous, successful and respected, we often forget how they got there. But there was a time when Ronaldinho was a kid from Brazil with many of the same troubles that we have. And that’s why it’s so interesting to read what he’d say to himself at eight years old. What advice, encouragement and support he would want to give. How he sees his life at that age and how he got through some tough times to take over the world through football.
Ronaldinho didn’t have it easy. When he was eight, his father died in an accident. His older brother, Roberto, told him the news. Ronaldinho grew up in a tough neighbourhood, but he managed to get through. So what can we learn?
Surround yourself with positive role models
“Dad was a superhero… he was the one who told you play creatively on the football pitch, the one who told you to play with a free style – to just play with the ball. He believed in you more than anyone,” writes Ronaldinho in the letter. It’s clear he looked up to his dad with love, awe and respect. Suddenly, when he was just eight, his dad was gone.
Thankfully, his brother Roberto was there for him. Roberto is 10 years older than Ronaldinho and became the father figure he so desperately wanted.
Families are important. We never know how long they’ll be around. We should appreciate every moment we have with them, and tell them that we love them.
Don’t get sucked into drugs or gangs
“Where you live in Porto Alegre [Brazil], there are drugs and gangs and that kind of stuff around. It’s going to be tough, but as long as you are playing football – on the street, at the park, with your dog – you will feel safe,” Ronaldinho continues in his letter.
After the death of his father, Ronaldinho could have taken a very different path. But he had other ideas – ideas that would take him to higher places than drugs ever could.
Never give up on your dreams
When Ronaldinho was 13, Brazil won the World Cup: “The final is on TV, and it’ll be Brazil against Italy. The final whistle will blow with the score tied 0-0. The game will go to a penalty shootout. Then, the moment that will not just change your life, but the lives of millions of Brazilians… Brazil are World Cup champions… During the crazy celebration, it’s going to become clear to you what you want to do for the rest of your life. You’re going to finally realise what football means to Brazilians. You’re going to feel the power of this sport. Most importantly, you will see the happiness that football can bring to regular people.”
Despite hardships, Ronaldinho never gave up on his dream of becoming a pro footballer. He was once told by a coach that due to his “freestyle” playing, he would never make it as a professional.
“Use those words as motivation. Use them to keep you focussed,” he says. “Do it your way. Be free. Hear the music. This is the only way for you to live your life.”
It’s OK to feel emotions
One of the most striking things about Ronaldinho’s letter is his openness and his ability to show emotion. It’s OK for men to show how they feel. It’s actually a sign of real strength to do so. And it certainly helped Ronaldinho deal with the death of his father. By expressing his emotions, Ronaldinho overcame his hurt and his suffering to become one of the world’s greatest players.
Get support if you need it
Because Ronaldinho was open about his emotions, he could share his grief with his older brother. He realised he needed support after the death of his father and he looked for help from Roberto. In the letter, he writes:
“You are lucky because you have Roberto. Roberto will be there for you always. He won’t just be a brother, he will become like a father to you. And more than anything, he’ll be your hero.”