May 24, 2007

Ronaldinho, whom Pele has called "a true artist with the ball," grew up playing soccer daily on the dirt roads of his Porto Alegre neighborhood and in fields near his house. When his friends got tired of playing, he would play soccer with his dog, Bombom.

Bombom was a mutt, a dark mixed-breed dog whose name means "chocolate candy" in Portuguese.

"Bombom loved to play with me," Ronaldinho says. "When all my friends got bored, I would play with him. We would stay battling for the ball all day. I had to work hard on my moves to keep him from getting the ball. We were inseparable. He was my great companion."

Nothing kept the young Ronaldinho from playing soccer.

"When it was raining," he says, "I would stay in the house dribbling past chairs and tables. I always spent most of my time as a kid with a soccer ball. That helped me become good at it."

Ronaldinho played soccer of all forms -- with large balls and small ones. He played indoor "futsal," which uses a small heavy ball that hardly bounces. When he joined an organized outdoor club team, his coach, Claudio Roberto Pires Duarte, said, "We couldn't teach him anything. He already knew it all."

Even after joining the youth team of professional club Gremio, Ronaldinho practiced his skills on his own for two hours every evening.

Ronaldinho's favorite move is the "Elastic." He caresses the ball with the outside of his right foot, then the instep, before changing directions in a split second and leaving the defender in the dust. He says he learned that move by watching video tapes of 1970s Brazilian star Roberto Rivelino.

The "Stepover," known in Brazil as the pedalada, is the one defenders fear the most. With a stationary ball at his feet, Ronaldinho steps over it With his right foot, then his left, and continues alternating until the
Defender is dazed, which is when Ronaldinho darts downfield.

Besides his amazing dribbling moves, during which Ronaldinho utilizes all parts of both feet, Ronaldinho's passes create countless opportunities for teammates.

One of his trademark passes is the "Blind Pass" or the "No-look Pass," when he looks one direction but releases the ball in the other.

He says he learned it by watching American basketball games on TV as a child, when he was enchanted by the NBA's Magic Johnson.

"You always have to think of ways to complicate the lives of defenders," Ronaldinho says. "The Blind Pass is a perfect way to change the direction of the play and unbalance defenders."

"Ronaldinho is able to transform pressure into fun," wrote Spanish Newspaper Marca. England's Guardian newspaper wrote, "People love Ronaldinho because he embodies the soul of the sport rather than the science."

When he was profiled in Germany's Spiegel Magazine, reporter Dirk Kurbjuweit wrote, "Ronaldinho is one of the very few players to have brought new qualities to the sport, accomplishing something entirely fresh and unknown, yet unseen. He casts his spell with his dribbling, his passing and his goals."

Ronaldinho, born in 1980 in Porto Alegre, has won World Cup, Copa America, Spanish La Liga and European Champions League titles. He is two-time FIFA World Player of the Year.

-- By Mike Woitalla