How Ronaldinho rescued Barcelona from its forgotten nightmare

Just three days after Laporta’s landslide election victory, it was confirmed that Beckham would be signing with Real Madrid. With the lynchpin of his electoral promises rendered a failure, any honeymoon stage Laporta and his team might normally have enjoyed vanished. Club members, having just voted for a candidate promising to sign star of Beckham’s caliber, were instantly disappointed.

Ronaldinho, Manchester United, and a “matter of 48 hours”

The loss of Beckham as a primary transfer target forced Laporta’s boardroom quickly onto its heels. Scrambling to find a star with the same clout as the England midfielder appeared impossible.

Beckham, especially in 2003, was at the peak of his international appeal. (In a sense, his signing was a microcosm of Madrid’s Galácticos era. The obvious appeal to his addition was entirely commercial. He made little sense for Madrid’s starting 11, vamously triggering the departure of Claude Makelele.)

To find an alternative, Laporta was initially rumored to be interested in several Premier League players. But the only real target was an enthusiastic Brazilian playmaker at Paris Saint-Germain.

Ronaldinho, who would grow to become affectionately known worldwide as one of the most talented players of his generation, was far from a household name in 2003. Having achieved inconsistently at PSG over two seasons, his European reputation to that point had been mostly built on Brazil’s victory in the 2002 World Cup. And even in that context, he was the decidedly least famous attacker in Brazil’s frontline (behind Rivaldo and Ronaldo).

Still, there was one aspect of Ronaldinho that was not in dispute. He was fantastically gifted, and capable of the kind of magic that had been so sorely lacking from Barcelona over the past year.

Again, however, the problem was that the 23-year-old Brazilian was farther down the line in negotiations with another club. The all too familiar scenario that led to the loss of Beckham appeared to be playing out again. Only instead of Real Madrid, it was the other world superpower: Manchester United.

Having just lost its global icon, Manchester United was actively searching to fill the void. Discussions were far along by the time Barcelona began expressing serious interest. Fortunately, Laporta had an ace up his sleeve.

Sandro Rosell’s name is one that, in 2016, evokes contrasting images within Barcelona. Yet whatever might be said of his later presidential term, and its premature demise amid the Neymar transfer scandal, his first days in the power circles of the club were defined by another Brazilian signing.

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