“A few days before the Clasico against Real Madrid, ‘Dinho’ called me at home at night.
“I answered and he told me: ‘Andres, I know it’s 3 am, but I have to confess something. In June I will be leaving Barca. My brother has an agreement with Real Madrid. It’s an incredible amount that I can’t refuse. You’re young, you can understand – but please do not tell anyone in the locker room or the club. Do not betray me I trust you more than anyone. Andres, good night.’
“He didn’t give me time to say anything.
“The next day, we were in training and I felt an awkward atmosphere around me. The whole team was silent and they were all greeting Ronaldinho like never before.”
Iniesta, just like the whole of Barcelona, remembered Luis Figo. When the Portuguese left for Real Madrid, there was something in the Catalan club that couldn’t just be described with words. More than a sense of betrayal, it was a sense of… inferiority.
The underwhelming feelings rose further when Laporta promised to bring in David Beckham, only for Barcelona to end up with a funny-looking guy from PSG.
Laporta was facing heavy pressure; Madrid was getting stronger each season, while Barca trailed behind without a change in sight.
So when Ronaldinho arrived at Camp Nou for the first time, fans didn’t know what to expect from the Brazilian.
As it would later show, Ronaldinho may have not sold as much underwear as Beckham, but he did know how to play football.
After Valdes’ throw, Ronaldinho took the ball at around 1:05 am on the clock on the left side of midfield and charged forward. He danced around Marti, seemingly without stopping for a second, before taking another victim. When he gained some space directly facing the goal from around 30 meters out, Ronaldinho shot the ball stunningly into Notario’s net.
There was something about that goal; as if Camp Nou and Ronaldinho celebrated the birth of a new era, the one where Barcelona can go toe-to-toe with Madrid, and the one where dreams become reality. Unlike Cinderella, Ronaldinho’s fairytale started after midnight.
It’s November 19, 2005. Two years and one La Liga triumph later, Barcelona was ready to face Galacticos.
Ronaldo Nazario de Lima, Zinedine Zidane, and Luis Figo lined up to shake hands with the aspiring Barca featuring young and hairy Lionel Messi, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, and above all, the leader of the revolution in the east of Spain – Ronaldinho.
Florentino’s dream – the Galacticos – were on the verge of falling apart. Zinedine Zidane was aging, and so were Ronaldo’s knees of glass.
On the other side, Barcelona believed. Even after winning La Liga in 2004/05, Cules still needed confirmation of their success, a hallmark, certificate of being above Real Madrid.
And above Real Madrid they were, high in the skies, as Ronaldinho danced in another magical night, this time in Santiago Bernabeu, against Madrid’s dream team. Just as Barcelona ended Madrid’s streak of five European Cups in a row, they buried the Galacticos project with pure, artistic, and attacking football embodied in an ever-lasting smile of one and only Ronaldinho Gaucho.
His smile was so magical that it prompted a standing ovation from Santiago Bernabeu after Ronaldinho put Madrid’s defence to sleep with a brilliant solo goal to make it 3-0 for Barcelona. Only three Barcelona players ever received a standing ovation from Bernabeu – Diego Armando Maradona, Ronaldinho, and Andres Iniesta.
“When the day of the Clasico came, in the locker rooms of Santiago Bernabeu, ‘Dinho’ told us: ‘Guys, today is an important game, they are strong, but these days I discovered that we were like a family. I called each of you during the night and told you that I was leaving in June, but none of you spoke. After that I realised that we were ready to suffer in silence rather than betray each other. I’ll stay here for a long time, now let’s go onto the field and teach a lesson to these players of Real Madrid.'”
These events eventually led Barcelona to entering a new era, where the greatest team of all times was assembled – described in Graham Hunter’s excellent book – Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World.