As 2010 dawned chatter began to circulate on the streets of Rio de Janeiro that Flamengo wanted to sign Ronaldinho. Exciting though the talk was, it was widely ignored, considered an unlikely hope rather than a tangible prospect. Six months later however, and more substantial rumours in Brazil’s press appeared, with Flamengo’s directors speaking openly about the 2005 Ballon d’Or winner.

Still, suggestions Ronaldinho might return home, and to Flamengo, proved difficult to accept. Surely "Dinho" was still strutting his stuff in Europe – though not quite as masterfully as in years past – and AC Milan wouldn’t part with him so easily. Flamengo also seemed an unlikely destination in the equally unlikely event of the schemer returning home too: Flamengo’s debt, the highest in Brazil, is estimated at close to $150M.

Time though changes everything. Just another six months later and Ronaldinho is a Flamengo player, with the Rio giants bringing the 30-year-old back to his homeland. But the deal was far from simple and instead proved to be a veritable transfer saga.

With 2010 becoming 2011, from Italy came talk that Ronaldinho was unhappy at Milan. The Serie A side had added Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho in the summer and attacking berths were becoming premium spaces at the San Siro; how was the player to return to the Brazil side with such little playing time? Ronaldinho’s brother Roberto Assis, who also acts as his agent, saw his own name crop up time and again in Brazil’s sports newspapers when the Milan man travelled to Brazil on holiday. Soon the former Barcelona wizard joined his Italian side for their training camp in Dubai, although he didn’t last long, spending just 30 minutes training on his first day in the Middle East. Four days later Ronaldinho went back to Brazil. By now speculation had reached fever pitch, with Gremio, Palmeiras and Flamengo openly stating their interest in signing one of the biggest names in world football. And with Milan vice president Adriano Galliani enjoying a holiday in Rio de Janeiro, it was clear Ronaldinho hadn’t bothered to book a return flight when he stepped off the plane.


Upon his arrival back in Brazil, the Ronaldinho saga truly began. First Assis was seen meeting with Flamengo’s directors in Rio. Quick to react, later that same day Palmeiras sent an emissary to put their offer. Next Assis headed to his family’s homeland, Rio Grande do Sul, and spoke with Ronaldinho’s former club Gremio. From there, Assis, now busy clocking up the air miles on behalf of the former Barcelona star, went back to Rio, leading Gremio’s directors to believe that Ronaldinho’s brother was set to speak to Galliani and have "Dinho’s" contract terminated. As all Brazil seemed to speculate on where their World Cup winner would end up, English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers entered the fray, at first denying any interest, but then confirming a £20M offer over three years was on the table. Bankrolled by their new Indian owners, Blackburn’s offer just muddied the waters further. And if the situation was not yet unclear enough, Corinthians president Andrés Sánchez said he would offer £670,000 per month to Ronaldinho, but would not chase his signature. According to Sánchez, Corinthians’ sponsors were keen for him to sign Ronaldinho, but Assis would have to travel to São Paulo to meet him and discuss a move.

In Rio, before meeting with Galliani, Assis met with Flamengo once again, and a new offer was made – then Flamengo began to talk directly to Milan’s vice president. Yet at that same moment, Gremio were so certain of their success that a sound system due to be used in the presentation of Ronaldinho was being installed at their Olimpico stadium. Fans heard this and further rumours Ronaldinho would be arriving that same night, and headed to the ground in numbers themselves, eagerly awaiting his unveiling. When club president Paulo Odone found out about speakers being prepared, he ordered them to be removed at once, saying that the person responsible for arranging them in the first place would have to foot the bill. Gremio suddenly seemed unsure of their supposed "done deal".

Meanwhile, Palmeiras were still waiting for Assis in São Paulo, with their representative having met with Ronaldinho’s agent just days earlier in Rio. Palmeiras officials were in confident mood, believing they had put the best offer on the table and considering the Milan man very close to inking a deal. As speculation grew by the hour, Assis, Galliani and Ronaldinho convened a press conference, but it proved only to be a damp squib, with little new being said, as its purpose was already known – to announce that Milan would sell Ronaldinho. Only one statement from the event gave a hint of what the player was thinking. When asked which of the three most interested parties he would like to join, Ronaldinho answered: “Palmeiras have Felipão [Luiz Felipe Scolari], Grêmio have my hometown, and Flamengo is Flamengo”.

Soon afterwards, Grêmio quickly arranged their own press conference to announce they were giving up attempts to sign Ronaldinho. When asked if they would do the same, one of Palmeiras’ directors stated that to do so would be to leave just Flamengo in the race for his signature, and the Porco would not withdraw. Just two days later however, and Palmeiras had indeed dropped out of the running, announcing that they were no longer keen on signing Ronaldinho. With Blackburn and Corinthians not considered serious options, Flamengo moved quickly, offering Milan £3M for "Dinho", handing the player a three and a half year contract on £670,000 a month and flying him from Florianópolis to Rio de Janeiro. The Rio club had won.


On a Monday night, while celebrating Assis’ birthday at a steak house, Ronaldinho signed his contract with Flamengo. Two days later, the Brazilian side prepared a large party, opening the club’s gates for their fans, and attracting around 25,000 faithful, who chanted and danced in delight. Music played, fans celebrated and Ronaldinho slipped on the number 10 shirt which he will now call his own. Later, Ronaldinho and Flamengo’s president Patrícia Amorim held a press conference which, for the club’s fans, was the crowning moment of an unforgettable day. "I’ve never felt so motivated to do what I know how to do, which is to play football", said Ronaldinho. "I cannot wait to get together with my team-mates." The former Barcelona schemer also made clear that by returning home he is doing all he can to try and win back a place in the Seleção, with his eyes firmly fixed on the 2014 World Cup to be played on home soil. "I want to return to the Seleção and stay there until the World Cup."

In his short time back in Brazil, Ronaldinho has united the country’s media, who all agree that the 30-year-old should be the star of 2011 if he plays to his potential. And should he do so, then a spot back in the Seleção that he so craves, should be within reach. Flamengo will recoup their investment in the former Milan man quickly, with commercial deals aplenty lined up and shirts with "The world’s best in the world’s greatest" flying out of the club’s stores; More, bearing the words Ronaldinho uttered at the press conference which gave a clue to his destination, saying "Flamengo is Flamengo", are also being produced as his new side look to cash in.

From the Rossoneri to the Rubro-Negro, via a few twists and turns, Ronaldinho has finally found his way home. "Dinho" sees the club as his springboard back to the Seleção and a 2014 World Cup which would cap a truly remarkable career. Flamengo themselves, well aware that a return to something approaching his best could see the European vultures out in force once again, have inserted a buyout clause of £150M in his contract, leaving them in the driving seat whatever happens. But managing expectations is not an option that any buyout clause can address, with Flamengo boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo claiming "it is the greatest signing in Brazilian football of all time" as the hype threatens to explode. Off the pitch, Ronaldinho’s arrival will certainly live up to Luxemburgo’s words, but on the pitch, the 30-year-old must still produce what all Brazil know he is capable of, and the pressure to do so could not be greater.

Ronaldinho is not past his best, as has often been the case with so many other big-name returnees, and this just makes his presence in Brazil once again a mouth-watering prospect. The entire country awaits his debut, which looks like coming on 30th January against Vasco da Gama.