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15 Juli 2008

Milan secure Ronaldinho on the cheap as Barcelona pay for ham-fisted exit strategy

Reads a statement released by Milan: "AC Milan and FC Barcelona have reached an agreement for the transfer of Ronaldinho. "Tomorrow, the player will be in Milan for the medical, and to sign the contract which will tie him to Milan until June 30th 2011." This announcement brings to an end months of speculation over the Brazilian's future. He had been on the outer at Barcelona pretty much since El Clasico in December, with his private life, his fitness and his bulging waistline making more headlines than his performances on the pitch. Barcelona boss Frank Rijkaard, always one to back him given what they had achieved together, had to drop him due to his dropping fitness levels, and once Pep Guardiola was announced as the new coach in early May, a summer exit for the two time World Player of the Year was only a matter of time. Chelsea and Milan were the early frontrunners, with the player himself expressing a desire to team up with Luiz Felipe Scolari once again last month. However, Big Phil was not too keen, and Manchester City subsequently came into the fray. But with Chelsea out, there was only going to be one winner, and that had been clear for two weeks now. City had a superior financial offer for Barca, but as with many things these days, the player's will had the final say and a deal was struck with Milan after intense negotiations between Adriano Galliani, Joan Laporta and Roberto de Assis. During his five years in Spain, Ronaldinho won two La Liga titles (2004-05, 2005-06), one Champions League (2005-06), the World player of the Year award twice (2004, 2005), and the Ballon d'Or (2005). He leaves on a low, but when the dust settles, he will go down as one of the best to ever play for Barcelona - as much for what he won as for the way he heralded a new era for the club following the collapse of Real Madrid's 'Galactico' policy. Some of his best displays also came on the biggest of stages - a sensational left footed strike against Milan in the Champions League in 2004, two more against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge that almost saw Barcelona through single handedly later that season, and then that sublime assist for Ludovic Giuly at San Siro a year later - which guaranteed Barcelona's progress to the final. However, perhaps the crowning moment was his stunning showing at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2005, when he got a standing ovation from the Real Madrid fans after two goals and a mesmerising display of football in a 3-0 win. The challenge for Milan now will be to get the player back to peak fitness, before we even speak of form. He still has the magic in his feet as we saw from his two goals on his return to football a couple of weeks ago, but whether he can roll back the years and offer the Rossoneri the kind of service he did to Barcelona, remains to be seen. His ability against rigid Italian defenses will also be tested to the limit. It will also be very interesting to see how he fits into the team, and whether Ronaldinho, Kaka, Alexandre Pato, Andrea Pirlo and Clarence Seedorf (who has openly opposed this move) can play together. Barcelona, in the meantime, are expected to announce the signing of Aliaksandr Hleb, with Arsenal seemingly having given the nod following the signing of Samir Nasri from Marseille.