Ronaldinho’s trademark grin had vanished. His long, curly hair tucked up under a black hat, a baggy white T-shirt covered the Brazilian’s slumped shoulders, as a police officer led him through the mass of flashing bulbs. A pink jumper wound around his wrists was all there was to hide the handcuffs.
One of the greatest footballers in history, a World Cup winner in 2002, Ballon d’Or winner in 2005, two-time FIFA footballer of the year in 2004 and 2005, who sits alongside Pele and Ronaldo in the pantheon of Brazil heroes, is no longer a free man.
Ronaldinho spent 32 days, including his 40th birthday, inside a Paraguayan prison with his brother and agent Assis after the two were accused of entering the country with fake passports. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in jail.
Ronaldinho won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 and went on to become a footballing icon
The 40-year-old has been embroiled in scandal since retiring from football in January 2018
‘It is one of the most unbelievable things we have ever seen,’ Alex Sabino, reporter at Folha de Sao Paulo told Sportsmail. ‘Ronaldinho, one of the greatest players in the history of Brazilian football, spent a month jailed in Paraguay!’
Yet Brazilians do not even need a passport to cross the border.
Ronaldinho and his brother are now under house arrest after paying £1.3million bail.
It’s far from over though. Prosecutors are still investigating whether Ronaldinho and his brother are part of a wider, deeper criminal network of crooked businessmen and public figures, forgery and money laundering or whether they are just unwitting pawns in a much different game to the one Ronaldinho is used to playing.
‘The arrest was illegal and will soon be proved,’ Ronaldinho’s lawyer Sergio Queiroz told Sportsmail.
It is yet another remarkable story in the remarkable life of Ronaldinho: of football and fame, of partying and women, and of money and crime. And one that, whatever his lawyer says, raises more questions than answers.
Ronaldinho is now staying in the £280-a-night presidential suite at the Palmaroga hotel in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital. He and his brother have the place to themselves, too, thanks to lockdown. Ronaldinho is making the most of outdoor grounds, a swimming pool, a whirlpool bath and a king-sized bed. The hotel has converted a ballroom into somewhere to allow him to practise football.
‘He seems like a nice guy,’ hotel manager Emilio Yegros told Agence France-Press. ‘He always has a smile, like his brother. His face has changed from his first day here. When he arrived he was tense and visibly stressed.’
But even when he was pictured in his jail cell, the smile was back. Maybe because Ronaldinho’s prison stay was not exactly gritty. He stayed in a police barracks-turned-prison where the most high-profile inmates are kept, sharing his keyless cell block with his brother, politicians prosecuted for corruption and drug traffickers.
Ronaldinho is mobbed by fellow…