By Jim Wirth
Having won both of their opening UEFA Champions League games, Wednesday's 1-0 Group F defeat by AC Milan at the San Siro was hardly a disaster for FC Barcelona. Indeed, with Frank Rijkaard's side having been in unstoppable form so far this season, maybe in retrospect it will be seen as a timely reality check.
For with a player of the calibre of 24-year-old Brazilian forward Ronaldinho on their hands, it would be easy for Barça to lose sight of footballing reality. His trickery and mischievous smile speak of a genuine joy which almost seems to have nothing to do with the ugly business of winning games.
'Football is happiness'
"For me football is happiness," Ronaldinho said. "
There is nothing in the world that makes me happier than playing football. I am generally a contented person anyway, but I gain extra joy from being able to do what I love most - playing football."
However, while that gentle philosophy may be what makes Ronaldinho special on the pitch, there is little doubt that his smiling face masks a more result-orientated mindset. "My objective is always to win," he added. "In everything I take part, I do so to win."
He has been successful in that sense this season. Wednesday's game was his 13th with Barça and Brazil this season and his first defeat. And while the goals have not been flowing freely, Ronaldinho's trickery has made a massive contribution to his side's charge to the top of the Spanish table.
"The tricks just come out naturally," he said. "I am a player that likes to dribble with the ball and thankfully these tricks just emerge naturally. I'm always one that hopes my individual qualities will help the team achieve success. I'm really happy with my current form."
He can also be happy with his decision-making skills. Back when he left Paris Saint-Germain FC in 2003 - his first club in Europe after leaving Grêmio FBPA - he was set to join Manchester United FC. However, while the Premiership beckoned, he plumped for a €30m move to Barça.
"There were lots of reasons," he explained. "One was that Barcelona will always be Barcelona and I've always dreamed of playing here. This is where all my idols have played - Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldo - and I wanted to continue in this line. But I also thought that the climate, the city and the language would be better for me and my family."
Ronaldinho joined the club when they were at a low ebb, but his arrival prompted a massive upturn fortunes. A late surge last season saw Barça claim second place in the Primera División and a berth in the Champions League after a season in the UEFA Cup.
"For me, the Champions League is the biggest competition in football," said Ronaldinho. "I've always wanted to take part in the tournament and I'm now delighted to have this chance with Barcelona." And of course, in line with his philosophy, now he is in the competition, Ronaldinho wants to win it.
'A great side'
"There are other really strong teams in the tournament, but I have faith in my team," he said. "I think we've got a great side. We've started the season very well and that's given us the confidence to believe that we can come out of this as champions."
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