Having weighed in with nine goals and 15 assists in Serie A this term, Ronaldinho has proved himself to be far from a star on the wane.
The Brazilian forward has left his imprint on more than half of AC Milan's league strikes this season to emerge as the Rossoneri's key man in the wake of Kaká's departure, and he is relishing his return to the limelight. "To tell you the truth, I've been planning to have a year like this," he said.
When Kaká left for Real Madrid CF last summer, Milan fans were left fearing for the future, but like their gifted No80 himself, they have had good reason to smile again of late. At the club since 2008, Ronaldinho has taken the baton from his compatriot and helped Leonardo's men turn up the pressure again on FC Internazionale Milano at the Serie A summit.
"I was working hard and thinking about this in pre-season so I'm very happy to be putting the dream into practice," said the 2005 Ballon d'Or winner. "I had a time at [FC] Barcelona when we didn't win titles and when you don't win titles it's normal the players get scrutinised, but I'm happy to be back at a great club fighting in two competitions."
Staying involved on two fronts will nonetheless require a supreme effort from the Rossoneri, with the club needing to overturn a 3-2 deficit away against Manchester United FC on Wednesday to reach the UEFA Champions League last eight. Having put his side ahead at San Siro, Ronaldinho will no doubt be asked to fill Kaká's shoes once again and repeat the Madrid man's feats during the 2007 UEFA Champions League semi-finals, when he struck twice at Old Trafford.
"It will be a very difficult match, but nothing is impossible," Ronaldinho explained. "I think it's going to be a very beautiful match. We need a positive result so we'll be playing for the victory and they'll be playing at home with their own style because their coach always makes them play that way. It has all the ingredients needed to be a great match."
Ronaldinho and Co can also take heart from the that they have already triumphed at Olympique de Marseille and Real Madrid CF in the tournament this term. "Milan have a strong tradition in the Champions League, so when Milan play in a competition like this everybody knows that Milan will be Milan," said the 29-year-old. "When I played for Barcelona we met them in the Champions League, so I know what it's like to see the Milan shirt as an opponent. We knew they were a team with history and now I'm wearing the shirt I can feel Milan's strength."
The seven-time winners hope to pass the looming Old Trafford obstacle and continue their progress through to the final they last graced in 2007 – beating Liverpool FC 2-1 – particularly since neighbours Inter have proved so dominant in Serie A in recent years. To do so would represent a stunning achievement in coach Leonardo's first season since Carlo Ancelotti's eight-year reign came to an end.
"He's already demonstrating his qualities so I'm very happy for him," explained Ronaldinho, who has enjoyed figuring for the former Brazil international in lineups dominated by a blend of Italian and Brazilian talents. "It's perfect to have a lot of Brazilians together and what's even better is that these are Brazilians who play at a very high level, which makes things even easier."
The Porto Alegre native clearly has plenty to feel positive about and his trademark grin has not even been threatened by his three penalty misses this season. "Football is a great love because I was born into a family of players and therefore born into football," he said. "I'm fortunate to have a style of play that a lot of people like. It's a privilege to be able to do what I like best and in my own way, but I'm fortunate that people like it and that motivates me even more."
Should the Rossoneri reach the UEFA Champions League showpiece on 22 May, Ronaldinho could again appear at Madrid's Santiago Bernabéu home, where he received a standing ovation while playing for eternal rivals Barça in November 2005. "That would be wonderful," he explained, also recalling his favourite memory of the European Cup. "I won the Champions League [with Barcelona in 2005/06]. There was a moment in the final when we lifted the trophy and I was right next to [Carles] Puyol – it's an image that will always be in my mind."
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