The great Bernabeu ovation – 15 years of Ronaldinho’s magic


It’s been 15 years…

Seems like only yesterday, when a guy entered enemy territory, with a cacophony shouting and praying for his collapse. Eleven assassins ready to behead him. He only had a ball, his boots, and his teammates, who were no less than family. All odds against him. Yet, he would come out victorious, slaying the assassins, turning the cacophony into his fans clapping for him, rewriting the course of destiny.

15 years ago, one man won the hearts of his enemies and became immortal in footballing history. He didn’t defeat them. He won them over. They all clapped for him because they had known, this was a guy beyond this realm.

It was November 19th, 2005, exactly 15 years to this day. A La Liga matchday. Arch-rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid were against each other in world football’s biggest show, El Clasico. The place was the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.

Florentino Perez, the then-Real Madrid President, had said in Real Madrid’s Bicentenary celebration, in 2002, that he’ll assemble the greatest squad of footballing history. With that, he launched the first Galacticos Project. Real Madrid assembled a squad full of the galaxy’s biggest stars. David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Roberto Carlos, Luis Figo, Guti, Ronaldo, and many more.

Although that amazing list of players was missing one very crucial name. Perez had passed him over for the more marketable, David Beckham. And that night, 15 years ago, at the Bernabeu, Perez and Real Madrid would regret their decision.

The referee blows his whistle. The game starts. Both teams start the first half with amazing intent and high pressing. A few miscued passes here and there, and both the team seemed to have been gaining their composure.

A few crosses by David Beckham got the Barcelona dugout in a state of bother. But the tides were about to change the direction.

At the 14th minute, in response to a Real Madrid attack, Barcelona started a counter-attack. An 18-year-old Messi picked up the ball in midfield and started a solo run. Just at the edge of the penalty box, he passed the ball to an advancing Samuel Eto’o. Eto’o, who was caged in by four Real defenders, twisted his body a full 190 degrees and found a small lane, only large enough to put a ball through. He shot in that space and it was Real Madrid 0-1 Barcelona.

Eto’o ran over to the director’s box, where Joan Laporta, then Barcelona president and Florentino Perez, then Real Madrid president were sitting. He slapped his chest on the Barcelona badge to show the Real Madrid fans and President, who he now plays for.

Oh! The moment was beyond words for Cules all over the world! After the heart-breaking “betrayal” of Luis Figo, this was a sort of vengeance.

But the best moment of the game was yet to come…

After the half-time whistle, just at the hour mark, Deco passed the ball to a Brazilian, Barcelona’s no.10. He received the ball just below the halfway line. He walked past Sergio Ramos, who was left for dead. He feinted Iván Helguera and fired a shot at the near post, beating Iker Casillas’ outstretched hands.

Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona

The game was not done yet. The best was still yet to come.

Minutes later, a young Xavi dispossessed Júlio Baptista and passed the ball to Deco. Deco dribbled past Pablo García at the centre of the pitch. And once again found the Brazilian. The Brazilian accelerated like an F1 car and swooped past Sergio Ramos, slicing the whole Madrid defence and curling the ball past a helpless Casillas. Real Madrid 0-3 Barcelona

Then came the moment of the match. A moment only seen once before by another demigod, Diego Armando Maradona. In a divine moment, Real Madrid fans realised the sheer brilliance of the moment as the whole Bernabeu arose and applauded in unison for the Brazilian.

It was a moment that was never ever replicated by anyone. Not Messi, not Xavi, not Iniesta, not Neymar, not Suarez, not Cruyff, not Laudrup, not Stoichkov, no one!

It happened only twice. Once for Maradona and it happened that day for Ronaldinho Gaucho – the most skillful player to ever walk this planet in flesh and blood.