Over the last few years, many footballing legends have made their way over to India to play in the Indian Super League (ISL) with varying degrees of success. Brazil's Ronaldinho became the latest, albeit to play in a five-a-side tournament called Premier Futsal, a shorter version of the game.
After an underwhelming first match, where it seemed at times he struggled to beat defenders, Ronaldinho exploded in the second match, scoring five goals against Paul Scholes’ Bengaluru outfit.
Each of the five goals was a throwback to the Ronaldinho of old. Be it twinkle-toeing with the ball past a hapless goalkeeper for his first goal of the night. Or instinctively guiding the ball past the goalkeeper with the first touch for his third goal of the night. Or dinking the ball over an onrushing keeper for his fourth.
The 36-year-old's last few club stints have been forgettable, to say the least. His stay at Brazilian side Fluminense last year ended in three months with the 36-year-old making just nine appearances. At one point, he was booed by his own fans.
But in Chennai, against Bengaluru, he was once again the Ronaldinho that the world had come to adore. The Ronaldinho of the Joga Bonito videos.
The Brazilian's performance is also in sharp contrast to that of many of the marquee names who have come to India in recent years but have flickered around the edges, their powers obviously on the wane. The phenomenon may have much to do with the length of a futsal match and the pitch. Former India players also believe the varying natures of football and futsal, where raw skills rather than fitness take precedence, may also have something to do with it.
Former India player Godfrey Pereira attributed Ronaldinho's performance to his on-the-ball skills.
“In futsal, the only thing that matters is ball control. It is not about fitness but about your first touch. Ronaldinho made all those goals look easy as he has exceptional skills with the ball,” Pereira said. I-League outfit Mumbai FC coach Santosh Kashyap pointed out football and futsal were almost like two different sports.
“Futsal is a high intensity sport, but the rolling substitutions has made it easier for players to recover. Running at full pelt for the entire match once you are over 35 is very difficult. In futsal, you have to sprint, but only for short distances. Besides, the length of the pitches and matches too are shorter than regular football. So you don’t have to cover as much ground,” said Kashyap, who in 2010 became India’s first futsal instructor.