SAO PAULO (AP) – Ronaldinho is under heavy pressure in Brazil after Flamengo’s elimination in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores.
A local newspaper said Ronaldinho’s bodyguards had to draw guns to fend off protesting supporters as he tried to leave the stadium after Thursday’s elimination, and the team’s biggest fan group published an open letter accusing the two-time FIFA player of the year of disrespecting Brazil’s most popular club.
Ronaldinho played well and set up two goals in Flamengo’s 3-0 win over Lanus of Argentina, but the victory was not enough to advance the Brazilian club to the second round of Latin America’s most important club competition. It needed other results to go its way in order to advance.
Ronaldinho has been criticized by many for his subpar performances since returning to Brazilian football last year. He had some good moments since signing with Flamengo, but not at the level expected by fans.
The Lance sports daily said Friday that two bodyguards drew their guns and pointed them into the air to make way for Ronaldinho’s exit from the Engenhao stadium.
About 25 fans were outside an exit yelling “shame” and other words to complain about the team’s poor performances in this year’s competition. They were blocking Ronaldinho’s car, prompting the bodyguards to exit their vehicle and threaten the supporters. The fans had already thrown rocks and beer cans at the team’s bus.
The fan group Raca Rubro-Negra published a letter on its website criticizing Ronaldinho, who was the team’s most expensive signing but has not reached the same level of play he displayed when he thrived with Barcelona or even with AC Milan later in his career.
“We are not here to question the club’s policy, only the performance by Ronaldinho, which is not pleasing anyone who understands football,” the letter said. “We are not satisfied with this player who is disrespecting the club and is not giving his best.”
The fan group said Ronaldinho’s skills “apparently were left in the past,” and accused the player of being “unprofessional.”
“The player with the highest salary in the squad, who should serve as an example for the youngsters who are beginning their careers, only shows a lack of respect to the colors of Flamengo.”
The group was especially upset with an alleged barbecue they say Ronaldinho organized “to friends at his mansion” in Rio after the team’s 3-2 loss to Emelec in Ecuador a week ago.
Emelec was the team which ended up advancing along with Lanus in Group 2 of the Latin American competition, thanks to an injury-time victory over Olimpia on Thursday. Flamengo would only advance if that match had been a draw.
Flamengo players waited on the field after the match in Rio was over, waiting for news of what was happening in Paraguay, but the night ended in disappointment as the club will have to wait for a first Copa Libertadores title since 1981.
Flamengo got into a difficult position in the group after twice relinquishing leads late in matches. It was beating Olimpia 3-0 at home but allowed the Paraguayans to equalize with three late goals. Then it led 2-1 against Emelec, but the Ecuadoreans rallied to victory with two late goals.
The disappointing elimination and the criticism by fans prompted some local media to report that Ronaldinho may leave the club. But the player’s brother and agent, Roberto de Assis, said Friday that Ronaldinho intends to remain with Flamengo at least until his contract with the club expires in 2014.
Ronaldinho has been constantly summoned to the Brazilian national team by coach Mano Menezes, who has also been criticized for sticking with the former star despite his poor performances with Flamengo.
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