Ronaldinho celebrates his 40th birthday behind bars
Ronaldinho arrives at Asuncion’s Justice Palace (Image: AFP via Getty Images)

Ronaldinho spent his time on the pitch dodging defenders and his post-football career evading the law.

But the Brazilian superstar will spend his 40th birthday in a Paraguayan prison today with the biggest challenge of his life threatening to shackle him to a six-month jail sentence.

The former PSG, Barcelona and Milan playmaker won the 2005 Ballon D’Or, the 2002 World Cup – after beating David Seaman with a famous free-kick – and the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal.

He is arguably among the three best Brazilian players to follow Pele along with Ronaldo and Neymar. But Ronaldinho was the undisputed best at Samba-style partying.

Years of alcohol and orgies – and attempts to eke extra late years out of his playing career – made him more like another George Best as he failed to fulfil outrageous talent.

He officially retired in 2018 – though he has not played professionally since 2015 – and his tragically bizarre existence since has been brought to worldwide attention by his arrest.

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Ronaldo de Assis Moreira and his elder brother Roberto were detained at Asunción Airport on March 4 for attempting to enter Paraguay on false passports costing $US$6,000 each.

His lawyer Adolfo Marín claimed: “He could have entered Paraguay with his Brazilian papers. He thought he had received special Paraguayan documents. He didn’t know he was committing a crime, because he didn’t understand he’d been given false documents. He’s stupid.”

The official version of events as they were in Paraguay to take part in commercial appearances, including a book launch.

But since their arrest, a judge has rejected pleas to release them from detention for fear of them fleeing the country – and because businesswoman Dalia Lopez, who arranged the Paraguayan visit, went on the run to avoid a court appearance this week.

Chief Prosecutor Osmar Legal said: “She could be implicated in money laundering and this means we must investigate every other person who is linked to this type of crime, including Ronaldinho.”

Ronaldinho’s rap sheet is as long as his Shizuoko free-kick against England. With his domineering older brother Roberto and his entourage, he has been named in 20 different investigations worldwide.

A company called 18K Ronaldinho set up to sell sports watches is suspected of pyramid fraud after fleecing investors guaranteeing a return of of 2% a day through bit-coin.

In 2018, the brothers had their passports and 57 properties confiscated for illegally building a pier in an environmentally-protected zone in Porto Alegre. They were returned after paying a huge fine – and becoming an Ambassador for Tourism. And his ex-fiancee Priscilla Coelho has filed charges for assault.

French newspaper L’Equipe quoted one judge saying: “They think they are above the law”.

The family’s desire to cash in on Ronaldinho’s reputation is not new.

Spanish sports daily AS told the story this week of how a film crew went to film the star at his home in Barcelona. During the chat, Roberto suddenly told him: “It’s time”.

Ronaldinho apologised, got up and went out onto the balcony to wave to a group of Japanese tourists. His brother had arranged to be paid for tourist trips to visit the house in exchange for a wave from the Camp Nou star.

Now the latest chapter in his extraordinary story has Prisoner 194 score five goals and provide six assists in a futsal tournament where his team won a 35-pound roast pig.

His former team-mate Rivaldo said: “I am obviously sad about what has happened to my friend. It is bad for the reputation of one of the big idols of football and he doesn’t deserve it.”

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