The Players' Tribune is an interesting idea often ruined by disappointingly prosaic contributors, but that charge cannot be leveled at it today. Ronaldinho, that raffish, rollicking embodiment of all that is great about football, has penned a letter to his eight-year-old self. The letter deals with the untimely loss of his father, the influence of his elder brother, and then chronicles his rise to football immortality.
Throughout the entire letter, Ronaldinho tells his younger self of the importance of staying true to himself, and of playing football in his own, audaciously unique way. The frequent refrain is "creativity will take you further than calculation".
The letter is essentially Ronaldinho channelling Sinatra to declare that everything he did - ranging from the absurd achievements at the beginning to the premature burnout - he did it his way.
The letter is intended to be read the day before Ronaldinho's father died, and his life lurched into chaos:
Tomorrow, when you come home from playing football, there will be a lot of people in your house. Your uncles, friends of your family and some other people you won’t recognize will be in the kitchen. At first, you’ll think you’re just late for the party. Everybody’s there to celebrate the 18th birthday of your brother, Roberto.
Usually when you come home from football, mom is always laughing or joking around.
But this time, she’ll be crying.
And then you will see Roberto. He will put his arm around you and bring you inside the bathroom so you can be alone. Then he will tell you something you won’t understand.
“There was an accident. Dad is gone. He died.”
It won’t make sense to you. What does that mean? When is he coming back? How could dad be gone?
The letter then states that it was Ronaldinho's father who taught him how to play the game, namely to create rather than calculate. The main body of the letter is Ronaldinho stressing the importance of playing in exactly that way, for the sentimental reason of honouring his father but also for pragmatic reasons: for "staying free" is how Ronaldinho believes he has achieved the success he has, and does not regret the disappointments.
The ending is haunting:
When your father leaves this earth, you won’t have any movies of him. Your family doesn’t have much money, so your parents don’t own a video camera. You won’t be able to hear your father’s voice, or hear him laughing again.
But among his possessions, there is one thing you’ll always have to remember him by. It’s a photo of you and him playing football together. You are smiling, happy — with the ball at your feet. He is happy watching you.
When the money comes — and the pressure, and the critics — stay free.
Play as he told you to play.
Play with the ball.
It's wonderful, and we urge you to read it in full here.