Kolkata: Wearing his infectious goofy grin, ‘Samba Magician’ Ronaldinho cast a spell on the football-crazy denizens of Kolkata as his arrival for a two-day visit here ushered in an early onset of the Durga Puja festival.
The Durga Puja, the grandest festival in the region, traditionally commences on the sixth day (Shasthi) following Mahalaya, but it got rolling on the second day itself with the ‘Gaucho’ inaugurating a series of pandals.
On a day Union Home Minister Amit Shah also came to inaugurate a Durga Puja pandal, it was the Brazil legend who took all the limelight.
Wherever he went, chants of ‘Ronaldinho, Ronaldinho’ and ‘Brazil, Brazil’ echoed through the crowd, as hundreds of fans eagerly gathered to catch a glimpse of the former Barcelona and AC Milan star.
Ronaldinho got himself dressed up in casual shorts, a loosely-fitted navy blue T-shirt, and topping it with his signature snapback cap.
‘Muchas gracias. Mucho carino (many thanks, much affection),’ the ‘King of Jogo Bonito’ conveyed with ‘I Love You’ gesture with his goofy smile captivating his fans who followed him everywhere he went.
The 43-year-old Brazilian great, who checked in late on Sunday, defied jetlag and began his day heading to inaugurate his academy — ‘R10’ — at Merlin Rise residential complex on the eastern suburbs.
Hundreds of kids of various age groups gathered at the academy to catch a glimpse of their favourite Brazilian star, who shot himself into limelight with his extraordinary dribbling skills, close ball control, and creativity on the field during their 2002 World Cup triumph, the last one for the five-time champions.
A giant screen on the backdrop of the stage showed Ronaldinho’s magical football moments, including his spectacular long-range free-kick that virtually ended England’s fate in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal.
His next destination was in north Kolkata, where he inaugurated a Durga Puja pandal designed around a Disneyland theme. Ronaldinho got a traditional Hindu welcome, with a tilak on forehead as he showed curiosity, exploring the pandal while inquiring about the rituals.
Ronaldinho also paid floral tributes to a statue of Argentine icon Diego Maradona who also had enthralled Kolkata’s football fans during his twin visits in 2008 and 2017.
Calling on Mamata Banerjee was the next on Ronaldinho’s agenda, as he headed to the West Bengal chief minister’s residence in Kalighat where officials of the ‘Big Three’ clubs — Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting — welcomed him.
‘The CM briefed him about the clubs’ century-old legacies, and he appeared deeply engrossed. The CM also requested him to consider sending more Brazilian players to Kolkata to elevate the standards of the game. We all presented him with club jerseys,’ East Bengal’s top official, Nitu Sarkar, told PTI.
Ronaldinho also met with East Bengal sponsors later in the day.
The Brazilian then took part in an official trophy handing ceremony of the Calcutta Football League Premier Division tournament, crowning Mohammedan Sporting champions at the Indian Football Association.
There were more Durga Puja pandal inauguration, this time crisscrossing the city extending to the southern suburbs in Narendrapur and Baruipur, but Ronaldinho remained high in spirits and obliged his fans at every stop.
More excitement is in store for his fans on Tuesday as well as the Brazilian is expected to weave his ‘Samba Magic’ during an exhibition match at the south-western suburb of Maheshtala in the afternoon.
(Published 16 October 2023, 13:14 IST)