Last summer, when Ronaldinho arrived in the city of fashion and first pulled on the AC Milan shirt in front of his new fans, the city welcomed him with a lavish Brazilian-style party. With England midfielder David Beckham joining the Rossoneri from Los Angeles Galaxy in January, it is exciting to think that the holders of the FIFA Club World Cup are another step closer to becoming a global dream-team which embodies the spirit of the beautiful game.
How else can you describe a side that brings together a living legend such as 40-year-old defender Paolo Maldini, with one of the game's hottest young prospects in 19-year-old Brazilian striker Pato? Not forgetting Dutch international midfielder Clarence Seedorf, 2006 FIFA World Cup™ champions Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta, Brazilian playmaker and winner of the FIFA World Player 2007 award, Kaka, and Ukrainian goal machine Andriy Shevchenko.
Despite being surrounded by a host of superstars, Ronaldinho remains the finest exponent of the beautiful game on the planet. It is therefore no coincidence that Electronic Arts have named him, for the third consecutive season and the fourth season in total - following his debut outing in 2004 - as the international face of EA Sports FIFA 09, the latest instalment in one of the most successful sports video game series ever developed.
The Brazilian ace was recently the guest of honour at the game's Italian launch party. Even under the glare of the cameras and besieged from all sides by journalists, Ronaldinho never lost his laid-back demeanour and trademark smile. Nevertheless, his attention was frequently distracted by the stunning images of EA Sports FIFA 09 which flashed across the screens around him.
On numerous occasions the FIFA World Player 2005 would inadvertently glance upwards to check out what was happening in the virtual challenge pitting AC Milan against local rivals Inter. The graphics in the new version are so lifelike, it was almost like watching Ronaldinho in the flesh. Even the great man himself, seeing his virtual counterpart in action on-screen, seemed to be wondering: "When did I play that game?"
He then faced a barrage of questions on various topics, from his passion for video games. "I'm not fanatical about them, but when I get a spare moment in the hotel I play the odd match on FIFA 09," he said. "I'm not too bad, although I'm by no means the best there is", to more technical questions about the greatest footballers in the real world and in the virtual world. There then followed questions about the player's life outside of football, including that of his favourite food? No surprises to hear the AC Milan star opt for Fejoada, a Brazilian stew of meat and beans, as you never forget where you come from.
Finally it was time for the Brazilian playmaker to take up the challenge in an exhibition match by leading AC Milan against arch-rivals Inter. The stars of each side were all on show, their individual movements faithfully reproduced with startling accuracy. The backdrop for this encounter was the San Siro stadium and even here, the setting was magnificently recreated in all its glory. Besides the classic arenas, another 15 new venues are available for fans of EA FIFA 09 to enjoy.
Milan dictated the early part of the encounter, their attacking thrusts spearheaded by the virtual Ronaldinho who, ably assisted by Kaka, conjured up a succession of quality moves. Nevertheless, for once he lacked the killer touch in front of goal, suggesting the need for extra practice to master the incredible array of options that the game offers to the most adept gamers.
Facing the Brazilian was an Inter fan and showman of Italian television, who proved to be more adept at exploiting the enhancements offered by the game in terms of tactics and movement control. Inter mounted one last offensive and, just moments before the final whistle, scored the decisive goal. A cross from the right, Mancini with the header and the ball was in the back of the net. It was sweet revenge for the Nerazzurri, following their derby defeat in Italy's Serie A a few weeks previously. On that occasion they lost out to a header from none other than Ronaldinho, courtesy of a cross from Kaka, in a move identical to the one reproduced in EA Sports FIFA 09.
The match commentary was provided by another special guest, commentator Fabio Caressa, who also reported on the real Milan derby and entered Italian footballing folklore with his memorable coverage of the Azzurri's triumphant campaign at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The local versions of the game feature the voices of the most famous commentators in each region, further contributing to a thrilling and realistic match atmosphere!
Despite losing by the narrowest of margins, Ronaldinho's good humour and effervescence were undimmed: "My character seems to really enjoy playing and authentically conveys all of my passion and enthusiasm for football," he said. "That's what really counts. Whether you're playing on the football pitch or on FIFA, the most important thing is that it's an enjoyable and fun experience."