In-form Ronaldinho feeling the love
© AFP

Brazil superstar Ronaldinho admits that the smile is back on his face after a difficult few seasons as he leads AC Milan's Serie A title charge.

The 29-year-old scored a hat-trick in Sunday's 4-0 thrashing of 10-man Siena - his first treble in Italian football - to move Milan to within six points of leaders Inter Milan. The Rossoneri have a game in hand and play Inter in the Milan derby next weekend, meaning that if they win both matches they will be joint-top.

It has been a remarkable turnaround for Ronaldinho, who was hounded out of Barcelona 18 months ago after losing his way and his fitness. "Now I feel loved and respected. That's how I go onto the field and realise my dream, to use all this affection from the fans," he said.

"This is a special moment for my life and my career. We know we have to work hard for the scudetto but this Milan team can go a long way in all three competitions."

Milan are through to the UEFA Champions League second round, where they will face Manchester United, and are also in the Coppa Italia quarter-finals. But despite his hot form, Ronaldinho knows the derby will be tough, particularly given Inter beat Milan 4-0 earlier this season.

"Inter are one of the best teams in the world and they have one of the best coaches in the world (Jose Mourinho), so we have the maximum respect for them," he said.

Crucial cog
Ronaldinho will be vital for Milan on the left of their trident strike-force, that currently sees David Beckham to the right of Marco Borriello. The Brazilian's hat-trick took his tally to five goals in his last two games and nine in 18 Serie A appearances. He's also netted twice in five UEFA Champions League games.

It has got many people, including his coach and compatriot Leonardo, believing he can reproduce the form he showed in his Barcelona heyday when he won back-to-back FIFA World Player of the Year crowns, consecutive Spanish La Liga titles and the UEFA Champions League.

"It's normal when someone feels the love that he responds. He's entertaining everyone, he's a great player," said Leonardo. "He's having a great season, he's rediscovered his taste for playing well and scoring goals."

Of course, some may feel that such an upturn in form was only to be expected in a FIFA World Cup™ year but as he has not been a part of recent Brazil squads, he needed to do something spectacular to get back in coach Dunga's plans. Whatever the reason for his resurrection, both Brazil and Milan will be delighted to have the real Ronaldinho back.