- Ronaldinho won Brazil's first FIFA U-17 World Cup 20 years ago
- "It opened the door for my professional career"
- Would go on to win the FIFA World Cup and FIFA World Player of the Year twice
The name Ronaldinho needs little introduction to fans of the beautiful game. In a career spanning almost 20 years, the Brazilian won almost every title in football, including the 2002 FIFA World Cup™, the FIFA Confederations Cup 2005 and the UEFA Champions League in 2006, and was named FIFA World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005.
Yet it is easy to forget that he tasted his first moment of international glory in Egypt back in 1997. On 21 September exactly 20 years ago, Ronaldinho and his Brazil team-mates won the FIFA U-17 World Cup to make the South American side world champions in this age group for the very first time.
"The U-17 World Cup is a very special tournament for me," Ronaldinho said in an interview with* FIFA.com*. "I was lucky enough not only to take part in the competition but to win it too. I can honestly say that it opened the door for my professional career."
Did you know?
• Ronaldinho has held Spanish citizenship since the age of ten
*• *He wore the number 80 on his shirt at AC Milan because he was born in 1980
*• *He is currently competing in the 2017 Premier Futsal tournament in India, playing for the Delhi Dragons, taking on fellow ex-pros Ryan Giggs, Deco, Paul Scholes, Michel Salgado and Hernan Crespo
His coach that year, Carlos Cesar, built his team around the remarkable midfield quartet of Abel, Matuzalem, Fabio Pinto – the eventual winner of the Silver Ball as the second-best player at the tournament – and Ronaldinho, and the young Seleção set about their task with gusto in a 4-4-2 formation. By the end of the campaign, they had won six matches in a row, scored 21 times while conceding just twice, and lifted the trophy. The Brazilians dominated every game, and while they faltered slightly in the first half of the final against Ghana, they recovered their composure after the break to seal a 2-1 victory.
"The most wonderful moment of the tournament was when we became world champions and I got to lift the trophy aloft,” Ronaldinho recalled. “It was something Brazil had never done before and experiencing something like that was wonderful,” added the man known for his remarkable dribbling skills, who played in every match and scored twice but did not collect an individual award.
Now 37 and with 97 senior caps and 33 international goals to his name, Ronaldinho made the leap into professional football for Gremio shortly after the tournament in Egypt, before moving to Europe in 2001, where he became a global superstar in spells with Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and AC Milan.
"The U-17 World Cup can be crucial, as for many players it marks the start of their careers,” said the Brazilian. “Young players dream of making it big, and this competition gives them a fantastic opportunity to make that dream come true. It got my career off to a wonderful start and will always be close to my heart."