Ronaldinho has found his place again in the Brazilian team
The evidence of Brazil’s two-game tour of the United States would seem clear: two wins over the US and Mexico, seven goals for and only three against.
But more importantly, it appears that perhaps the most gifted player around has finally got over his post-World Cup hangover. Ronaldinho is back.
The goofy genius went to Germany in 2006 with many back in Brazil expecting him to use the tournament to show that he was even better than Pele.
Of course, it didn’t happen and last year, in addition to falling short of his own standards with Barcelona, he had an uneasy time with the national team.
He appeared to be struggling physically, psychologically and tactically but his displays against the US and Mexico show massive progress on all three fronts.
During 2006/7 it was often claimed that he was overweight – and he was certainly not always able to glide away from his marker with his customary ease.
But in Brazil’s two recent games he looked sharper and was quick to avoid his opponent yet strong enough to win the 50-50 balls.
Then there is the mental side. It is little known in Europe but Ronaldinho suffered a similar dip after the 2000 Olympics – a football competition which matters a great deal in Brazil.
It is the only title the national team have never won and the nation was convinced that Ronaldinho would carry them to gold and glory in Australia.
In the event, the whole thing was a massive disappointment. Neither he nor the team ever really clicked and they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by a Cameroon side that had been reduced to nine men.
Ronaldinho carried the can for the failure. There was also a period of inactivity when he fought with his club, Gremio, over his move to France to join Paris St Germain.
In all, he spent over a year out of the Brazil squad and only returned to the starting line-up a couple of months before the 2002 World Cup.
The 2006 failure seemed to have a similar effect, shaking his self-esteem.
Ronaldinho’s sense of his own importance might have been hit still further in July, when Brazil won the Copa America without him. But novice coach Dunga is showing an impressive sureness of touch.
Coaches all over the world learn time and time again that leaving out their best players can be a tricky business; sooner or later you need them back and firing on all cylinders.
Dunga, to his credit, made sure the door was open for a quick recall.
Ronaldinho was on the bench for Brazil’s first game of the season, against Algeria in France last month. He came on in the second half to win the game, scoring one goal and setting up the other in Brazil’s 2-0 victory.
He had earned a place in the starting line-up and, to emphasise the point, he was handed back the symbolically important number 10 shirt, which had been taken away from him the previous season.
Then there was the question of where on the field he should play.
Dunga took over with the idea that players should operate for the national team in their club positions. So he fielded Ronaldinho wide on the left, where he normally stars for Barcelona.
But it never looked satisfactory. Brazil play a different system and Ronaldinho was unable to duplicate his club form.
Towards the end of the year Dunga saw the light. “If Ronaldinho floats around and gets on the ball more it’s better than just staying on one side of the field, a characteristic that he has picked up at Barcelona,” he said.
Against the US and Mexico he orchestrated the play from the centre, with two marking midfielders behind him, a centre-forward in front and Kaka and Robinho swapping positions either side.
Playing so centrally showcased his passing ability and, giving Brazil a dimension they have lacked of late, he split the opposing defences and set up vital goals – as well as both scoring and providing with superbly struck set-pieces.
Of course, it can be dangerous to dwell too much on what takes place in friendlies. There will be more to go on next month when World Cup qualification gets under way.
But bar Colombia and Ecuador, who have to face him in October, football fans everywhere will surely be hoping that Brazil’s number 10 is ready to show what usually comes so easily.