Ronaldinho: Neymar will rule world football
Brazil great Ronaldinho tips compatriot to lead Selecao to glory at 2018 World Cup
Hair still frizzy, attitude still easy, Ronaldinho did not have to do much to send more than 1,000 of his adoring fans into a frenzy when he arrived at Changi Airport yesterday, before he was whisked off to ION Orchard.
Swaggering his way to the Ronaldinho Football Academy press conference in the same plain white T-shirt, beanie, shades, diamond-encrusted watch, rolled-up black pants and white Nike Air Force 1s, the 35-year-old Brazilian looked like very much like he was on top of the world at ION Sky on the 56th floor.
Once rated the best footballer on the planet, the former Barcelona and Brazil superstar tipped his compatriot Neymar to outdo his feats, and everyone else's, in the football stratosphere.
"Neymar is conquering his own space now and he has everything to be the greatest footballer in history," said Ronaldinho, who last made a public appearance in Singapore when he led the Brazil Olympic team to a 3-0 win over a Singapore Selection side at the old National Stadium in 2008.
Perhaps the only true exponent of joga bonito in the current Brazil national team, Neymar is already setting new records.
In the Champions League, the 23-year-old Neymar has overtaken Ronaldinho as Barcelona's sixth-highest scorer with 16 goals in 26 games, two more than the 2002 World Cup winner, who needed 35 games to reach his tally.
Ronaldinho struck 33 goals in 97 international games, while Neymar has 46 in just 67 caps.
Ronaldinho believes his countryman can help the Selecao bounce back from a disastrous World Cup campaign at home last year, when Brazil, without the injured Neymar, were humiliated 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals before crashing to a 3-0 defeat by Holland in the third-place play-off.
Ronaldinho told The New Paper: "I wished I could have played at the World Cup because it was held in my home country.
"It was a major disappointment to see them suffer a big defeat and miss out on the final but, with Neymar, I believe Brazil will come back bigger and better."
These days, he spends much time globe-trotting to launch football academies, endorse golden e-scooters and take part in charity friendlies, as he winds down his football career.
Just like the free spirit he was on the pitch with his cheeky dribbles, elasticos, nutmegs and no-look passes for previous clubs like Gremio, PSG, AC Milan and Flamengo, Ronaldinho seemed equally at ease at the prospect of hanging up his boots.
Speaking about his current free-agent status, the star said: "I'm enjoying my free time and vacations.
"In the next year, I will think about my next step."
After fielding questions from the media for 10 minutes, he was ushered to the ground floor of ION Orchard where he was greeted by a samba drum crew and an enthusiastic crowd, many of whom had to climb to the upper levels to get a clear glimpse of the superstar.
While his famous freestyle repertoire was limited to just one fancy flick, possibly due to safety concerns about the small platform he was standing on, Ronaldinho did answer a few questions from his fans.
Having spent five seasons with Barcelona, where he won two La Liga medals, one Champions League title and the 2004 and 2005 World Player of the Year awards, it was no surprise who his pick was for this year's European crown.
"Barcelona," he declared at the ground floor of ION Orchard to cheers from the crowd. "They will always be a special team in my heart," he added, launching seven autographed footballs into the air, nearly causing a mini-stampede and damage to the Christmas decorations, before making his exit with his signature shaka sign and trademark megawatt smile.