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Dublin: 1°C Sunday 7 March 2021

Ronaldinho's decline from Barcelona greatness to Paraguay prison and more of the week's best sportswriting

Plus, Jonathan Wilson on his parents, loss, memory and Lance Gibbs.

Ronaldinho (file pic).
Ronaldinho (file pic).
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

1. Not much makes the world simultaneously bigger and smaller, but the World Cup boasts that precise, precious capacity. While celebrating our differences – all those songs, all those chyrons, all those haircuts – it also highlights our similarities – all those souls, all those feelings, all that love – which together compel our species into a single endeavour of collective bliss.

Daniel Harris recalls Yordan Letchkov’s famous goal for Bulgaria against Germany at the 1994 World Cup.

2. Elasticos, rabonas, no-look passes and that trademark toothy grin. At his peak, Ronaldinho was irresistible.

Throughout the 2000s, the Brazilian conquered the football world with the kind of play YouTube was made for. And over the past decade he has won – and lost – more than most players manage in their entire career.

After a premature 2011 exit from AC Milan aged 30, he eclipsed Neymar in the younger man’s own backyard, won a historic Copa Libertadores and appeared in Arab reality shows and Russian supermarket adverts. There was even a Hollywood film with Jean-Claude van Damme.

This year, he lost his freedom, spending his 40th birthday locked in a Paraguayan prison.

BBC Sport’s Gary Meenaghan looks at the downfall of Brazil legend Ronaldinho.

3. Giorgio Gori still smiles at the memory of that night. He was sitting with his son high in the stands, watching the unimaginable unfold. The party seemed to bubble up beneath them, gathering force until it consumed them, too. “Four goals? Against Valencia? At San Siro?” he said. He phrased them as questions, as if he just needed to check what he had seen was real.

It was hard to believe it was happening at the time. It is even harder to believe it happened now.

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Fascinating stuff as ever from The New York Times’ Rory Smith on ‘The Dark Fairy Tale of Atalanta’.

4. In dementia we die a thousand deaths – and the last is not the worst.

You were fucking proud of that, the intro to your eulogy for your mam. It’s a good line. It’s accurate. It scans. It has some understated alliteration and assonance. In its virtuosity there is an illusion of control. Look at me, the journalist, doing words. Look at me, so in command I can turn grief into passable sub-Larkin pastiche.

Is that the best you’ve got? Fuck you, Death. Fuck you, Disease. Fuck you, Dementia. Come and have a go, sunshine, and I’ll fucking do you with an intro. Fuck youse all.

Writing for The Nightwatchman, Jonathan Wilson on his parents, loss, memory and Lance Gibbs.

5. On the night of October 20, 1816, a Royal Mail coach stopped to make a delivery at an inn near the cathedral city of Salisbury, in the English county of Wiltshire, where it was attacked by a lion. The lion, a female, leapt at the lead carriage horse, clawing its neck and chest. The horses screamed and reared. A guard, stationed on the back of the coach, tried to shoot the lion with his blunderbuss. There were two passengers inside the coach. They leapt out, ran for the inn—it was called The Pheasant—and blocked the door. A large mastiff, either very brave or very foolish, seized the lion’s leg in its jaws. She let go of the horse, whipped around, and attacked the dog. It ran, but the lion caught it and killed it 40 yards from the carriage.

The Ringer’s Brian Phillips explains why College Football’s Schism Moves Us Further Apart Than We Already Are.

6. Everybody is unique but some individuals are so unique unto themselves, they cannot be compared to anyone else. Once the original is made, the mould is thrown away.

Seán Boylan belongs in this rarefied category. The former Meath manager is a true one-off, by all accounts a special human being.

And yet the abiding irony of his career in Gaelic football is that he left people all over the country wondering if there were in fact two Seán Boylans. It was the mystery that was never solved. It came down to one question that fans of the game repeatedly asked during his 23 years in charge of the Royals: how could such a nice man send out such brutish teams?

The Sunday Independent’s Tommy Conlon on the enigma of Seán Boylan.

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