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FOOTBALL INSOMNIA

Why did Ronaldinho kick off his Barcelona home debut at midnight?

On 3 September 2003 Ronaldinho made his Barcelona home debut in front of a packed Nou Camp, against Sevilla, under the most extraordinary circumstances

Many people will tell you that Ronaldinho’s sharp decline was linked to the Brazilian’s love of a good night out.

His PSG team-mates claimed he only trained one day a week while he reportedly greeted Lionel Messi ahead of the Argentinian’s first training session having steamed in straight from a night out.

Ronaldinho talks Thierry Henry through his technique used to see off a yard of ale

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Ronaldinho talks Thierry Henry through his technique used to see off a yard of ale

So when Ronaldinho turned Man United down to join Barcelona from PSG in a £21million deal you’d think the Catalans would have been doing everything they could to limit his late night escapades.

Which makes it all the more remarkable that Ronaldinho’s home debut kicked off at 12.05am, in front of 80,237 fans packed into the Nou Camp.

The story of Ronaldinho’s first Barcelona game at the Nou Camp is a tale of one of the finest pieces of one-upmanship ever seen in football.

Luis Enrique making friends with his Sevilla counterparts

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Luis Enrique making friends with his Sevilla counterparts

International break

Ronaldinho played in Barcelona’s opening game, against Athletic Bilbao, with Frank Rijkaard’s side winning via a Phillip Cocu goal.

But Barcelona had a problem. With the international break looming, and Ronaldinho set to fly to Brazil for a game against Ecuador, they urgently needed to get their game against Sevilla rearranged or face fielding a weakened side.

Barcelona’s president Joan Laporta tried to move the game to the day before, but Sevilla insisted on sticking to Wednesday, much to Barcelona’s annoyance.

Laporta came up with a cunning plan, ensuring Ronaldinho could make his Barcelona home debut and then fly off to Brazil to play for the Selecao. The game would kick off at 12.05am on Wednesday morning.

Ronaldinho took a typically laid back approach to his Barcelona unveiling

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Ronaldinho took a typically laid back approach to his Barcelona unveiling

100,000 KitKats

So how do you keep a crowd of more than 80,000 people happy, and more importantly awake, until gone midnight?

Simple. With 100,000 KitKats, 40,000 Gazpachos, 30,000 Actimels, 25,000 bags of Doritos and three tenors.

Laporte also kept Barcelona’s museum open until midnight, ensuring fans would be suitably entertained up to kick off.

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The teams

With everyone suitably fed and watered it was time for the main event to get underway.

Barcelona lined up with a Spanish spine of Victor Valdes in goal, Carlos Puyol in defence, Luis Enrique and Xavi in midfield and Sergio Garcia up front.

Rijkaard sprinkled in a touch of maverick with Ronaldinho and Ricardo Quaresma both looking to break down Sevilla’s rugged back four.

Sevilla’s main threats came in the shape of Brazilians Dani Alves and Julio Baptista as well as local lad Jose Antonio Reyes.

Ronaldinho tries to fight off the overwhelming feeling of tiredness

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Ronaldinho tries to fight off the overwhelming feeling of tiredness

1.30am

At half past one, and less than two games into the season, Ronaldinho scored Spain’s goal of the season.

Valdes threw the ball out to the Brazilian, who was still inside his own half. The Nou Camp collectively held its breath.

With a drop of the right shoulder he breezed past the defensive efforts of Marti. Thanks for coming.

Javi Casquero raced across to cover but with a change of pace Ronaldinho sent him sprinting back to Sevilla.

Ronaldinho then swapped precision for power, smashing the ball past Antonio Notario from thirty-yards out.

The sound of the crossbar being rattled not once, but twice, was enough to wake up any fan that had drifted off.

And so it begins…

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And so it begins…

Ronny leaves two men in his wake

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Ronny leaves two men in his wake

Before taking aim

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Before taking aim

No one went home happy

Ronaldinho’s golazo cancelled out Reyes’ opener, but neither set of fans went home happy as the game finished 1-1.

The dropped points would be damaging for Barcelona, who finished five points adrift of league winners Valencia, with Rijkaard’s squad ending the season trophyless.

But the points would be vital for Sevilla, who finished above Atletico Madrid on goal difference to squeeze into the Uefa Cup, which they went on to win.

The biggest losers on the night were the bosses around Barcelona who had to deal with their employees falling asleep every 15 minutes.

But it was all worth it to see Ronaldinho at the Nou Camp for the first time.

A smile worthy of the entrance fee

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A smile worthy of the entrance fee