Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard finally admitted that he expects his Brazilian superstar striker Ronaldinho to leave at the end of the season.
Rijkaard was asked on the Catalan television station TV3 late on Sunday night whether Barca's last home game of the season, against Real Mallorca on May 11, would be turned into a gala send off for Ronaldinho.
“Yes, it could be then,” conceded Rijkaard
“I don't want people to forget what he's done for this club. I hope that he leaves with his head held high and that he demonstrates to the world of football just who he is,” added the Dutch coach, who could be leaving as well.
Ronaldinho is currently on the sidelines with a torn right hamstring sustained in training on April 4.
The club originally said that he would be out for six weeks and indicated that the injury had ended his season but there is now the possibility that he could yet play a cameo role in one or two of Barcelona's final games of this campaign.
“He could yet play in the last game of the season in the Nou Camp (to say goodbye to the fans),” confirmed Rijkaard.
It has been an open secret that Ronaldinho, who was instrumental in Barcelona winning the 2005 and 2006 Spanish titles and the 2006 Champions League, would be leaving in the summer despite no-one publically saying so.
Last week, AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi admitted that his club had been negotiating with Barca for Ronaldinho's signature but that the Catalan club's initial asking price had been too high.
“We still want him and we know he wants to come to Milan but Barcelona have asked for a sum we all consider excessive,” Berlusconi told Italian radio station Radio Radio.
“However, We are still looking to recruit him,” added Berlusconi, who is also the Italian prime minister.
Media reports in Italy and Spain suggest that Barcelona currently want 30 million euros for Roanldinho, who has another two years left on his contract, but Milan only want to pay around 16 million.
Inter Milan and Manchester City are also interested in the player, directors at the latter club having admitted they have been talking to Ronaldinho's representatives about a possible transfer.
Ronaldinho had a stellar first three seasons at Barcelona after signing from French club Paris St Germain for 31 million euros in the summer of 2003.
He deservedly picked up two consecutive World Player of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005 and rejuvenated a team that, prior to his arrival, had not won a trophy for four years.
However, concerns about his discipline started to grow about 18 months ago with increasing rumours of his love for the night life and the visible evidence of an increasing waist line.
This season several players, although none have named Ronaldinho specifically, have said that relations with his team mates have disintigrated and that a rift has developed in the dressing room between him and other players, like his fellow Brazilian Edmilson.
There were also suggestions that he had fallen out with Rijkaard although the Dutchman denied on Sunday that there had been a breakdown in their relationship.
“He's a player who hasn't been causing problems,” said Rijkaard.
Rijkaard's next task is motivating his players ahead of their Champions League semi-final second leg match against English Premier League leaders Manchester United on Tuesday.
The score strands at 0-0 after the first leg in Barcelona last Wednesday.
“We are not afraid of United. We know how they play, they've got mental strength and talent. I think they'll attack more than at Old Trafford than they did in the Nou Camp and that could give us some chances,” added Rijkaard.
The Champions league remains Barca's last chance of getting some silverware this season as their 2-0 defeat in the Spanish league eliminated them from the title race.
They lie third in La Liga with 61 points from 34 games, with four to go, and are 14 points behind their bitter rivals and leaders Real Madrid.
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