By Tom Webber
The Brazilian Labour courts have taken centre stage during the opening weeks of the Campeonato Brasileiro and two of their most high-profile rulings have set two stars of the national game on distinctly diverging paths in their respective futures. Ronaldinho's Flamengo soap opera came to an end as the court ruled he could cancel his contract with the Rio de Janeiro club due to a dispute over unpaid wages.
Meanwhile, Oscar has finally been able to make his move to Internacional legally permanent after a similar problem in the early stages of his career at Sao Paulo had seen him starved of game time in recent months. Now their futures could contrast further. The two-time World Player of the Year's future is on a downward slide while Oscar seems poised to fill the status of national icon vacated by the 32-year-old.
The Rubro-Negro fans felt aggrieved, and rightly so, as Ronaldinho failed to meet expectations following his move from AC Milan. Former coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo was unable to cope with his lackadaisical attitude and it ultimately ended with his dismissal. Joel Santana has since replaced 'Luxa' and he has fared no better in extracting the best from the former world-beating talent. Tempers were fraught around the club after embarrassing displays in the Copa Libertadores and Carioca state championship and everything came to a head last week.
Flamengo were hosting a second-string Internacional, without Oscar, in their second Brasileirao match of the season. Mengao found themselves 3-1 up soon after half-time but having been caught in possession in the build-up to the equaliser, Ronaldinho was lambasted for the capitulation and was jeered off the pitch despite scoring a penalty earlier in the game. It would prove to be his last contribution for the club.
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After an agreement with Traffic, a sports marketing firm who had agreed to pay 75 per cent of the player's astronomical wages in order to gain ownership of his image rights, broke down Ronaldinho was left heavily out of pocket. His brother and agent, Roberto Assis, took matters into his own hands as he attempted to take a free selection of goods from the club store. There were rejections, but he was eventually allowed to make off with 25 free shirts. Though that was not enough to replenish the 32-year-old's coffers and with Fla remaining unable to pick up the tab, Ronaldinho sought to relieve himself of his duties to represent the club.
It was a bitter end to a return to Brazil that promised so much. His overindulgence in the local nightlife and air of petulant nonchalance leave a sour taste in the mouth. Even Mano Menezes was forced to cut his Ronaldinho experiment short as the player lacked the drive to perform in the yellow of the Canarinha. Instead of the Olympic Games serving as his Selecao sojourn, it will provide the springboard for Oscar to launch himself to heights that the former Barcelona man once experienced.
The 20-year-old was at his imperious best in the recent friendlies against Denmark and the United States. He was a synthesis of energy, tenacity and class as he dominated the middle of the park and commanded the ball with unerring precision. The Danes were powerless to resist. Having moved out to the left for space, he found Lucas Moura in the centre, who in turn played the ball to Hulk for the Porto forward to drill in the game's opening goal. With just 13 minutes on the clock Oscar then picked up a loose ball and galloped at the defence, jinking past one defender before sending in a cross that ended in an own goal.
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Yet for all his quality with the ball at his feet, he also displayed great determination and diligence when not in possession and such attributes also induced goalscoring opportunities for his side. He dispossessed Daniel Agger in his own half and Hulk pounced, surging forwards to add his second goal of the game. His drive was once more visible against the United States as he intercepted the ball in opposition territory, enabling his side to break at speed, a move that ended with Neymar converting a penalty after just 12 minutes to set Brazil on the road to a 4-1 win.
It is such qualities that set Oscar apart from many of his counterparts. Menezes appears to have potentially stumbled across his strongest Selecao line-up, and the 20-year-old could be the heartbeat of it. It was some of the most fluid football the national side have played in recent times and it proves there is no place for sentiment in the modern game. Ronaldinho was a passenger at international level during his brief cameo, but Oscar proved he can be the pilot to navigate Brazil's attack.
A spot among the darlings of Brazil has been abandoned by the ailing superstar's acrimonious Engenhao exit, and the Olympics could offer the Internacional youngster the chance to fill that place. He has exceeded all expectations and must cast doubt over Ganso's role when he returns to the side for the this summer's tournament in London. Though one thing does seem certain, the withering Ronaldinho has been eclipsed by a burgeoning young star in Oscar.
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