Manchester City's discussions with Ronaldinho in Brazil have left them convinced that the player wants to sign for them and that some of the commercial obstacles to him signing also appear to have been overcome.
Despite assurances from the player's brother and agent, Roberto de Assis, that he was ready to swap Barcelona for Manchester, City have needed reassurances from Ronaldinho and he appears to have provided them during four days of talks between his representatives and those of City's owner, Thaksin Shinawatra.
Another impediment to a deal with Ronaldinho, who would command a salary in excess of £100,000 a week at City, is the prospective loss of earnings stemming from leaving a Nike-sponsored club. Thaksin said last week that "sponsors will contribute; it will not damage our wage structure" and one of the ideas being explored is of a Nike subsidiary sponsoring the player in Britain.
City view the discussions with Ronaldinho as a four-stage plan. The first three – establishing the player's enthusiasm for the move; resolving sponsorship issues and then finalising a legal and contractual agreement – will establish whether Thaksin's "dream" of hiring Ronaldinho is even feasible. That explains Mark Hughes' absence from discussions to date.
Despite the progress in Porto Alegre, the complexities mean that City's new manager may not meet with Ronaldinho to make a personal assessment of his fitness and general state of readiness for the Premier League until next month. Hughes took his main summer holiday before City came calling, so he is ready to see him at the first opportunity.
Hughes has made clear that City need to work on the physical element of their game – an aspect patently missing against the physically minded sides such as Blackburn and Everton last season.
"This is an extremely difficult league to take part in and it's certainly not easy to compete from the start of the season right until the end," Hughes said. "It's a hard task, but what I have always felt is that to give yourself the best opportunity to be successful you have to be physically capable to do the job that's asked of you. That means a lot of work on the training ground, and a lot of work in the gym, so we have to ensure we have that base of fitness that enables you to perform at the highest level, which is what we have to do in the Premier League."
Martin Petrov, arguably Eriksson's most consistent signing after his arrival for £4.7m from Atletico Madrid last summer, said yesterday that sacking Hughes' predecessor Sven Goran Eriksson was "a big mistake" but seems to agree with Hughes' focus on fitness work.
"The Big Four is rich, that's why they have so many good players, even in their reserve teams, who are ready to step in to replace first-team regulars," he told Bulgarian weekly Kapital. "Teams like us, we accumulate fatigue, injuries and suspensions. That is what happened with us this season – we were good until January and then came the descent into ninth place."
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