And so Ronaldinho continues on in semi-retired career limbo. This weekend, the former Brazilian phenom laced up his boots for a one-off friendly with Ecuador’s Barcelona Sporting Club (no relation). Rather than suffering through some of the more harrowing moments we’ve seen from present day Ronaldinho on the pitch, we were actually treated to some pretty cool ones.

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Ronaldinho was the guest of honor for Barcelona SC’s Noche Amarilla, which is traditionally the club’s big season kick-off event. The club pulled out all the stops, presenting him before the friendly in extravagant style:

How Ronaldinho looked or played was irrelevant to the celebration; the key takeaway from the night was just how strongly fans and players the world over still connect with the happiest player to play the game. Take the moment when a ref asked Ronaldinho for an autograph—

—or how after each goal, his teammates immediately sought Ronaldinho out to celebrate, somehow smiling even wider than he does—

—or how intense the crowd’s reception was when he was taken off the pitch:

For as endearing as these moments are on their surface, it’s hard not to see behind them the seedier side of it all. This career curtain call in a country Ronaldinho never played in doesn’t make much sense, apart from the obvious economic incentives of the club to drum up more cash for an especially lucrative Noche Amarilla. (Related: some fans will remember the time Ronaldinho came to town with one of the 400 printed commemorative Barcelona SC jerseys; others were allotted an even more intimate experience, getting to share dinner with the icon the night before for $250 a seat.)

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And just a few days before this, Ronaldinho was back sporting the Fluminense shirt that was the last one he wore professionally before being released from his contract in October. The occasion? A friendly tournament in Florida, to which he was contracted to attend despite quitting the club months ago after a mere 80 day stint, in hopes that his presence would boost attendance and interest.

Still, it’s hard not to see his enduring and profound connection with soccer fans and begrudge at least that aspect of whatever travelling circus he’s currently embarking on. It’s just too bad that the umpteenth public celebration of his talents and the wonder they brought to the game still isn’t enough to allow him to walk away from the sport contented and for good.

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[L’Équipe]

Top photo via Getty