SINGAPORE - Brazilian star Ronaldinho has arrived in Singapore on Thursday afternoon, where he is set to launch a new partnership with S-League club Tampines Rovers to set up a football academy here.
Known for his dazzling footwork and tricks on the pitch and his toothy smiles off it, the 2005 Ballon d'Or winner is in town for two days.
The former Barcelona and AC Milan playmaker was mobbed by about 150 fans who turned up at Changi Airport Terminal 1 hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol.
St. Andrew's Secondary 2 students and football fans Jonathan Cheong and Deen Seow came with homemade boards decorated with pictures of Ronaldinho. Jonathan said: "I've watched YouTube videos of him and he's a footballer whom I really respect. He's always smiling and enjoying the game."
Deen added: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because next time he might not come to Singapore again."
Another supporter is Michael Martin from Spain, who is in Singapore for a three-month visit. The 29-year-old said: "I'm a big fan of Ronaldinho. If it was Cristiano Ronaldo, I would not come here. Some players these days are cocky, but Ronaldinho is such a nice player, he's so humble, he's always cheerful, and his dribbling has magic."
The 2002 World Cup winner met the media at ION Orchard hours after arrival to share more about his partnership with S-League club Tampines Rovers to set up his eponymous football academy here in Singapore.
He said: "I want to teach young kids to achieve a higher level (of football) and hopefully to be a world-class footballer.
"All the love I have received when I am here... given this opportunity to start (the academy) in Singapore... and once I arrived, it just proves that we are right and this is the right place to start."
Ronaldinho, 35, will meet students at a session at ITE College Central on Friday, where he will sign a full-sized image of him on a wall and present an autographed jersey to the school management.
He will leave Singapore for Xiamen, China, on Friday afternoon.