“A New Star Emerges”
Under this title, the Brazilian football magazine Placar featured an article about Roberto de Assis back in the distant year of 1988. The piece highlighted the young Brazilian’s exceptional talent at Grêmio and the growing interest from Italian club Torino. Interestingly, one of the photos showed the footballer alongside his younger brother Ronaldo, although the article focused solely on Roberto, without mentioning Ronaldo’s skills.
Roberto joined Grêmio’s academy at the age of 11, quickly impressing everyone with his remarkable dribbling skills reminiscent of Maradona’s. European clubs soon took notice, with Torino even flying him in for trials. At the time, Torino was a formidable team, having secured a third-place finish in the championship in the early 90s and winning the national cup. Roberto’s career path would have been significantly different had he been given the chance to develop his skills in Serie A at a young age.
Despite the lure of Torino, Grêmio was determined to keep their talent at all costs, offering Roberto’s family a move from their modest shack in the slums to a spacious house with a large pool, on the condition that Roberto signed his first professional contract with them and abandoned Torino.
At this crucial juncture in his life, Roberto chose to prioritize his family’s well-being, fully aware that this decision might not be optimal for his career. He signed with the Brazilian club, and the Moreira family moved to an affluent neighborhood, leaving behind the hardships of the Favela.
In the following years, Roberto contributed to Grêmio’s successful campaigns, aiding the team in securing three consecutive state titles. Additionally, he played a crucial role in Brazil’s triumph in the Copa America under 20 (1988) and was awarded the top scorer prize at the tournament.
Tragedy struck just days before Roberto’s 18th birthday when he returned home from practice to find his father’s lifeless body in the pool. It was later revealed that João had suffered a heart attack while swimming. The family was deeply affected, and João, who had previously known only poverty working at the port, never witnessed the successes of his sons – Ronaldinho’s “Golden Ball” and Brazil’s World Cup triumph.
As the eldest brother, Roberto de Assis shouldered the responsibility of being the head of his family, adding even more pressure to his already burdensome role. Soon, his career suffered a significant setback when he sustained a severe injury, causing an eight-month hiatus in his football journey.
Upon his return to the field, it was evident that some of Roberto’s magic had diminished. Nonetheless, he garnered interest from Swiss club FC Sion, which offered him a lucrative contract and financial security. Roberto readily accepted, once again placing his family’s welfare ahead of his personal aspirations, ensuring they would never have to endure poverty again.
With FC Sion, Roberto de Assis clinched the Swiss Cup in 1995 before moving to Portugal’s Sporting. It was expected that this transfer would mark the beginning of his successful career. However, after just five matches, he was loaned back to Brazil, embarking on a journey across various teams that provided him with opportunities. Despite sporadically displaying moments of brilliance, he was never able to reclaim his former glory, given the trials he faced in the early years of his career and personal life.
After stints with teams in Japan, Mexico, and France, he made the difficult decision to retire from professional football at the age of 30. However, his playing years were not in vain. Besides ensuring financial stability for his brother, sister, and mother, Roberto utilized his experience to guide the career of his younger brother, Roni, in the right direction.
Even before he stopped playing, Roberto began assisting Ronaldinho, who showed immense potential at Grêmio. The elder brother made the tough yet correct decision to focus entirely on Roni, serving not only as his agent and personal assistant but also as his mentor and greatest supporter.
A British journalist once noted that Ronaldinho wouldn’t even be able to find his breakfast at the hotel without his brother. This highlighted Roberto’s immense role – allowing Roni to be himself and shielding him from the responsibilities typically faced by the average adult. Though Ronaldinho was often seen as immature, it was precisely this quality that made him special on the field, preserving the childlike magic that resided within him. This magic brought joy to millions.
Between 2002 and 2010, Ronaldinho ascended to become one of the greatest and most renowned players of all time, with Roberto playing a significant part in his success, offering invaluable advice and guidance. Although Roberto himself never attained the same level of success as a player, the knowledge that he contributed to the rise of a football icon who brought happiness to millions is a fact that will forever warm his heart.
In 2020, when Roni greeted his older brother on social media for his birthday, he expressed the following:
“Brother, father, partner… Happy birthday, Roberto! May God continue to protect you! Thank you for all the beautiful moments we have shared together! I love you!”