Stuff of Legends is about the times Kiwi athletes took on the best in history – and got the ultimate memento. This is the story of when the New Zealand U23 OlyWhites were given a masterclass by legendary Ronaldinho.
The OlyWhites football team in Tokyo may be full of professionals, but back in 2008 it was a very different story.
Over half the team's players were semi-professional.
Among them, Sam Jenkins, who was plying his trade at Western Suburbs and Hawke's Bay United.
"If you ranked the players from the Olympic squads from 1 to 250, I probably would’ve been in the bottom 10 per cent, in terms of experience and pay bracket," he told 1 NEWS.
"I wouldn’t have been earning more than $800 a game. You’re playing the likes of Brazil and Ronaldinho, who are pocketing northwards of £200,000-£300,000 a game. Definitely David versus Goliath in that sense."
The three over-age players for New Zealand were Blackburn Rovers star Ryan Nelsen, Simon Elliott, and Chris Killen.
After drawing 1-1 with China in the first game, the OlyWhites faced the daunting prospect of a Brazil team featuring Marcelo, Thiago Silva, and captain Ronaldinho.
"Ronaldinho for me is probably sixth or seventh best footballer of the last 20-25 years, in his prime," Jenkins said.
"I guess it would be fair to say he tore us to shreds."
Ronaldinho dished out a masterclass for the inexperienced New Zealanders, the flicks and tricks on full display.
"The last 20 minutes, I had to resort to right-back, because Aaron Scott got injured and went off," Jenkins recalled.
"So I had to take care of Marcelo and Ronaldinho. I’ve joked with a few people that the two or three times I tackled him was when I didn’t try tackle him. He’d try do a trick and sort of bump into me. Every time you tried to take the ball off him he’d just go past you.
"It’s funny because in the first half I remember watching and being like, ‘shit, half an hour we’re doing alright. We’re doing alright, we’re holding our own.’
"Then they just give each other the look and all of a sudden they’re in third or fourth gear and you’re just like ‘woah. They’re just battering us.’"
The shirt swap
When Jenkins finally got to grips with Brazil No. 10, it proved costly.
"I put my hand on his shoulder and he’s gone over pretty softly and the ref’s given a pen.
"About five minutes later when there was an injury break I was talking to him and said to him, 'you owe me your shirt because you took a dive for the penalty.'"
Ronaldinho disputed that version of events but agreed to the shirt swap after the 5-0 win.
"I was like, this would be good if it actually eventuates. And then full time whistle went and all our players ran towards him to ask for his shirt. And he actually goes ‘no, no, no’ and pointed to me."
The pair exchanged jerseys by the tunnel, to Jenkins' amazement.
"I was like ‘holy s***, this is like one of my most prized possessions ever.' He would’ve left my shirt on the changing room floor or in the bin to be honest, but that didn’t matter for me. It was just a dream come true to ever be able to play against someone like that and then have a little piece of memorabilia to remember it."
The obliging Ronaldinho even tried to sign it for him, but found it tricky on the sweaty kit.
The Brazilian suggested Jenkins come by the hotel room later that evening.
An unforgettable aftermatch
With the invitation extended, Jenkins obliged and headed up to Brazil's quarters with some teammates that evening.
"Brazil were three or four levels above us, we went up to his room and I remember knocking on the door.
"I walked into his room and he was basically lying on the bed. There was a girl on one arm, there was a big bucket of Coronas, then about eight or nine of the Brazilian boys in there.
"Thiago Silva and Jô were playing bongo drums, most of them were having a Corona."
The Kiwi contingent spent 45 minutes hanging with the Brazil side, taking photographs and socialising while Jenkins got the superstar's signature on his shirt.
"They were actually really good dudes, they know they’re superstars and they play up to it.
"Outside of the dream team, the Team USA basketball team, the Brazilian football team were the biggest superstars at the Olympics."