Romario is legen......dary

We look back at another legendary South American Barcelona striker who faced AC Milan in the Champions League ahead of tonight's clash at the San Siro.

Football News: Romario
Kelvin Yap

By Kelvin Yap

Insane, bizarre and erratic are all adjectives that can be used to describe Romario, but, despite all the crazy off-field antics, his greatness cannot be denied.

Romario's story growing up is typical of a Brazilian football star - a stereotype that can be encapsulated in three succinct points.

A typical Brazilian football star:
1) is brought up in a favela (slum) and football was the express route out of poverty for him
2) ends up in Europe during the prime of his career (probably at a Spanish club)
3) likes to party. Strike that. He loves to party, and he brings it onto the pitch - joga bonito style.

Romario belongs to the above list but unlike many his peers, he didn't let his penchant for a late night bring his career down. 

Think Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Adriano, just to name three; they had the world at their feet, but were derailed by the party lifestyle.

Romario, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on it.

Goal! The dream begins!

Born Romário de Souza Faria on January 29, 1966 in Jacarezinho, a favela on the periphery of Rio de Janeiro, Romario was known as "O Baixinho" or the small one, while growing up.

There, a nine-years-young Romário joined Olaria, a smaller club in the region whose claim to fame was being the last team the late Garrincha played for before retiring.

It wasn't long before Romario's skills as a striker were spotted by scouts in the region and he was snapped up by Vasco da Gama, one of the biggest clubs in Brazil and one that he would share a long relationship with.

For those who haven't had the chance to watch Romario play before, allow me to impress upon you how his playing style would look in the modern context.

In his prime, during the early 1990s, Romario was quick, slippery and deadly. He could make an inch of space seem like a mile, and he worked angles like Pythagoras.

Imagine Manchester City's Sergio Aguero. He looks like an accomplished footballer, above average, but similar to many others playing around Europe - right until the moment he has the ball in the penalty area. Then Wham! He creates a goal out of nothing. 

City manager Roberto Mancini, a former striker who played in the same era as Romario, said: "Sergio [Aguero] is a photocopy of Romario, they are the same player."

With the uncanny ability to sniff out a goal in the box, Romario was shortly called up to the Brazilian national team in 1987 and was catapulted to worldwide fame after finishing the 1988 Olympic football tournament as top scorer as Brazil claimed the silver medal.

Eurotrip, anyone?

Romario was soon snapped up by PSV Eindhoven, where his phenomenal strike rate of 98 goals in 109 games helped to usher in the post-Ajax era in Holland, as PSV claimed Eredivisie titles in 1989, 1991 and 1992.

It was at PSV too that his disciplinary problems started to surface.

The late Bobby Robson, who was then-manager of PSV, recalled with a mix of anguish and ecstasy:

"Romário was one of the most difficult characters that I have ever had to work with. But he was also one of the most wonderful footballers that I have ever encountered."

Even the fans were aware of his issues. A running joke in the stands was that Romario knew only two Dutch sentences, one being "I'm a bit tired" which he would use whenever a trainer asked him to exercise and the other being "I'm Romario, would you like to f***?" which he would use on Dutch women.

Joga bonito, right?

Despite all the supposed merry/troublemaking, Romario at least had stability in Holland; PSV would be the last club he would stay at for more than two seasons.

In 1993, his skills caught the eye of Dutch manager Johan Cruyff, who was in the process of building the now-famous Dream Team at Barcelona. It seemed natural to bring Romarios' dreamy skills to the Camp Nou.

So, Catalan country it was.

With a wealth of talent surrounding him, Romario maintained his amazing goal record of almost a goal per game at Camp Nou. His partnership with another temperamental genius, the Bulgarian Hristo Stoichkov, blossomed and Barcelona claimed yet another La Liga title as Romario finished top scorer with 30 goals.

In 1994 he was ready to grace biggest stage of his footballing career - the FIFA World Cup.
Brazil were favourites, but were carrying that reviled "underachievers" tag, having failed to lift the Jules Rimet trophy for 24 years despite the presence of legends like Garrincha, Zico and Socrates. With Romario around, that tag would finally be lifted in the USA.

The then 28-year-old formed a beautifully destructive partnership with the diminutive Bebeto, the duo slicing open defence after defence as the Samba Boys headed inexorably towards the game's biggest prize.

Romatio said of his partnership with Bebeto in an interview with FIFA: "We'd been playing together since the Olympics in 1988 in Seoul and had already lined up together in several other competitions. 

"So we understood each other very well. When Brazil were working on tactics in training, Bebeto and I didn't have to participate very much. We trained separately, because we already knew each other so well."

And it was apparent in the 1994 World Cup, where one of the two players was on the scoresheet in every single game as Brazil tasted glory after two and a half decades. Those famous "baby-cradling" celebrations are now part of football's folklore. 

Remarkably, there had been some antipathy between the two prior to the tournament. Romario had nicknamed Bebeto "Chorao" or "Crybaby" [oh, the irony!] for the latter's tendency to pout at referees and later had reportedly refused to sit next to his teammate on the flight to America. Thankfully for Brazil and for neutral football fans everywhere, they managed to sort out their differences before the tournament began - combining to carry Brazil to the World Cup.

The team's coach at the time, Carlos Alberto Parreira said of the two: "We have the perfect combination. They are both skillful players, outstanding players. They are matadors, killers inside the penalty area."

Despite missing out on the Golden Boot award to his club teammate Stoichkov, Romario was named the best player in the World Cup and was later named FIFA player of the Year as well.

However, his fairy tale at the top couldn't last.

The World Cup winner took an extended holiday back in Brazil before appearing late in training. He was out of shape - a fact that was reflected on the field as he scored only four goals for Barcelona by January, an extremely paltry return as compared to the 30 goals he had scored previously. 

And then were rumours that the World Cup winner was frequently turning up late for training. It seemed Romario was headed down the exit route from Barcelona.

Romario's quotable quotes

"I'm like any Brazilian: I like women and I like to go out and enjoy myself, which is why people can identify with me. The night has always been my friend. When I go out I feel good, then I always score goals."

"Only televisions should worry about projecting a good image," Romario remains indifferent to rumours surrounding his social life

"Say no to drugs kids. And do not support Fluminense."

"The reason why I like the night life so much is simple. At night you see what you want. During the day, you are forced to see everything"

"I can speak Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, and Dutch. But I can also speak the language of the women, by far the best. "

"I wish God had warned me not to say some of the stupid things I've come out with on occasion." 

"I'm like money, at the end of the day everybody quite likes me."

"If they had asked me if I would accept to start on the bench when I was younger, I would answer a resounding 'no' in an instant. Today , I'm 38 years old. I'm more mature, and I try to think more before answering. But I would still say 'no'"

Reports started floating about Romario wanting to return to Brazil due to personal and family reasons and soon enough, the hitman entered the nomadic period of his career - on which he would change clubs ten times in ten years.

1.5 Million Dollar Baby

Remarkably, he still shone and maintained his strike rate of almost a goal for every game at every club he played for, be it Flamengo, Valencia, Vasco da Gama or Fluminense - while sticking to his philosophy of enjoying life both on and off the pitch.

In 2000, at age 34, an age where most footballers are pondering life after football, Romario managed to win the Brazilian League, the South American and Brazilian Footballer of the Year award with Vasco da Gama.

He appeared at the Club World Cup and was the chief tormentor of a celebrated treble-winning Manchester United, orchestrating their destruction with two early goals in the 3-1 win over the then-European champions.

Gary Neville, who faced Romario back then, takes up the story.

"I have to say that the toughest striker I've played against was Brazil's Romario. There are definitely a lot of good strikers that went [up] against me, but Romario was that one special man that was tough to play against."

High praise indeed, coming from a man who nailed down England's right-back slot for the better part of a decade.

For Romario, the only blip in his stellar goalscoring record occurred in 2003, when he made a lucrative USD$1.5 million move to Qatari club Al-Sadd, where he played only three games due to registration issues.

Although some claimed that the nightlife, or the lack of it, was to blame for his profligacy in a league in which Gabriel Batistuta scored 25 goals in 21 games for Al-Arabi during the same season, Romario claimed otherwise.

He was then chasing the 1000-goal mark, and lamented his stay in the Middle East, saying: "If I'd known it was going to be so bad, I wouldn't have gone. My problem was the coach - everything else was perfect. 

"Professionally, it was not a positive season. I lost sight of my target, which is to get to the 1,000 goals mark." 

Romario returned to Brazil at Fluminense and scoring 18 goals in 34 matches the following season, proving that he worked best in the enjoyable Latin culture and resumed his march towards the landmark to join legends like Pele and Ferenc Puskas in the 1000-goal club.

Goal! The dream is complete!

He finally reached his target against Sporting Recife while playing for Vasco Da Gama, a fitting full circle as he made the landmark with the club he had started his football journey with.

The match was stopped for a full 16 minutes for the 41-year-old to celebrate his landmark and being Romario, the achievement was tinged with controversy after press found out that friendly matches and youth games were included in his tally.

No matter what the circumstance was, Romario's amazing strike ratio was recognised worldwide.

Officially, Romario scored 691 goals in 888 matches, a ratio of more than seven goals every 10 matches, which is pretty amazing considering how he always put off-field pleasures ahead of his game.

He once famously said: "I'm not an athlete, I'm a centre-foward. An athlete is someone that trains, sleeps well, eats well; not this bulls*** that I do. Maybe I would've been a better player if I were a true athlete, but I doubt that I would've been as happy as I am now."

Perhaps he would really have been a better athlete had he really trained, but without the joy to motivate him, perhaps he would have joga-ed with much less bonito.


For more not-so-dull thoughts and latest sports updates, you can follow the writer's Twitter @plevyakin


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