By Tom Nash from the Frustrated Footballer
Romario, five foot seven of barrel-chested, bristling energy, and one of the greatest strikers the game of football has ever seen.
He rose to global prominence at USA ’94 but by that time was already hugely successful. He was one of the leading lights of Barcelona’s fabled 1994 Dream Team containing such luminaries as Stoichkov, Koeman, Laudrup and Guardiola.
A team that won La Liga that year and made it all the way to the Champion’s League Final that year, only to be cruelly humbled by a classy, imperious and experienced AC Milan side.
Romario had earned his move to Camp Nou, for the 1993-4 season, by notching an incredible 98 goals in 109 games at PSV Eindhoven – taking the well trodden route for many a south American footballer of using the Dutch league as a stepping stone. He was at PSV for 5 seasons (His longest spell at one club) and was the Eredivisie top scorer for three of those. Romario’s strike partnership with Hristov Stoichkov was nothing short of prolific – both fed by the equally supreme Michael Laudrup.
He’s not short on confidence is our boy Romario. His claim to have scored over 1,000 club goals seemed quite frankly ridiculous, only Pele and Puskas had reached that level. FIFA’s view was that he had ‘only’ scored 929. The disputed goals came in youth games and friendlies. He also named himself as the third best player of all time – behind Pele and Maradona. Most people’s third choice for that shortlist Johan Cruyff was not included by Romario, an omission that can be attributed to the two falling out whilst Romario was managed by Cruyff at Barcelona.
That self confidence often boiled over to arrogance. After travelling to Brazil for a friendly in which he did not play, he was banned from the Selecao by then manager Parreira. Brazil played their first seven qualifiers without the little maestro, but were in terrible form. So much so that they found themselves faced with a must-win game against Uruguay to top their group.
There was a huge clamour in Brazil for Parreira to let Romario play, and he bowed to public opinion. Romario played, and scored both goals in a 2-0 victory. Vindication for Romario. Brazil went to USA, and promptly won the whole thing – their first world Cup win for 24 years. His attitude was also cited as the reason he wasn’t picked for the 2002 World Cup – having missed 1998 through injury.
For a player to get anywhere near 1,000 goals, he’s got to be in the highest echelons of the all time greats. He loved to dribble round the keeper (but forgot to check where the goal was against Sweden in 1994 and therefore missed the target) he loved to dink it over, or poke it past with the outside of either foot.
I’ve never seen anyone play the game and so regularly made defenders look silly by beating their offside traps. He had tremendous timing – either for breaking offside traps or arriving on the end of crosses just at the right time. Romario was as close to unplayable as you could get when on form. If defenders sat back to avoid being turned inside out, he’d either just lob it in from outside the box, or dribble right through the lot of them. Right foot, left foot, he also had a great leap on him- there wasn’t any sort of goal Romario didn’t score.
Romario and Bebeto took the World Cup by storm, with a seemingly telepathic bond between them. 5 goals and a Player of the tournament award, followed by a FIFA World Player of the Year trophy ensured Romario was at the very top of the sport – a real global superstar. But after falling out with Barcelona boss, Johan Cruyff, he moved back to Brazil, to play for Fluminese, and spent the next 5 years flitting back between Spain and Brazil.
The fact that he never really settled anywhere after those five prolific and successful years at PSV is perhaps the greatest shame about Romario’s club career. Who knows how many more he might have scored if that great Barcelona team hadn’t broken up? On the other hand he proved that he could do what he does anywhere. Moves to the Middle East, USA and Australia provide unwelcome blots on his copy book.
Having scored so many hundreds of goals, Romario would no doubt be hard pushed to pick a favourite one. It’s not so hard for me. It took me a while to find it on YouTube but I managed to get a poor quality version right here.
It’s against Manchester United I’m afraid – I know this is a Manchester United blog, but my thinking is that a crowd who saw fit to applaud Real Madrid’s Ronaldo off the pitch is knowledgeable enough to appreciate great football even if it’s against your team. As a Wimbledon fan, I know a hell of a lot about how this feels – I think it’s called cognitive dissonance. I’ve seen loads of scorchers go in past Neil Sullivan and Paul Heald.
The ball is played high, through to Romario in the box. He’s got Gary Pallister in close attendance, but somehow gets away from him and smashes the ball into the net. Nothing too remarkable about that you might say. This is where the beauty of the slow motion relay comes into its own. On further viewing we see why Pallister didn’t go across with him. As quick as a flash Romario just lets his foot hover over the ball, as if he’s going to drag the ball back and change direction. Pallister shifts his weight to go back with him, but it’s a fake drag-back - Romario finds that half yard of space, and it’s only going in one place – the back of the net.
Romario was a rare breed – a great scorer of goals and a scorer of great goals. The direct dribbling and acceleration of Maradona or Lionel Messi, coupled with the instinctive stylish finishing of Ruud Van Nistelrooy or Fernando Torres [of a few years back] now add to that mix the indefatigable self-confidence of Eric Cantona – and you’ve got one hell of a player.
Written by Tom Nash, who writes his own blog, Frustrated Footballer, and can be found on Twitter here.