Standing 6ft 1in, Rivaldo was an imposing figure for such a technician – unusual for someone of such slight build. But slight he was and his rubbery gait made him seem even more of an unlikely hero. That said, his bow-like anatomy echoed another of Brazil’s most famous sons – the distinctively bent-legged Garrincha.
Just like Garrincha, Rivaldo utilised his unusual lineament and created a style that made him one of the most watchable attackers in a highly competitive era.
It is a shame that one of Rivaldo’s most memorable moments is one that haunts an otherwise thrilling legacy – the infamous bit of gamesmanship that saw Hakan Unsal red-carded. But rather than dwell on a sour episode, I’d rather appreciate the best of a wonderful talent.
Rivaldo probably first came to worldwide prominence as the 24-year-old over-aged player in Brazil’s 1996 Olympics squad – frankly a ludicrously talented team. Accompanied by Aldair, Roberto Carlos, Bebeto, Ronaldo, Juninho (of Middlesbrough fame), Ze Maria and Flavio Conceicao, it’s surprising that this Brazil team did not break the Olympic hoodoo hanging over the nation.
Ultimately they took bronze, succumbing to a Nwankwo Kanu-inspired Nigeria in the semi-finals (despite beating them 1-0 in the group stage). Rivaldo featured in all three group games and the quarter-final win over Ghana before losing his starting place for the Nigeria defeat. Though he made an appearance from the bench, Rivaldo conceded possession on the halfway line at 3-1 and Viktor Ikpeba pulled a goal back for the Super Eagles. It was enough to inspire a comeback and cost Rivaldo his place in the bronze medal match as Mario Zagallo blamed him for the loss.
Despite this setback Rivaldo would then embark on the most devastating chapter of his career – his time in Spain.
But the story could have been different had Parma found the cash to secure Rivaldo’s transfer back in the summer of 1996. Instead they signed his Palmeiras and Olympic team-mate Amaral (who coincidentally is still playing professional football at the age of 39). Deportivo La Coruna spotted an opportunity and snapped up Rivaldo, signalling the start of his stunning spell in Spain.
It only took one season at Depor to alert the bigger clubs to the prodigious talent they had unearthed. After netting 21 goals in his debut year in Spain, the mighty Barcelona came calling, wafting a cool £17million in the face of the Riazor honchos.
It was 1997 and in his five years at the Camp Nou, he would score 130 goals in 235 games. Over that time, I find it difficult to find a type of goal he was unable to score. Whether it be a rasping free-kick, a daisy-cutting thronker or an overhead, Rivaldo appeared to be capable of anything in his prime.
I say in his prime, but even after his golden years at Barcelona (in which he won EIGHT individual awards in 1999 – including World Footballer of the Year, European Footballer of the Year and the Ballon d’Or), Rivaldo continued playing at (almost) the highest level up to the present day.
He won the Italian Cup and was a member of Milan’s 2002/03 Champions League winning squad – remember that thrilling 0-0 with Juventus at Old Trafford…? Well, in many ways that summed up Rivaldo’s time at Milan. An unused substitute, the Brazilian often played second fiddle to Rui Costa which understandably given his prominent role in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winning team, meant he felt he should seek pastures new.
At the age of 32, Rivaldo agreed what I can only imagine was a substantial financial package to take him to the Greek Super League to play for Olympiakos. His new side had experienced something of a blip – failing to win the league in 2003/04 for the first time in seven seasons – but teaming Rivaldo with his former Barcelona strike-partner Giovanni, Olympiakos regained their grip on the domestic scene.
During the three seasons Rivaldo played for the Red-Whites, they won three league titles and two Greek cups. Rivaldo scored an impressive 43 goals in 94 games, came second in the top goalscorer charts in his final year as well as winning the league’s best foreign player award twice in 2006 and 2007.
He also scored important goals. It wasn’t a case of boosting his figures with strikes against the Ionikos and Panionios’s of this world. In his time at Karaiskakis Stadium Rivaldo scored against AEK Athens, had a penchant for goals against Panathinaikos as well as Champions League strikes against Liverpool and Real Madrid. He saved one of his best for the Greek Cup final in 2004/05 where he curled one from near to the corner flag into the far top corner (see the below video).
It was a very successful career move at a time in which you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d moved for a final bank account swelling swansong.
After his contract expired and he was released by the chairman of Olympiakos, Rivaldo opted for one more year in Greece with AEK Athens before taking the first flight to Uzbekistan – purely for financial reasons. Allegedly.
His time at Bunyodkar resembled his years at Olympiakos as he won three league titles in three years and two Uzbek Cups. In many ways it seemed a sad an undignified end to his career but that was remedied as he returned to Brazil to play for Sao Paulo for the 2011 season. He managed a whopping 46 games at 39 years of age before he was discarded by the management. Never one to quit, Rivaldo cropped up at Angolan side Kabuscorp this January in yet another ‘final’ swansong.
Judging by the reaction to his move they clearly don’t deserve such a master plying his trade in the Girabola league: “Rivaldo’s hiring by Kabuscorp – which is a very modest club in Angola – has not attracted as much enthusiasm as you might expect.”
Rivaldo has clearly had a decorated and colourful career in football but as you may be anticipating, it was the five years at Barcelona that will drive his legacy.
Captained by a certain Pep Guardiola, the 1997/98 season introduced Rivaldo to the big time as he helped push Barcelona to their 15th La Liga title and claim a Copa del Rey trophy for good measure. Another title was sealed in the following season whilst on an individual level Rivaldo finished runner-up in the Pichichi tropy. He also became Barcelona’s fourth ever recipient of the European Footballer of the Year award.
But the first warning signs arrived in a spectacularly tight 1999/00 La Liga campaign. Barca would finish five points behind Javier Irureta’s famed Deportivo side (who still managed 11 league losses and a low points haul of 69) and it would signal the end to Louis Van Gaal’s tenure as coach.
These were dark times for Barcelona though, as they fell further behind their rivals in the 2000/01 season. It was only thanks to a stunning Rivaldo hat-trick in the final game of the season against Valencia that they ensured Champions League qualification. With time eroding and the score locked at 2-2, Valencia looked to have done what was required at the Camp Nou. Sitting three points ahead of their hosts, Hector Cuper’s team just had to avoid defeat in the final game of the season to nudge Barca out of the Europe’s premier competition.
Enter Rivaldo, who lest we forget, had already scored two fine goals from 25 yards out. With 89 minutes up, Frank de Boer trotted beyond the halfway line and lofted a hopeful pass towards the Brazilian. Positioned just outside the box, his first touch on the chest padded the ball vertically into the air above him. His second was a whirring back-flip of limbs, measured immaculately and with perfect techique. A split-second later, the ball had zipped into Santiago Canizares’ bottom-left corner. The Camp Nou erupted and the zeal of President Joan Gaspart’s celebrations high in the stands indicated all one needed to know about the importance of Rivaldo’s strike.
It will remain his greatest moment and stand the test of time as arguably the best hat-trick ever scored. It also fittingly brings the profile to an end, but allows me to insert this video of Rivaldinho – his son – scoring a remarkably similar overhead kick. Happy birthday Rivaldo, keep loving football.