Rivaldo: Profile – 19/4/1972

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.


Pietro Vierchowod: Profile – 6/4/1959

For someone who played professional football until he was 41, the prospect of adding another year to the tally must register fairly low in his list of concerns. Pietro Vierchowod turned 53 on Friday and the man once described as ‘an animal’ by Diego Maradona had a career worth recalling. Suitably I’m here to take a compact look at the accomplishments of the man known as ‘Lo Zar’.

The source of the majority of my early football interest came via the much-cherished channel of Football Manager and it’s various iterations. The Italian leagues were introduced in 1996 and a 35-year-old Vierchowod was patrolling Milan’s squad. The thing that stood out was his surname – it didn’t match his Italian nationality. A sweeper too? Not many of those specialists existed within the game. He was an intriguing entity and when I discovered him knocking about as a free transfer five years later, it was obvious that this was a man worth knowing.

The son of a Ukrainian Red Army soldier (hence the ‘Zar’ nickname), Vierchowod’s sterling reputation owed as much to his longevity as his achievements in both club and national football. In a career that spanned 24 years, racking up a mighty 647 club appearances he managed to squeeze in two Scudetto’s, a Cup Winners Cup, four Coppa Italia’s, a Champions League and a World Cup.

Standing a short 5ft 11ins for a centre-half but with a unique turn of pace that elevated him above his defensive peers, Vierchowod bridged two Italian eras, adapting admirably to the changing tactical worlds thrown at him. Initially a classic ‘stopper’, Vierchowod forged his reputation as a fierce man-marker – a vital line of defence in the Catenaccio systems that had started to disperse in the 80’s. As Italian football cast off the shackles of the defensive model that continues to stereotype the reputations of Serie A clubs, Vierchowod became one of the few defenders of the time to span both the 80’s and 90’s with his reputation intact.

Asked who was his toughest opponent was Gary Lineker spoke of the defender: “Vierchowod. He was absolutely brutal and lightning quick.”

He began his career at Romanese in Serie D, making three appearances in the 1974/75 season though his first notable employer was Como in the north of Italy, where he spent five years. The 1978/79 campaign saw him establish himself at the heart of the defence and attain successive promotions from the third tier. Back in Serie A, Como gave him the platform to display his talents and halfway through their two year stay in the top flight he moved on to Sampdoria. He was taken to the Luigi Ferraris by oil tycoon Paolo Mantovani but given two years in Serie A with Fiorentina and Roma. His first year at the Viola was a success and saw the club finish just one point behind Serie A winners Juventus in second place.

Vierchowod’s impressive campaign encouraged Azzurri boss Enzo Bearzot to take him as an unused member of the Spain ’82 squad where he would go on to collect a World Cup winners medal. The following season saw his stock rise further as he helped his new club Roma capture the Scudetto for only the second time, keeping 17 clean sheets and winning the Italian Player of the Year award.

In 1983 he finally moved back to his parent club, Sampdoria, where he would further enhance his standing in the game. The ‘Zar’ nickname not only alluded to his heritage but his influence on the pitch and in the dressing room. He would go on to appear for Sampdoria 358 times in Serie A and helped lead them to their first and only Scudetto in 1990/91. He won four Italian Cups, won and finished runner-up in the Cup Winners Cup as well as a runners-up finish in the European Cup in this time.

By now, Vierchowod had competition in the form of the great all-Italian Milan back-line of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tassotti. The formation of one of the greatest defences in Italian history saw the same chemistry often supplied to the national team and as such Vierchowod never secured a permanent place in the starting line-up. That said, he did acquire 45 caps – further testament to a distinguished standing in the Italian game. He was also part of the 1990 World Cup squad that finished third.

During his time at Sampdoria, Vierchowod adapted his game and became a more forward-thinking defender, often winning possession and surging from the defensive line, helping to launch counter-attacks.

To draw a modern comparison, Phil Jones’ style of play is reminiscent of the dynamism Vierchowod had during his days at Sampdoria. The competitive spirit and vivacity that separates Jones from his generation did so for Vierchowod throughout the 80’s and 90’s. As well as playing alongside Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini, Vierchowod also faced some of the most fearsome strikers in the world as Italian football attracted the likes of Marco Van Basten, Rudi Voller, Careca and Diego Maradona.

On Vierchowod, Maradona eulogised: “He was an animal, he had muscles to the eyelashes. It was easy to pass by him, but then when I raised my head, he was in front of me again. I would have to pass him two or three more times and then I would pass the ball because I couldn’t stand him anymore.”

Vierchowod left Sampdoria in 1995 at a time where you’d be forgiven for thinking his time was up. Quite contrary, he moved to Juventus and played in the Champions League final against Ajax, helping stifle the likes of Patrick Kluivert and a 19-year-old Kiki Musampa no less! He helped take the game to penalties and picked up a winners medal aged 37.

As his career wound down, he turned out for Milan in a final big-club swansong before settling down at Piacenza where he helped them battle relegation to Serie B for three seasons. As his physical attributes waned, Vierchowod operated as the sweeper in a three man defence. He famously said in 1999: “I used to be much quicker than everyone else – now I’m just as quick as them.”

Ferenc Puskas: Profile – 2/4/1927

Ferenc Puskas would have been 85-years-old today had he not passed away in 2006 and it seems apt to get a snapshot of the career of the man known as ‘the little fat chap’.

Puskas is arguably more renowned as the goalscoring inside forward for the Hungarian ‘Golden Team’ of the 1950s than one of many superstars plying their trade in the Spanish capital for Real Madrid in the back end of the 50’s. He achieved as much in (and with) his native country than he did with his adopted nation of Spain.

He played for the Hungarian team Kispest under two separate guises between 1943 and 1955. His father, also called Ferenc, appeared for Kispest in the 1930’s when the club was more of a village side before coaching the club in the 40’s. But it was the impact his son made on Hungarian football that was chronicled as legend. Puskas made his debut for Kispest AC in 1943 alongside Jozsef Bozsik – another of the future stars of the Golden Team – long before the club became synonymous with the politics of the nation.

The Communist rulers had long since recognised the potential of sport as a tool of propaganda and by 1949 decided to focus on the development of the national team. Unlike many other nations, it was decided that Hungary would follow the blueprint that led to the great Austrian and Italian teams of the 1930’s by adopting one club as a puppet for national team development. Kispest became that team and were led by Gustavs Sebes, who was also appointed the national team manager that year. Kispest became Budapest Honved or literally ‘Defenders of the Motherland’.

Honved had Puskas and Bozsik on their books already and once Sandor Kocsis reached conscription age in 1950, he took the option of moving to Sebes’ club over rudimentary army duties. They were joined by Zoltan Czibor, Laszlo Budai, Gyula Lorant and goalkeeper Gyula Grosics in the following year.

Here, Sebes effectively had the spine of his national team available all year round to mould to his style. Puskas and co. adapted to Sebes’ take on the increasingly antiquated W-M formation and employed it successfully for Honved and Hungary.

The 1952 Olympics gold medal winning side was the first true indication of the ability of the Golden Team. Puskas netted a relatively modest four goals in Hungary’s five games but crucially scored in the quarter-final, semi-final and final, ultimately claiming victory in a politically relevant clash with Yugoslavia. Puskas described Hungary’s success:

“It was during that Olympics that our football first started to flow with real power. It was a prototype of total football; when we attacked everyone attacked; in defence, it was just the same.”

Puskas’s ability was well summarised by his international team-mate, right-back Jeno Buzanszky, who said:

“If a good player has the ball, he should have the vision to spot three options. Puskas always saw at least five.”

The following year, Buzanszky’s assessment was confirmed: 1953 gave rise to the game often referred to as the ‘match of the century’ – the 6-3 humbling Hungary dealt England at Wembley. Puskas, who netted twice, scored arguably the most famous of the six goals that day, collecting the ball on the right side of the box and dragging the ball back past England captain Billy Wright before slamming it into the goal. He also picked up an assist in a victory inspired by Nandor Hidegkuti’s hat-trick. The Magical Magyars had arrived.

A rematch the following year merely confirmed Hungary’s superiority as they trounced the English 7-1. These results came during a four-year spell of supremacy in which the Golden Team remained unbeaten for 31 matches. As the 1954 World Cup approached, many felt it would fittingly crown Sebes’ team as the finest footballing side in the world.

However, an early injury to Puskas meant he missed the quarter-final and semi-final and although Hungary defeated Brazil and Uruguay en route to the final, they lost 3-2 to the Germans in the final. Puskas featured in the final, and despite being judged unfit, scored what looked to be his second goal of the game:

“I got an equalizer right at the death but that Welsh linesman Griffiths…disallowed it for offside. Even the English ref Billy Ling had given it.”

The 1954 World Cup should have invigorated Hungarian football further but it did the opposite. Where there had been adulation for Sebes’ side following the 6-3 victory at Wembley, the defeat to Germany in Bern provoked so much anger in the Hungarian people that the returning team had to be protected by armed guard.

Between 1950 and 1956 Honved won five Hungarian league titles. However this success came before the introduction of the European Cup and, aside from glamour friendlies with the likes of Wolves, little activity was seen on the continent. The timing of the creation of the European Cup – a competition Honved would have been contenders for – ironically conspired to unravel this great side.

In the first round of the 1956 competition, Honved travelled to Spain for a clash with Bilbao. The timing was dreadful. The Soviet Union had invaded Hungary as the Revolution collapsed and the vast majority of Hungarian players used the opportunity to search for a way out of Hungary. The Honved striker Lajos Tichy said of the time:

“We hadn’t even had time to unpack our suitcases before we were surrounded by agents. There wasn’t a single player who didn’t get some kind of offer.”

After Honved toured Europe, many of the players found new clubs and indeed Puskas had searched for other options away from Budapest. After refusing to return to Hungary, Puskas was given a two year ban by UEFA, preventing him from moving elsewhere. During his time at Budapest Honved (and Kispest), Puskas scored a remarkable 352 goals in 341 games.

Despite that record, as the ban expired, his age (he was 31) and his size (hence ‘little fat chap’) put doubt in the minds of many of the top clubs. Santiago Bernabeu of Real Madrid, saw sense and snapped up the unattached Puskas, marrying him with the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano.

Their finest moment together came in the 1960 European Cup final as Madrid tore Eintracht Frankfurt to pieces in front of 130,000 people at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Although the Germans took the lead, Puskas and Di Stefano responded, scoring four and three goals respectively in a 7-3 rout that crowned the Spanish club European Champions for the fifth consecutive time.

In the eight years Puskas played for Madrid, he won five league titles and three European Cups as well as four Pichichi trophies for topping the goalscoring charts in Spain. He even made four appearances for Spain after becoming nationalised in 1961. In his time in Spain, Puskas scored 157 times in 182 games. For Hungary, his record stands at 84 goals in 85 games.

Though Puskas continued at Real Madrid until he was 39, there is something poetic to be taken from the ‘breathtaking ingenuity’ he showed in the 1960 European Cup final. Germany had denied the Golden Team their coronation in Austria in 1954, but Puskas’ brilliance ensured he did not suffer a repeat of such disappointment.

Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt | 1960