15 April, 2008

The End of The Ro-Ro

A little while ago now we brought you the sad news that perhaps the greatest striker I have ever seen was being forced to retire after a recurrence of a knee injury that had plagued him for several years. The Brazilian maestro Ronaldo was my idol growing up in the game, and the forward above all others that I aspired to be. My earliest footballing memory however is a couple of years before Ronaldo really burst on the scene, watching another man in that famous yellow jersey lead his team to World Cup glory in 1994. I am of course talking about Romario, a player who alongside such other greats as Dunga, Bebeto and Cafu defined the magic of football in a way only South Americans can. Now I am sad to say that he too has announced his retirement aged 42, but having reached a milestone that only one other man in history can lay claim to; he has scored more than 1000 professional goals. The other? Who else, but Pele.

So let’s start at the beginning then. Born in very humble beginnings just outside of Rio de Janeiro, Romario started his career playing for Vasco da Gama where he won two State Championships in the late 1980s. After being scouted by Piet de Visser, he moved to PSV Eindhoven where like so many Brazilians of his era, he shone. In the five seasons he played in the Dutch league between 1988 and 1992, Romario led his side to the title in 1989, 1991 and 1992, scoring a quite inconceivable 98 goals in 109 games in all competitions. Unsurprisingly this kind of form attracted some attention, and in 1993 Barcelona came calling. In a side that included the likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup and Ronald Koeman, he once again led his team to the League championship, becoming the season's top goal-scorer too with 30 in 33 league matches.
amed FIFA World Player of the Year in 1994, after his country’s World Cup success in America he returned to Brazil to play for Flamengo, where he stayed until 1999 despite a strangely troubled year back in Spain with Valencia. The goals still flowed, with more than 30 in 50 appearences, but Romario seemed to be going through the motions a bit. The itch was satisfied with a return to Vasco da Gama in 2000, where in a further two seasons with his formative club he won the Mercosur Cup and the Brazilian League, while on a personal level being awarded the Brazilian Footballer of the Year trophy as well as the overall South American Footballer of the Year prize.

From 2002 until 2004 he moved for Fluminense, and it looked like his career was finally at an end as he was in touching distance of his 40th birthday. On October 21, 2004 he was actually fired from the club after a conflict with the coach, and jeered off by the fans who felt he was too old to compete any longer. Like a man possessed Romario turned once again to Vasco da Gama and in the crowning glory of an epic career, Romário scored 22 goals in the Brazilian Championship, making him the league's top goal-scorer at 39 years of age. The 1000th goal came almost a year ago now, from the penalty spot against Sport Recife, and was greeted with a carnival of sorts from the fans who forced the game to be stopped for more than 20 minutes to allow for celebrations. Ever the spoil-sports, FIFA dispute this record as they claim 71 goals came in youth football and friendlies, but even playing by their rules, 929 goals ain’t too bad a tally.

As a member of the national team, Romario won the silver Olympic medal in Seoul in 1988, scoring seven goals, and was part of the Brazilian squad in the World Cups of 1990 and 1994. He scored 71 goals in 85 international matches, making him the second highest goal-scorer in the history of the Brazilian team, with his last game for them in 2005 at the age of 39. At World Cup ‘94, he partnered famously with Bebeto in attack to lead his country to a record 4th title, winning the accolade of the tournament’s most outstanding player in the process. Describing his ideal strike-partner, Romario told FIFA.com last year that: “(Bebeto) was my finest accomplice out on the pitch because we knew each other so well. We had a near-telepathic understanding.”

In the years that followed, Romario formed the Ro-Ro with the aforementioned Ronaldo, an attack that was feared to say the least. The pair had everything: pace, power, movement, vision and most importantly, blistering shooting ability off either foot. The peak of the Ro-Ro was a 6 – 0 victory over Australia in the 1997 Confederations Cup where they each scored a hat-trick, but between them they have won I think literally every world honour and trophy that’s worth winning. When asked what made their partnership so explosive, Romario humbly played down their outrageous gifts: “we had the opportunity and the honour to play alongside some very technically gifted, top-class footballers, and that made our job easier.” It’s a shame that Romario did not make it to subsequent World Cups, as a muscular problem kept him out of France 1998 and a bust-up with coach Scolari left him controversially at home for Korea 2002, but you can hardly criticize a man with statistics such as his, and a career that has spanned almost my entire lifetime.

To add a final bit of polish to what has been a quite miraculous career, here then are what three of the greatest players to ever touch a football said about him as he celebrated that 1000th goal:

Johan Cruyff : “(Romario was) a genius of the goal area.”

Diego Maradona : “(Romario was) an incredible finisher…he would be in my all-time dream team without any hesitation.”

Roberto Baggio : “Romario is one of the greatest players of all time. He has good technique and personality. He is a master of art in the penalty area.”

You will find Romario now chilling out in Brazil for a couple of years but he is keen to stay within the game, even briefly acting as Vasco da Gama’s player-manager earlier this year. He said today his priority now is preparing for World Cup 2014, to be held in Brazil, and we at STT hope that for the good of the game that he is indeed involved in some capacity. We salute you Romario. See a small chunk of his 1000 goals for yourself here:

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