When you think Brazil, the first thing that comes to mind is flair and their legendary number 10 shirt. From Pele and Zico to Ronaldinho, Kaka and Neymar the famous yellow and green has been filled with greatness since forever.
But one man who is often overlooked when it comes to the greatness of his career and achievements both at club level and international level is the great Rivaldo.
With a wand of a left foot, incredible upper body strength, sublime skill, finesse and brute power to go with his athleticism, Rivaldo is without a doubt one of Brazil’s greatest ever.
At 6ft 1, he was not your average diminutive creator. He was powerful, able to compete in physical battles in an era where defenders got away with a crunching tackle as a “warning shot” early in the game. Much like the legendary winger Garrincha, his bow-leggedness never caused him an issue or stopped him reaching greatness.
He first broke onto the scene in Europe after signing for Deportivo La Coruna from Palmeiras. He wore the blue and white stripes of the La Liga outfit for just one season, but he immediately put everyone on notice by scoring 21 league goals in 41 appearances to be the fourth-highest scorer in the division.
Those performances were enough to seal him a move to the Camp Nou, after Barcelona agreed to pay around £19million for the then 25-year-old with manager Sir Bobby Robson convincing the club to sign him ahead of Liverpool’s Steve McManaman.
He had an immediate impact for Los Cules scoring 19 goals in 34 games in La Liga as the Catalan side claimed a league and Copa Del Rey double. The following year he bettered his league goal tally and matched it in all competitions despite playing in less games as they retained the title.
That 1998/99 season was a special one for Rivaldo as he had played a part in helping his national side to the 1998 World Cup final, only to be beaten in the final by France. He bounced back brilliantly, going on to win the Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year award in 1999.
As the best player in the world officially, he was now the proud owner of Brazil and Barcelona’s number ten shirt but that didn’t stop Louis van Gaal trying to move him around on the pitch.
The Dutch coach tried to put him on the left wing rather than his preferred central playmaker role and despite playing a lot of games his own individual performances struggled. That still didn’t stop him from scoring ten Champions League goals en route to the semi-finals but ultimately he ended the campaign trophyless.
That season saw him linked with moves all over Europe, including Manchester United with then captain Roy Keane naming him as the player that he would most like to see come to Old Trafford.
Instead he opted to stay and produced the best season of his career, scoring 36 goals in 53 games in all competitions but that year is most remembered in Rivaldo’s career for the final game of a long campaign.
With Barcelona and Valencia battling it out for the final Champions League spot, the Brazilian took it upon himself to overtake the opposition with a hat-trick that to this day is widely regarded as the best hat-trick of all time. A stunning, swerving free-kick was his first, before some individual skill and his trademark power found the top corner for his second.
Then in the final minute, Rivaldo received the ball with his back to goal on his chest. His first touch flicked the ball upwards rather than to kill it dead and from the edge of the penalty area he hit a jaw-dropping bicycle kick into the bottom corner to secure the vital three points. If you ask the original R10, that is the greatest goal of his career – and he scored plenty of scorchers.
The following year would be his final with Barcelona, scoring 14 goals in 33 games before the return of Louis van Gaal saw a now 30-year-old Rivaldo was allowed to leave the club on a free transfer.
He joined Italian giants AC Milan, who were still in their pomp with Carlo Ancelotti at the helm as boss. Rivaldo wasn’t as explosive or influential as he was during his heyday anymore, scoring just eight times in 40 appearances across a season-and-a-half in which he broke his European hoodoo to win the Champions League as well as the Coppa Italia.
For all the trophies he won at club level, you cannot overlook his international status.
As previously mentioned he reached the final of the 1998 World Cup, being named in the team of the tournament along the way to a runners-up medal. He scored three times in the tournament for Brazil, with only Ronaldo scoring more for his country.
He bounced back from that disappointment the following summer however, helping the Seleccao to retain their Copa America title in 1999. He scored a tournament high five goals, tied with Ronaldo, and was voted as the tournament’s best player having scored twice in the 3-0 win over Uruguay in the final.
The crowning moment of his Brazil career however came in 2002, when he was a key part of the team that was able to claim victory in the World Cup final to give the country a record fifth title. He scored the winner against Turkey in the group stages, a game where he is more remembered for getting someone sent off for feigning injury when a ball was kicked at him.
He also scored the fourth in a 5-2 win over Costa Rica, at a point where the game was swinging in the minnows favour having just come from 3-0 down to make it 3-2 and also scored the second of four in the win over China. He then scored the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Belgium in the round of 16 before equalising for Brazil in the quarter-final game against England after Michael Owen had put the Three Lions ahead.
The semi-finals and final belonged to R9 as he scored all of Brazil’s goals from then on, but without Rivaldo it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have even got that far. Even in the final it was Rivaldo’s shot that was saved by Oliver Kahn to allow Ronaldo to tap in the opener before he dummied the ball and allowed it to run through to Ronaldo for the second too.
Because of the greatness of R9 at the same time as him as well as the greatness that followed with Ronaldinho and Kaka both winning Ballon d’Or’s also before Neymar became one of Brazil’s all-time greats, Rivaldo’s brilliance is often forgotten.
Don’t let him be forgotten, because he is truly one of the absolute best Brazilians to ever grace the game of football.