Little Man, Big LegendPosted: August 5, 2012
This week we saw another of the first era of Real Madrid’s Galacticos retire. Following the likes of his former team mates, Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, and Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos has hung up his boots and has taken up an off field post as Sporting Director for Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala.
The man nicknamed Thunder Thighs has finally drawn the curtains on what has been a trophy studded love affair with football which has spanned over the best parts of two decades. From working on the family farm as a child to lifting the Champions League and the FIFA World Cup in 2002 with Real Madrid and Brazil respectively.
However, it wasn’t the most perfect of careers. Many of his stints at clubs have been mared by, and even ended by unfortunate events.
Like most of Brazil’s footballing exports, his career started on the streets of his poverty ravaged country, playing at every possible moment he could, that is, after doing his chores on his family’s farm.
He would later sign for a small side based in Araras, a state in Sao Paulo, Uniao Sao Joao playing mostly as a winger, and despite not playing for one of Brazil’s bigger sides, he still caught the eye of the national team coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, and at the age of 19 he made his international debut against the USA.
It wasn’t long until a bigger club came along for this rising star, and in 1993 he signed for Palmeiras. During his two seasons with the Alviverde he won the Brazilian league title twice and he grabbed the attention of Europe’s top clubs. It is interesting to note that since his departure Palmeiras have not won the Brazilian league title, the closest being runners up in 1997.
His first destination in Europe was Italy, signing for Inter Milan in 1995, however, he could have landed in much humbler surroundings, as he almost signed for Middlesbrough before settling for the San Siro outfit. His Inter career kicked off to a flyer, scoring a 30 yard free kick that he would recreate so many times throughout his career at amazing ease.
But his time there was short lived due to some terrible man management by Roy Hodgson (where have we heard that one before?)
Roberto felt uncomfortable being played as a winger in Roy’s famously rigid 4-4-2 formation, as he much prefers playing as a wing-back which gives him more room to stretch his legs and fly down the flank. After discussions with Inter owner, Massimo Moratti, it was agreed that the only way all parties would be happy was if Roberto left. That is, when I say all parties, I don’t include the Inter fans, who some even today hold a grudge against Roy for this decision.
This though, in my opinion, was fate lending it’s hand as he went on to sign for Spanish giants Real Madrid in 1996. It was here that Roberto Carlos became a household name and went on to become the player he will always be remembered for.
It was during his Madrid days that he scored the goal that would define his career, the first thing that will pop into your head when his name is mentioned in future conversations. During the opening game of an international tournament, Tournoi de France 1997, Roberto Carlos stepped up to open up the scoring with a bang. The ball was hit in such a way that it was originally going metres wides when it begin curling towards the goal, stunning everyone in the stadium, especially French goalkeeper Fabian Barthez. The goal later went on to be studied by French scientists who researched the trajectory of the ball, who concluded that it was not a fluke.
He went on to become an integral part of the famous Los Galacticos era despite being signed before Florentino Perez became President of Real Madrid. Whether it be from his bursting runs down the left or replicating a rocket launcher when taking a free kick, the defences of La Liga feared him as much as most wingers and in some cases, strikers, but looking at the team sheet in that era would make anybody empty their bowels.
With Madrid, he went on to win four La Liga titles in 1997, 2001, 2003 and 2007, as well as three Champions League titles in 1998, 2000 and 2002, getting an assist for Zidane’s famous winner against Bayern Munich in the latter. He also won three Spanish Super Cups and an UEFA Super Cup during his stay at the Bernabeu.
His Real Madrid career nearly ended in disaster as he was blamed by the fans for being responsible for Roy Maakay’s goal in the Champions League that year, in a game which resulted in Madrid getting knocked out, which was the quickest goal in Champions League history earlier in the season. This was forgotten by most by the end of the season though, when Madrid went on to claim a historic milestone, 30th domestic title.
He also had a very successful international career with Brazil winning the World cup in 2002, as well as being part of the team which finished runners up in 1998. He also won two Copa Americas and a Confederations Cup. Unfortunately though, his international career ended abruptly and bitterly.
Following Brazil’s 1-0 defeat to France in the 2006 World Cup he was widely criticised by the Brazilian fans and the press because he lost Thierry Henry, the player he was suppose to be marking, who scored the winner. Roberto announced his retirement from international football although, he later tried to get back into the squad for the 2010 World Cup but he did not make it into Dunga’s plans.
After leaving Madrid he had short stints at Turkish club Fenerbahce, but left in December 2009 after declining a contract extension so he could return home and reunite with former Madrid and Brazil team mate, Ronaldo at Corinthians.
However, he soon requested to be released from his contract after being threatened by fans following a defeat against Tolima in the Copa Libertadores and he signed for newly loaded Russian outfit Anzhi where he was made captain and had a brief stint as caretaker manager.
His time there though wasn’t better. During his brief time playing for Anzhi, he was the victim of racial abuse by opposing fans, first in a game against Zenit St Petersburg when a fan waved a banana at him, and then in another game months later against Krylia Sovetov Samara, when another fan threw a banana at him which resulted in him walking off the pitch.
At the end of the season Roberto Carlos called time on his playing days and was appointed as Sporting Director at Anzhi.
In his career he played in a total of 820 games in all competitions and scoring 101 goals which, for a wing-back is borderline insanity. He was twice named in a World Cup All Star team in 1998 and 2002, was twice named in the UEFA Team of the Year in 2002 and 2003 and was UEFA Defender of the Year in 2002. He was also named by Pele as one of the 125 greatest living footballers and came runner up to Ronaldo for the 1997 FIFA World Player of the Year.
It goes without saying that he is one of the greatest full-backs to ever play the game and he and his traction-engine-like left foot will be fondly remembered by all for years to come.