The Nomad Footballer Series: Rivaldo

Nomad: a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.

Clubs: Santa Cruz, Mogi Mirim, Corinthians (loan), Palmeiras, Deportivo La Coruña, Barcelona, AC Milan, Cruzeiro, Olympiacos, AEK Athens, Bunyodkor, São Paulo (loan), Kabuscorp, São Caetano, Mogi Mirim

Countries played in: 6

Most professional footballers go through their whole career only having a handful of clubs. In fact, some manage to spend their whole career at one club. Being a one-club man is something than endears football players to a fan base and is generally seen as the ultimate display of loyalty. However, what about those players that don’t manage to settle. The players who don’t find a home in their short professional career and instead jump from club to club in a pursuit of challenges and success. This series looks at those players who are footballing nomads; wanderers.

Rivaldo

World Cup winner, Champions League winner, Ballon D’or winner, and one third of one of the most exciting attacks international football has ever seen, Rivaldo’s career was a remarkable one. In the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea Rivaldo, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho ran riot in Brazil’s run to the trophy. Rivaldo scored five en route to lifting the famous trophy and set up Ronaldo’s second goal in the final by dummying a pass to allow O Fenômeno his brace against the Germans. A year later, aged 31, Rivaldo would make the last of his 74 appearances for his country. Yet in 2015 Rivaldo was still playing at the ripe old age of 43, 13 years after World Cup glory.

Rivaldo was an unorthodox but unbelievably talented attacking midfielder who was often seen playing as a striker or a wide midfielder over his 24 year career. The Brazilian was bow-legged which gave him an awkward running style but his left-foot was one of the best in the game and he was a player that frequented the scoresheet wherever he played. He is also widely regarded as the scorer of the best hattrick in the history of football, with his treble against Valencia to secure Champions League football for Barcelona in 2001 finished with a powerful overhead quick from 20-yards out after a delightful free-kick for his first.

As most footballer’s careers do, Rivaldo’s career started in his homeland. In the 1991/92 season Rivaldo broke through for Brazilian side Santa Cruz aged 19. He scored just the one goal in nine league appearances in his first season as a professional and a transfer to Brazilian second division side Mogi Mirim followed ready for the next season, however the young attacker failed to make an appearance in his two seasons at the club. In the second of his two seasons at Mogi Mirim he played on loan at first division side Corinthians where he impressed, earning a move to defending champions Palmeiras. Rivaldo’s talents would now start to peak the attention of clubs in Europe and, after being named player of the year in his position in his two seasons at Palmeiras, Deportivo La Coruña came calling. A relatively late bloomer in football terms, Rivaldo was 24 when he moved to Spain. The transfer was not without controversy, as Parma felt they had an agreement to take Rivaldo to Italy prior to the 1996 Olympic Games,, where the attacking midfielder represented Brazil. However, on his return from the Olympics, with a bronze medal to show for his efforts, Rivaldo chose Spain.

Although there is no denying the nomadic nature of Rivaldo’s career, he did find a temporary home in Spain. After an impressive debut season in Europe, scoring 21 league goals and guiding Deportivo La Coruña to a third-place La Liga finish, Rivaldo’s stock had risen significantly. A move to Barcelona followed, with a rumoured fee of €26 million paid for his services. He would spend five years at the Catalan club, which was the longest spell he had at any one club, and it was also the most successful period of his career, both on a personal level and in terms of honours. In the his first season at the Camp Nou, Barcelona would win the La Liga and the Copa Del Rey double. In his second season in 1998/99, the club would retain the La Liga title and Rivaldo would win the Ballon D’or, confirming the common belief that he was the best player in the world at the time. More individual brilliance would follow in his remaining time at Barcelona, but the Champions League trophy evaded him in Spain and he would seek pastures new in 2002, joining AC Milan. This move was largely due to the return of manager Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona, who Rivaldo had not seen eye to eye with in his previous spell in charge, disagreeing with Van Gaal playing him on the left of midfield. The Brazilian would leave Barcelona as the ninth highest scorer in the club’s history, with 85 La Liga goals in 157 appearances.

When Rivaldo agreed to join AC Milan he was 30 years-old and at the top of his game, winning the World Cup just a matter of weeks later. However, the man who had been so influential at Barcelona would have a negligible impact in Milan. Over his two seasons with the Rossaneri, Rivaldo found minutes hard to come by, with manager Carlo Ancelotti often favouring Filippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko to the man whose knee injuries had seemingly started to take their toll. In his first season at the club Milan did win the Champions League, but Rivaldo’s influence was minimal and he failed to feature in the final against domestic rivals Juventus. Off the field issues may have played their part in Rivaldo’s perceived fall from grace, as he and his wife separated in this period and he was living away from his children. To rub salt in Rivaldo’s wounds, he was voted as the worst signing in Serie A at the end of the 2002/03 season.

The samba star who had lit up world football left Milan in 2004; unfulfilled from his time in Italy. Now 32, and with a string of knee injuries throughout his career, many expected the former world’s best player to be eyeing retirement. However, what followed was quite the opposite. Rivaldo returned briefly to his homeland to sign for Cruzeiro to play for his former mentor, Vanderlei Luxembergo, at the start of 2004 but left shortly after as Luxembergo left the club. Greece was next on the horizon for the Brazilian talisman and he would spend three years at Olympiacos following his Cruzeiro exit. He would leave in 2007 after a dispute with the Olympiacos chairman, who claimed he was too old at 35 to be given a new deal. Rivaldo responded by signing for Greek rivals AEK Athens, where he would spend a solitary season, managing 12 league goals in the process but ultimately falling short in the title race to former club Olympiacos, for whom he had scored 36 league goals.

Rivaldo’s next move would be his strangest, especially considering he had been signalling his intent to return to play in Brazil for some time while in Greece. A lucrative offer delayed Rivaldo’s return to his home country, as he was swayed by an offer of €10.2 million over two years to join Uzbekistani side Bunyodkor. Unsurprisingly, Rivaldo was a success in Uzbekistan, a league far too easy for the Brazil icon even in his mid-thirties. 33 goals in 53 league games followed, before eventually returning to Brazil in 2011 to sign for Sao Paulo. Rivaldo would play for the club for a year before another left-field transfer to play in Angola for Kabuscorp. After a year in Angola Rivaldo would again return to Brazil where he would remain until the end of his career. Remarkably, Rivaldo turned out for Mogi Mirim in 2015 alongside his son, Rivaldinho, and in July of that year the pair scored in the same game for the first time. Rivaldo did eventually retire later in 2015, aged 43, with a long and illustrious career to look back on.

One of Brazil’s greats, Rivaldo played for an astonishing 14 clubs across his 24 year career. From 1996 to 2002 the magician found a home in Spain, first for Deportivo La Coruña and then for Barcelona, but once this spell was over he would go on to play for a further nine clubs in the twilight years of a glittering career. As well as winning the World Cup and Copa America for Brazil, Rivaldo managed 35 goals in 74 appearances for his country, giving him a strike rate of almost a goal every other game. Over his career, Rivaldo also notched 228 league goals at club level. He was far more than just goals, however. Rivaldo was an entertainer, as so many Brazilians are. Football was just as much about getting fans excited for Brazilian mavericks such as Rivaldo and Ronaldinho as it was statistics. Rivaldo had it all. Silky footwork, flair, creativity, as well as his powerful left foot. A true icon of the game, Rivaldo blessed many a club’s fans with his ability, whether that be in Brazil, Spain, Italy, or even Uzbekistan and Angola. One thing that cannot be said about Rivaldo was that he wasn’t prepared to explore new beginnings. A true nomad; a wanderer in every sense of the word.

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