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Legends of La Liga: Rivaldo

When talking about a rags to riches story, there are few better than the tale of Brazilian forward and talisman, Rivaldo. Born on April 19 1972 in Recife, Rivaldo suffered a haunting childhood of poverty in the Brazilian favelas. He grew up malnourished, causing missing teeth, poor skin and bow-legs, visible throughout his playing career and still to this day. He once said, “I will never forget the hunger I felt as a child.”

The lowest point of his early life was when at 15-years-old, his dad was ran over and killed in 1989. Rivaldo also had to walk 10 miles to football training every day, a commitment to the sport which, thankfully, would be his way out of a deprived upbringing.

In the same year as his father’s death, Rivaldo signed his first contact with Brazilian side Paulistano. A steady rise through the Brazilian tiers led to the forward signing for Palmeiras in 1994, where he scored 21 goals in 45 games.

The 1996 Olympics would be the first time Rivaldo represented Brazil at an international tournament, and left with a bronze medal as the national team finished third. His performances at the tournament and at Palmeiras were impressive enough to seal a move to Deportivo La Coruna that summer.

This was to be his breakout season in Europe, showcasing the talents which would make him a household name in La Liga for years to come. Despite being played primarily as a number 10, Rivaldo scored an impressive 21 goals in 41 games, and as he made a name for himself, the big teams inevitably came knocking.

A transfer to Barcelona in 1997 would be the move of his career, as Rivaldo went on to become a talisman for the Blaugrana at the turn of the millennium. Just as Lionel Messi is the ‘great entertainer’ of the Camp Nou today, he was not the first. It was Rivaldo who first wowed the Catalonian fans week in week out.

Blessed with a deadly combination of a delicate and beautiful touch, but also the ability to absolutely hammer the ball towards goal, Rivaldo scored numerous incredible long range efforts in his career.

Perhaps the highlight of his Barca career came in June 2001, with Barcelona sat in fifth place on the last day of the season. After a miserable campaign, Barca went through three managers, including Louis Van Gaal, who often played Rivaldo out of position whilst also managing to make a great team play terrible football. Somehow, Van Gaal went on to forge a successful managerial career, giving hope to all Sunday league managers out there.

Back on the pitch, Barcelona hosted Valencia, who sat one place and three points above them, occupying the last Champions League spot. Knowing what was at stake, Rivaldo wasted no time, scoring a sublime free kick off the inside of the post within four minutes.

His second was a goal by now synonymous with his style of play, feinting by Valencia players twice, before unleashing into the bottom left corner. He struck the ball so hard, he literally blew himself off his own feet, also taking Barcelona 2-1 up at half-time.

Rivaldo’s third would seal one of the best hat-tricks in recent football history. As Frank De Boer chipped the ball forward, Rivaldo chested and connected with a perfect overhead kick on the edge of the box, flying once again into the net. It was football narrative and a Brazilian talisman combining beautifully in the last minute of the last match of the season, securing Barcelona Champions League football for the next season.

Strangely, despite being exceptionally talented and prolific on an international level, Rivaldo was always the fall guy whenever Brazil lost a match. Perhaps this was partly down to his quiet personality and willingness to take the blame, but the criticism at one point almost led him to early retirement.

His ‘up and down’ Brazil career was epitomised at the 2002 World Cup. He was part of the ‘Three R’s’, along with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, who led Brazil to victory in the tournament. Rivaldo himself scored five goals, second only to the phenomenon, Ronaldo.

However, one of the defining moments of his career came in the tournament in a match against Turkey, when waiting for the ball to take a corner, Turkish defender Hakan Ünsal kicked the ball over to Rivaldo. The ball hit his thigh, but in a moment of disgrace, he went down holding his face, with the Turkish defender being sent off. His last appearance for Brazil would be the year after in 2003, finishing with 35 goals in 74 games.

Rivaldo also left the Camp Nou that season after five years, scoring 136 goals in 253 games, an incredible tally considering he was never an out-and-out striker. Afterwards, he went on to become the definition of a journeyman, playing for a total of 14 teams in his career. His passion for the sport which gave him a life outside the favelas kept him going, until finally, one of La Liga’s great entertainers hung up his boots in 2015, aged 43.

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