In his heyday, playing for Barcelona, there wasn’t a player in the world as good as Rivaldo. If that is disputed, it shouldn’t be.
Despite carving out a very successful career for himself, in which he won the World Cup, two Spanish La Liga titles, the Copa Del Rey, along with the 1999 European and Fifa World player of the year awars, the early days of his career were not so easy. Coming from an empoverished Brazilian family, his thin, bow-legged appearance initially put coaches of his native country off – many of them claimed he was too weak.
Appearances often flatter to decieve though, and a talent so natural as his was eventually impossible to ignore. At 21 years of age, after 3 years of flirting with the lower divisions, Rivaldo eventually got his big chance in the Brazilian top flight, signing for Corinthians. It got better though as, after one successful season and 17 goals, Palmeiras snapped him up. It was here, and with Brazil in the 1996 Olympics, where the rest of the world started to take notice.
A move to Deportivo, and then to Barcelona a year later, and he was in his prime, playing at one of the best clubs in the world. He excelled.
A left footed forward, Rivaldo played his best stuff operating in the hole behind the strikers. He had exceptional technique that allowed him time to pick out team-mates with pin-point passes, and gave him space to unleash left-footed piledrivers from outside the penalty box. Giving himself this extra space by means of his technique was vital to his success, as he was often man-marked which would have usually disabled players with lesser levels of skill.
The left footed pile-drivers, many of them superb free-kicks, were one of Rivaldo’s trademarks. The remarkable thing about many of these strikes was that, on first viewing, a spectator could easily think that he had just hit the ball as hard as he possibly could and hoped for the best. However, replays often showed that, despite the venom of the shot, Rivaldo had actually found the corner by expertly sidefooting the ball exactly where he knew the keeper could not save it.
The other Rivaldo trademark was the bicycle kick. I honestly believe I’ve never seen anyone execute this skill better than him. On numerous occasions in his career he would have his back to goal at an impossible angle, or from a ridiculous distance from goal, only to launch himself into the air like a gangly daddy-long-legs., and expertly volley the ball into the back of the net.
For me, although not a trophy winning moment, the best showcase of the great Brazilian’s skills was a game he played for Barcelona in the 2000-01 season. Needing to win the game to qualify for the following season’s UEFA Champions League, Barcelona found themselves at 2-2, running out of ideas, and in need of something special. They got it from Rivaldo in stunning fashion. With his back to goal, 25 yards out, he produced an unstoppable bicycle kick that flew past Valencia’s goalkeeper, and into the onion bag. Rivaldo scored all three of Barcelona’s goals, each one of them a beauty. In my mind it is the greatest hat-trick of all time.
I could go on, but i’ll just let you watch the clip, and you can decide for yourself if he’s worthy of the ‘Great’ tag. I don’t think you’ll disagree.
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