The Maverick Rivaldo

By David Whitworth | @DCWh1tw0rth

Brazil has given the footballing world many gifted talents through history. One of them plied his trade in a 24-year-spell and caught supporters’ imaginations during his time in Europe. His name is Rivaldo Vitor Barbosa Ferreira, better known as Rivaldo.

The Brazilian, born in Recife, started his club career at Santa Cruz in the 1991/1992 season, making nine appearances and scoring his first professional goal. But it was three seasons later at Palmeiras that would prove to be the springboard for his career. During two seasons with ‘El Verdão’ (The Big Green) he would score 14 goals in 30 appearances and help his team to win the 1994 Brazilian Championship. In doing so, he picked up the Brazilian Balon de Oro for the season’s best player.

That stand-out spell caught the attention of various European clubs. The Italians of Parma originally announced his signing, but after a legal dispute, Rivaldo would swap Brazil for Spain and sign for Galician outfit Deportivo de la Coruña for €12 million euros.

It proved to be a highly successful first season in Europe with 21 goals in 41 games, further enhancing his promising career. Deportivo would finish a lofty third that season and the performances of the Brazilian alerted Barcelona and Sir Bobby Robson, who was convinced his talents would light up the Camp Nou. 

Sure enough in 1997, and after just one fleeting season with Deportivo, Rivaldo signed for Barcelona for €23.500,000 euros, and it there he found the platform to really blossom.

His first season at Barcelona proved spectacular, the team winning La Liga and the Copa del Rey. He scored 19 goals in the league in 34 matches and eight goals in just seven appearances in the Cup. 

The turn of the new millennium and the 2000/2001 season was Rivaldo’s standout period with his highest goal scoring record. The Brazilian scored 23 goals in 35 games in La Liga and 11 goals in 13 Champions League matches.

But Rivaldo will best be remembered best of all for his performance vs Valencia on 17th June 2001. Picture the scene, minute 87 on the clock with the game deadlocked at 2-2 at the Camp Nou, a game that Barcelona must win to ensure Champions League qualification. 

With Barca fans fearing the worst, cue Rivaldo to score one of the best bicycle kicks every scored to send their fans into raptures and amaze the footballing world. His first goal was a trademark bending free kick from outside the box. His second was a thunderbolt strike from 25 yards out after outwitting two bedazzled defenders and the goalkeeper. 

Then the icing on the cake arrived. A magnificent assist from Frank de Boer sent the ball to Rivaldo, who on the edge of the area and with his back to goal, nonchalantly chested the ball, leaped up and let fly, his left footed bicycle kick beating Santiago Cañizares in the Valencia goal. True class.

It was an iconic goal for the ages, a hat trick for the ages with Barca’s number 10 scoring all three goals that famous night. One of the greatest hat tricks and arguably the most important in history in terms of what was riding on it.

It was a victory so important that the then Barcelona president Joan Gaspart leapt up and punched the air in joy and sheer relief. Rivaldo tossed his baggy Barca shirt off and received a yellow card in the process, but the only colour he was seeing was striking pure gold.

The following season proved to be his last in Barcelona colours. Overall his record shows 86 goals in 157 appearances over a five-year-spell in Can Barça. It yielded two La Liga titles, a Copa del Rey and a UEFA Super Cup win over Borussia Dortmund by 3 goals to 1. That was his Barcelona legacy. His personal legacy was the 1999 Ballon d’Or, beating David Beckham and Andriy Shevchenko to the prestigious title. 

In Catalonia, he might not be as revered as similar Brazilians of his generation such as Ronaldo or Ronaldinho – a case of too much of a good thing with so many Brazilian entertainers somewhat overshadowing Rivaldo, but his skills and important goals firmly put him as equals.

After a highly successful time in Spain, Rivaldo started a somewhat nomadic tour in the twilight of his glittering career. Starting with a spell in Italy with AC Milan where he won the 2003 Champions League, to Greece and a highly successful spell at Olympiakos and AEK Athens, then a lucrative move to Uzbekistan with Budyonkor before bring the curtain down with clubs in Angola and his native Brazil.

Brazil also fondly remember Rivaldo with the national side, where he scored 35 goals in 74 games. A decade defending the famous yellow and green shirt. In that period he won the 2002 FIFA World Cup, as well as the 1997 Confederations Cup and the Copa America in 1999. For his achievements with the Seleção, he has been inducted into the Brazilian Hall of Fame. No mean feat, with so many Brazilian footballing gems throughout history.

Rivaldo was a mercurial talent, a maverick who conjured something out of nothing with his fierce left foot. A versatile footballer who was indeed comfortable with both feet, his skills and creativity amazed fans whilst his dribbling ability bamboozled many a defender. The Brazilian possessed wonderful dead ball technique, scoring countless free kicks and penalties. 

But what was remarkable was his strength – capable to muscle opponents off the ball despite being inferior in height to many. He also loved to drive forward towards goal at will and enjoyed lashing powerful volleys with his left wand – scoring a hatful of goals thanks to that strength allied to a wonderful natural technique.

Check out his ample highlight reel of goals, tricks and entertainment. His flair was typical Brazilian and Rivaldo was one of the true great maverick talents of world football.

Tags Rivaldo