by Alex Stokes

So, why do I love Rivaldo? A player who I’ve hardly had the opportunity to see live, whose peak coincided with my milk teeth falling out, and whose reputation was tarnished by play-acting?

Rivaldo’s own audacious brand of football is what endeared him to me. His fondness for the outrageous; stepovers, heel flicks, volleys, pannas, bicycle kicks, the list goes on – he tried, and executed, them all to perfection.

Picture the scene: June 17th 2001 Barcelona hosted Valencia, knowing that only a win would secure Champions League football. With 90 seconds left on the clock, and the scoreline at 2-2, Valencia were happy to see the game out. Barcelona, on the other hand, were going for broke after Rivaldo’s two exquisite goals had been cancelled out. Frank de Boer dinked the ball to the languid playmaker, one touch with his chest was all Rivaldo needed before he scored a ridiculous overhead kick from the edge of the area.

As if this performance and goal weren’t special enough, I find it sensational that Rivaldo managed to even become a professional footballer having grown up in severe poverty and suffered from malnutrition. It was this condition which led to his bowlegged-ness; not unlike a certain Garrincha.

However, the comparisons with “O Anjo de Pernas Tortas”, (Angel with Bent Legs), do not end there. Both were blessed with exceptional technique and goal scoring ability. Surely, the two must be considered amongst the best players to have ever represented A Seleção, having won World Cups in 1958, 1962 and 2002.

However, whereas Garrincha was known as “Alegria do Povo”, (Joy of the People), the fans of Barcelona and Brazil alike never took to Rivaldo in quite the same way. Rivaldo was routinely booed despite putting in stellar performances and winning the FIFA World Player of the Year, European Footballer of the Year and Ballon d’Or in 1999. Brazilians would suggest that he saved his best for the Catalan club, but at the same time, Barcelona fans argued that he faked injuries during the 2001-02 campaign so that he’d be fresh for his national side’s World Cup campaign.

And what a World Cup campaign it turned out to be for Rivaldo! Playing alongside Ronaldinho and an irrepressible Ronaldo, then Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari considered Rivaldo to be the best player of the tournament, that at a time when all eyes were on Ronaldo.

To add to the eight goals he scored in qualifying, he scored five goals in South Korea and Japan, ending up second in the race for the Golden Boot to Ronaldo, tied with Miroslav Klose. His goal against Belgium was particularly impressive, a fine piece of individual skill, controlling the ball with his chest before lashing in a half-volley with his unparalleled left foot.

It wasn’t just his goal-scoring that caught the eye, Rivaldo was also instrumental in both goals in the final. The second being a result of his quick thinking and natural audacity, allowing Kleberson’s pass to roll between his leg to Ronaldo who comfortably slotted home.

In spite of this, Rivaldo’s World Cup will always be remembered for the infamous dive which could perhaps be put down to naivety on his part, for what other reason could he have had for diving so ridiculously in front of millions of viewers the world over?

Rivaldo was also criticised for not being media-friendly, it was, and could be argued that it still is, thought to be necessary for a footballing superstar to be approachable and open to the media. Rivaldo very much kept to himself. But this is the exact reason for which I love him! A play-making, goal-scoring, bicycle-kicking Brazilian who was never looking for cameras to flash his broken smile at, always more focused on scoring ludicrous season saving hat-tricks.

Many people would say that the dive was enough to make them loathe Rivaldo, but I honestly find the story of his rise to the top of world football just as unbelievable as the flicks and tricks he found so easy to perform. After having lost his father at the age of fifteen and having to make the twenty-mile round trip to train each day during his youth, I would say that Rivaldo has deserved every accolade he picked up during his long and illustrious career thus far.

His rags-to-riches story genuinely affects me more than with any other footballer because he still bears the marks of poverty on his face, in fact, he doesn’t look at all suited to football. He definitely looks as though he would be more at home selling sweets and drinks on the seaside as he did during his childhood to earn money for his family, that is, of course, until you see what he can do with that left foot of his.

Follow Julien and Alex on Twitter @Julien_1992 and @AlexSLDN respectively.