Retirement. This year Rivelino stepped down. Roberto Rivellino – or Rivelino, as his name was spelled most often – was born on January 1, 1946 in Sao Paulo. Perhaps his Italian name, so close to the beloved by Brazilians diminutive form of naming their stars left him as one of the few Brazilian stars known by his full real name and not by nickname. He debuted in 1965 for Corinthians and played for them until 1973. His debut was so impressive, he was played his first match for Brazil in his first season as a professional footballer.
With Corinthians jersey the attacking midfielder played a total of 471 matches in which he scored 141 goals. Highly skilled, he had close control of the ball, great vision, accurate long passes, and deadly free-kicks.
The fans quickly named him “O Rei do Parque” (‘King of the Park’, after Corinthians’ home ground, Parque São Jorge). He was outstanding in a time, when there were so many fantastic players.
Against Ademir Da Guia (Palmeiras). Rivelino won – he was regular national team player, Da Guia only in 1974…
Against Gerson, another master of organizing the game and long passes – Rivelino hold his ground.
Friends with Pele and teammates in the national team.
Enemies with Pele on the pitch. There was only one number 10 in the national team and the only way Rivelino was going to get it was Pele stepping down.
A great star, cultivating his moustache, which became his trade-mark. But he played in a bad time for Corinthians, which did not win anything since 1954. Fans love, but they also hate – in 1973 Corinthians lost once again and Rivelino was singled out as the most responsible for losing. He moved to Fluminense.
Between 1973 and 1978 he played 158 matches for Flu, scoring 53 goals. Success came at last – he was part of the “the tricolor machine”- Doval, Pintinho, Gil, and Carlos Alberto Torres – which won the Rio de Janeiro championship in 1975 and 1976. He was credited with scoring the fastest goal in football history, which he scored from the centre right after the referee whistled the start of a match: Rivelino spotted the opposition goalkeeper still praying on his knees and promptly lashed a long ball in the net. One thing Rivelino did not won was the championship of Brazil – but Pele did not won it either, as many other great players at the time.
Internationally, there was more and greater success.
Rivelino played at 3 World Cups and won the world title in 1970. Back then Brazilian pundits worried about Zagalo’s selection – he had too many number 10 players, Pele, Tostao, Gerson, and Rivelino. At least one had to be left out was the thinking, which Zagalo dismissed and played them all together to the thrill to the fans around the globe. The next two World Cups were rather disappointing, but Rivelino left his mark.
Here is his spectacular goal from a free-kick against DDR in the 1974 World Cup. Still remains as one of the greatest moments in football.
1974. Scotland’s wall had all reasons to worry his artistic free-kicks. The long-time Manchester United captain and Scottish international Martin Buchan recently summed it all: ‘It’s one thing watching Rivelino do his tricks on TV, but when you are up close and trying to get the ball off him it’s not so much fun’. Buchan singled out his three appearances against Brazil as his most memorable moments playing for Scotland. But time was advancing and Rivelino was aging. 1978 was the end of his career as a national team player.
In 1979, 33 years old, he signed a contract with Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia). This was a historic moment – Rivelino was the first world class star going to play in Asia. There were Europeans playing there before – largely in Hong Kong – but nobody made the news of the day. This transfer was entirely different – on one hand, players of Rivelino’s status moved to Europe, on occasion to Mexico, and after 1973 – to NASL. Going to Asia was something new and very unusual. On the other hand, Arabis countries got so much oil money they had the means of hiring true stars and this signing looked like beginning of ambitious program of cultivating and developing the game over there. No better way then getting a high profile player.
Rivelino with Najeeb Al-Imam, playing for Al Hilal in 1979. Rivelino played 57 matches for Al Hilal, scoring 23 goals. This was his last club – in 1981, 35 years old, he announced his retirement.
He left the beautiful game after a total of 686 appearances and 217 goals on club level, 92 matches and 26 goals for Brazil, and one World title.
The legend now – a true one, so he is sporting the colours of the clubs he left a huge mark on – Corinthians and Fluminense. As a whole, Roberto Rivelino rather belonged to 1960s football, not the total football of the next decade. He was unable to adapt to the new requirements – hardly ever helped the defense – but he was a master of organizing the game. He is critical of contemporary football, lamenting that there are no great players anymore. May be he is right – after all, he was a great star in the time of the great stars. Let’s face it – Christiano Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar are not world champions (so far), Roberto Rivelino is.