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No More Roberto Carlos Clownery For You

August 2, 2012

Roberto Carlos, retired footballer


Roberto Carlos da Silva Rocha was always a goof-ball.

Sure, known simply as Roberto Carlos, he was also one of the greatest footballers the game has ever seen.

He was a constant presence in my childhood, growing up in Brazil. Hell, to those who followed football, he was a constant presence anywhere in the world in the 90s.

Indeed, he was widely regarded as the world’s finest left-back, a position that, since his departure from mainstream football (i.e. since he left Real Madrid), still hasn’t been properly filled.

And now, as he leaves the game altogether, that void has only grown darker.

Roberto’s qualities were many: lighting speed, stamina (one day we’ll learn he had not 2, but 5 lungs), panache (for a stocky man with incredibly thick thighs, he was surprisingly light and elegant on his feet), power (let’s just say that he didn’t give a damn about Physics and had not feet, but rocket launching pads) and extreme acute vision and passing skills.

Indeed, he was the most versatile left-back we’ve seen in ages.

But, above all, the image that sticks in my mind is of his goofy smile.

Roberto never grew up, and that’s what made him so special and endearing. He played the game with a smile on his face. Yes, he was one of those who, fundamentally, played for fun and pure enjoyment.

In fact, it was that naturally delightful boyish quality that made it possible for us to forgive his occasional blunt mistakes (cue the abortive bicycle kick against Denmark at France 98, which culminated in Brian Laudrup’s equalizer against Brazil; or his inability to keep his legs closed as Frenchman Zidane headed into the Brazilian net, through Roberto’s thighs, at the 98 final, twice; or Roberto’s incompetent marking of Thierry Henry, which culminated in France’s goal that eliminated Brazil at Germany 06…).

It doesn’t matter. None of that really matters. It’s all in the past – as is his footballing career, now.

What he’ll be remembered for – aside from that dorky teenage smile – is his greatness; his ability to curl the ball past a wall of players that, in absolute puzzlement, watched it go by at the speed of light, bursting into the net as if, for at least a few seconds, we lived in a universe where reality didn’t apply. Have a check:



What amazes me the most about that legendary free-kick goal against France (what’s with Roberto and the French?) isn’t the beautiful goal in itself, but Barthez’s reaction – or lack thereof – as he watches the ball sink into his net. The man just stands there, completely confused, feet planted to the ground, as if saying “What the merde!?”

It’s a shame that, on multiple occasions, a player of his caliber and status had to endure racism in Russia after he signed with club Anzhi, with bananas and offenses thrown at him from the stands. On one occasion he had enough, and walked off during the game, refusing to play. Imagine the pain.

Thankfully, he retained his jovial spirit and remained committed to Anzhi not only as a footballer but also as a sporting director for the club – becoming one of those rare player-manager entities.

And at Anzhi he announced his retirement.

Recently, Dutch legend and former Real Madrid player Clarence Seedorf signed with Brazilian club Botafogo. When asked how he had learned Portuguese, Clarence said: “I roomed with Roberto Carlos for 4 years in Madrid. Never heard someone talk so much! That’s how I learned!”

It’s hard to let go of those players that are not only great, but also truly cool; players whose presence transcend the game and continue to shine off the pitch due to their captivating personalities, cheeky one-liners and funny anecdotes.

Roberto Carlos is now a member of our collective footballing theatre of memories, and although most will remember him for that stunning goal against France, I will continue to think of that smile of his…

That goofy, goofy smile.



One Comment leave one →
  1. April 17, 2013 5:36 pm

    He was great it’s too bad he retired but at the same time you can only play or so long.

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