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End of the road for Rivaldo?
February 29, 2004 15:49 IST
Brazilian World Cup winner Rivaldo has often been considered one of modern football's great enigmas, shunning publicity in the same degree as players such as Ronaldo attract it.
But his decision on Saturday to walk out on Brazilian champions Cruzeiro out of solidarity with fired coach Vanderley Luxemburgo suggests that the 1999 World Player of the Year may have finally lost his appetite for the game.
The inspiration behind Brazil's fifth World Cup win in 2002, he left Cruzeiro less than two months after they had given him what seemed a golden opportunity to revive his flagging career.
The lanky former Barcelona and Deportivo La Coruna striker had spent most of the previous 18 months on the bench at Italy's AC Milan in what he later described as the worst spell of his career.
Although he kept his place in the Brazil team, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira warned him he needed to start playing at club level quickly.
Cruzeiro provided him with exactly that opportunity.
But after 10 games during which he was repeatedly jeered by the fans and scored only two goals, Rivaldo preferred to display his loyalty to his former mentor Luxemburgo rather than continue the struggle to find his best form.
"I didn't sleep well after Luxemburgo's sacking. When he left, I preferred to leave as well," Rivaldo told reporters. "It was my decision because I consider Luxemburgo to be a special person.
"I haven't got another club in mind at the moment."
Other clubs, however, may think twice before investing in such a whimsical player, especially as he is now two months short of his 32nd birthday.
Perhaps it is his seemingly ungamely, bow-legged style on the pitch or an introverted style off it, but Rivaldo has always been a marketing man's nightmare, preferring to shut himself away in the provincial city of Mogi Mirim, in the heart of the state of Sao Paulo.
Perhaps because of this low-key attitude, he has often seemed to attract the blame for collective failure far more easily than he gets the credit for success.
In 1996, after being included as one of three permitted over-age players, he was made the scapegoat after Brazil failed to win the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics soccer tournament. It was a year before he wore the Brazil shirt again.
During almost five years at Barcelona, his astonishing skills made him a favourite with the fans, yet he was at one stage banished to the bench by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal for alleged tactical disobedience.
After being jeered by the crowd in Sao Paulo during a qualifier against Colombia in 2000, he threatened to quit the international stage.
But, after he received the unconditional support of coach Luiz Felipe Scolari he helped his country to their fifth World Cup title in Japan and South Korea -- only for another nightmare to begin after he signed for Milan.
He was banished to the bench by coach Carlo Ancelotti and, after being released in December, was voted the worst player in Italy in a poll conducted by a local radio station.
When Brazil won the World Cup in Japan, Rivaldo said he wanted to play again for his country at the 2006 tournament.
After Saturday's events, however, it is hard to see him finding the motivation for another comeback, especially as his credibility might also have taken a severe knock.