Rivaldo: Barcelona legend breaks down the genius of his bicycle kick and appetite to always find solutions on the pitchJune 27, 2019
It was one of those rare moments in football history that is almost impossible to even imagine as you’re watching it but, for the player and his particular abilities, it was entirely natural as he saw the ball coming to him. The outrageous spectacle of the goal was only emphasised because it was in such inverse proportion to the extremely narrow margins of the moment.
At Camp Nou on 17 June 2001, as a 2-2 draw ticked towards the 88th minute, a crisis-stricken Barcelona needed to score just one goal against Valencia to overtake them and get back into the Champions League. The tension was ratcheting up. All the political trouble at the club was about to come back up. Rivaldo was just keeping his heartbeat down, however, so he could raise the roof.
With Barcelona toiling, Frank de Boer strode forward and chipped the ball towards Rivaldo, at the edge of the Valencia box. The Brazilian had four defenders around him with his back to goal, meaning there wasn’t really space or scope to do much. Most players would have kept the ball in possession, and looked to lay it off.
Rivaldo isn’t most players. This wasn’t like most goals.
“It’s just something in the moment,” the Brazilian great says. “The ball is in the air, and you see it arrive perfectly for something you can do.”
That something was not do take the ball under control. It was to use his chest to propel it into the air, and then hit the most breath-taking bicycle kick, that flew at speed right into the bottom corner. There wasn’t even a bounce until it hit the very bottom corner of Santiago Canizares’s net. The trajectory was so pure, the strike so clean.
It was, in Rivaldo’s own words, “perfect”.
It was also the perfect signature moment for an entire career. Sure, there have been better players than Rivaldo, but very few capable of a goal of that kind of outrageousness. Not even Leo Messi would produced a moment quite like that against Valencia.
You could almost say the defining quality of Rivaldo’s career was the long shot, the more spectacular the better. And that doesn’t just apply to the amount of goals he scored from outside the box, many with minimal backlift.
Rivaldo took off in other unexpected ways.
He was first of all bought by Barcelona to replace Ronaldo, a task that should have been utterly daunting in itself. He ended up far surpassing his compatriot in terms of club legacy, something all the more impressive given this was the Catalans going through one of the most tumultuously political periods in their history.
It was much the same with Brazil, especially after the chaos of the 1998 World Cup final, and the shambles of the next few years. From a situation where they were at one point really struggling to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, though, Rivaldo – this time with a revitalised Ronaldo – ended up leading them to the ultimate victory.
He’s talking for this interview in the Camp Nou itself, having just played a game in the new stadium as Betfair ambassador with prize winners, influencers and some media. At 47, Rivaldo is carrying an injury – but still couldn’t bring himself to sit it out. Even a game like this. You start to understand why he actually played until he was 43. He still looks as physically fit and lean as at his peaking, training every day in a full gym set up in his Miami home.
He said: “I made sure I played as much as I could, as I love it. I had an issue with my ankle today, had ice on it, but was still eager to just get on the pitch.”
Such an attitude is all the more conspicuous given the commotion around some of his fellow Brazilian playmakers who have turned out for Barcelona, and one who could well be going back. Rivaldo’s career – and sheer consistency and perseverance – certainly stands against the reputations for fecklessness of Ronaldinho and Neymar.
He talks about the latter at length, and does acknowledge he may have lost his way in some elements, but insists a return to Camp Nou could well be the solution required.
“He’s a brilliant player who made a mistake in leaving Barcelona,” Rivaldo claims. “I think it’s a good opportunity to come back, and if he comes back here, everything will change in his life, and he’ll have good possibilities.
“I think with those private things, every player has to know what he does. Neymar has a few things that aren’t good, but I think if he comes back, he’s not a child. At 27 years of age, I think he can change. It’s a moment now to take advantage of the moment, for Barcelona… or [Real] Madrid. There’s talk of Madrid, or English football. I think whichever one he goes to he has the opportunity to be the best in the world.”
It hasn’t quite happened at Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho, but Rivaldo feels the playmaker has been afflicted by almost the opposite problem: a certain timidity.
“Some players, when they come to Barca, they’re a bit worried about the pressure, and are struck by it all,” Rivaldo points out. “They don’t play at their best level from their previous club. And I think that’s happened a bit with Coutinho. He’s felt a bit shy, not the same as with Liverpool. And it doesn’t matter if you’re playing with someone called Messi or Suarez, you have to show what you can give.”
So, can he give enough to turn it around?
“You saw the football match when he played here against Manchester [United]. I saw a great change there, and he has got potential to become a fantastic football player, but it’s about him moving swiftly and rapidly now. He’s got to be more decisive on the pitch, and not wait on Messi or Suarez, to go for it and show what he’s capable of. And right now, he’s away with Brazil at the Copa America, where they don’t have Neymar. He’s got to take responsibility, so everyone talks about Coutinho.”
Rivaldo was someone always willing to take responsibility. That’s why he so stood out at Barca, so improved upon Ronaldo when many thought it impossible, and that’s why he was responsible for many match-winning moments.
He sensed that initial pressure at Camp Nou on joining in 1997, but didn’t feel it.
He explains: “I came from Deportivo la Coruna, who weren’t one of the biggest clubs in Spain like Barcelona, I had to show personality, I did something very good in Deportivo, and I carried on doing at Barcelona what I did at Deportivo. I didn’t feel shy. I wanted to do something different. When I came, Ronaldo Fenomono had gone to Inter and everyone wanted to make the comparison, but I didn’t want the comparison. I didn’t want the fans to look at me like Ronaldo, as if I was a copy. I wanted to be my own type and do something different.”
He certainly did that, not least on that day in 2001.
“Well, a goal like that something you don’t train for,” he insists. “It’s something that comes from the moment. It’s in a good position. And if it goes well…”
There almost seems a regret from Rivaldo that he didn’t score more bicycle kicks.
He recalls: “I scored three. I can remember all three. Against [Real] Valladolid, Manchester [United in 1998] – although that was an angle. It’s impressive because you’re not looking at the goal. It’s impressive to find it.”
It was a solution few other players would have found at all. That is Rivaldo’s legacy.