Over the last 20 years, the names that stand out as the greatest footballers of our time roll off the tongue with ease: Messi, Zidane, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo (both the Brazilian and Portuguese). Yet among these great names there was a player with as much talent as anyone: Alvaro Recoba.
Growing up in the late 90′s and early 00′s as a left-footed football fanatic it wasn’t easy finding footballing idols. Being a ‘lefty’ meant I didn’t naturally idolise right-footed players, so finding my hero was harder to come by compared to my friends. Ryan Giggs was a Manchester United player so that was never going to work, while John Barnes was at the end of his Liverpool career. Robbie Fowler was my hero at the time, but he was not a creative midfielder, something I fancied myself as before the crippling realisation kicked in that I was not good enough to make it as a professional. At the time, my only means of watching live football was ‘Football Italia’ on Sunday afternoons, watching Serie A’s finest go head-to-head.
This is where my fascination with Recoba began. Every Sunday I would pray that he would be playing, and whenever he did hours were spent the following week mimicking his dribbling skills and his curling, dipping free-kicks. Every time I saw him play he would do something fascinating; something I hadn’t seen before, which to me is everything an idol in any walk of life should be about. Sadly though, Recoba never hit the heights that he should have done, and with his playing days drawing to a close I felt it important to make people more aware of this brilliant, forgotten genius of world football.
Recoba was born in Urugaury in 1976, playing football as soon as he was old enough to kick a ball. After an impressive few seasons at local side Danubio, Recoba earned a move to Club Nacional de Football, arguably Uruguary’s biggest club side. Although still just a teenager at the time, Recoba’s stock began to rise further following a sensational record of 30 goals in 27 games for Nacional, with many football experts touting him as the best player in South America; an amazing accolade considering the likes of Ronaldo and Rivaldo were at their peaks at the time. His pace, dribbling and wand of a left foot soon had many of Europe’s top teams on the prowl, and it was Inter Milan who eventually signed him in the summer of 1997.
His debut was one of the most stunning that Serie A has ever witnessed, overshadowing the debut of another player, Ronaldo, who was the world’s finest player at the time. The 21 year old came off the bench with 20 minutes to go and scored two 30 yard screamers to turn the game in his side’s favour, as this video shows:
From that point on, a star was born. Or so they thought.
On reflection, such an incredible start to his Inter career ended up being a curse on the youngster, with fans expecting similar performances every week. Although other moments of brilliance occurred in that season, in particular a remarkable goal from the halfway line in a game against Empoli, Recoba was sent out on loan to Venezia the following January. He was an instant hero for the Serie A strugglers, scoring 11 goals and creating another nine in just 19 appearances for the club. Ironincally, a trademark free-kick against Inter proved to be his best moment in a Venezia shirt, leaving some to wonder why on earth his former eployers let him go in the first place.
Learning the error of their ways, Inter ensured he returned following his spell away from the club, upon which he signed a six year deal, making him the world’s highest paid player in the process. From that point on, however, his career failed to take off to the level that so many expected, mainly due to injuries, and a long-term ban because of a fake passport. The Italian media’s former darling was now becoming increasing unpopular, with his performances failing to justify his vast wages. Over the years he still scored many memorable goals and won several games by himself, but there remained a niggling feeling over the years that the world of football was seeing a player letting his career pass him by. This was a player who, if he could have had more motivation, worked harder and not drifted out of games, could now potentially be spoken of in the same breath as Lionel Messi.
Recoba eventually left Inter in 2007, a decade after his arrival, and, following unsuccessful spells at fellow Serie A club Torino and Greek club Panionios, he returned to Uruguay and his first club Danubio. He now plays for former side Nacional, but his retirement seems imminent at the age of 37.
He also represented Uruguay at international level, winning 69 caps and scoring 11 goals. Like his club career though, he never fully stamped his authority on the national side, and was fairly unnoticed at the 2002 World Cup, a tournament that he had been tipped to star in beforehand.
While some of you may, understandably, never have been familiar with the name Alvaro Recoba, unaware of quite how special he was, to me he probably influenced the way I wanted to play football more than any other player in my 20 year obsession with the game.
Here’s a video displaying his brilliance, in case you are wondering what all the fuss is about.
(apologies for the choice of Music on the video, not my choice)