Before Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, it was Rivaldo who ruled the Nou Camp.
And it is incredible that the bow-legged Brazilian is still playing professional football —that too at the ripe old age of 40.
However, it’s a far cry from the heady heights of Barcelona. The 2002 World Cup winner is plying his trade in Angolan club Kabuscorp.
In January this year, Rivaldo left his homeland to move to the unfashionable African side in a deal that surprised many. The reason he gave was even more surprising; attributing his move to a ‘call from God’.
His aim is to serve God and the suffering people of Angola, a country which is struggling to rebuild after years of civil war.
On October 18, he will be opening a new evangelical church he has built ‘to help those most in need, as in Brazil’.
“I went there because it was also an opportunity, not just football, but with a religious side. I am evangelical and believe much in God,” Rivaldo told Spanish newspaper El Periodico in an interview last week.
Others see it differently, calling it Brazil’s soft politics in the African country.
Rivaldo might have moved to an Asian club when he left Brazilian giants Sao Paulo and guarantee himself a fat paycheck. But he’s investing in Angola.
Rivaldo has purchased a large piece of land in Luanda and he plans to develop it in the following years and the target audience is Angola’s small but growing middle class.
He has set up his institute Rivaldo10 and has already asked players like Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to help in his social project.
Whatever the motive may be, Rivaldo is certainly helping football grow in Angola while helping Kabuscorp, a club founded only in 1994, stamp their authority in the country’s top division.
They currently lie third, and their rise has been aided by Rivaldo scoring crucial goals in the last eight months.
Despite many of the players of his era having retired, Rivaldo says he is fine and “two kilos underweight than he was in Barcelona [for whom he played from 1997-2002].”
At present, he is not sure if he will continue playing next season but even if he does, he will leave a lasting legacy.
Having made his professional debut in 1991 for an unglamorous Santa Cruz FC in his hometown, he joined Mogi Mirim before finally landing at Corinthians a season later.
But it was his stint at Palmeiras which captured the attention of European clubs.
53 goals in 126 games brought along a move to Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna and a season and 21 goals later, Barca came calling.
In his element, Rivaldo packed power and speed in a 6-foot-1 frame and combined those traits with creativity and sublime skill.
And he enjoyed considerable success. Two league titles came along with the 1999 Ballon D’Or.
There is little doubt that at the turn of the millennium, he was the best player in the world alongside Zinedine Zidane, commanding an invincible aura that Ronaldinho, who eventually succeeded him in the play maker role at the Catalan club, and Messi, currently, enjoy.
The crowning moment of his career came in the 2002 World Cup in Korea-Japan where he alongside Ronaldo and Ronaldinho formed a fearsome attacking trident that guided Brazil to ultimate glory.
Following that success, Rivaldo bade farewell to the Nou Camp faithful to join Italian giants AC Milan.
He won the 2003 UEFA Champions League with the Rossoneri but he was a bit-part player during their European campaign.
He left Milan in 2004 and spent four years in the European backwaters of Greece — first at Olympiakos and then at AEK Athens.
He left for Uzbek side Bunyodkor in 2008 in another surprising move and although he was superbly consistent for the club, he came narrowly short of landing Asia’s top club prize — the AFC Champions League — in his two years at the club.
While many thought he would retire after the stint in Uzbekistan, he returned to Brazil and played a full season at Sao Paulo.
The move to Kabuscorp reflects his taste for the exotic.
He feels at home in Angola and even if he doesn’t turn up for Kabusorp next season, his social projects will keep him connected to the African country.
One wonders if some footballer will ever do that for Pakistan — a country torn by conflict.
It’s a long shot, but how about Ronaldinho?
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
He tweets @UmaidWasim.
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.