Words: Joe Furber
Image: Offside Sports Photography
It's the 7th August 2003, and Sporting CP have just toasted Manchester United 3–1 in a preseason friendly to celebrate the opening of their new stadium in the Portuguese capital. A skinny, pimply winger called Cristiano Ronaldo has played well. Really well, Alex Ferguson thought. And, in thinking so, the wheels of footballing destiny were set in motion. Had this fixture been just two months earlier, it would have been a different trickster at the helm of the Portuguese outfit.
Ricardo Andrade Quaresma Bernardo was ranked ahead of Cristiano by Sporting’s Academy in terms of his development. He was seen as the present and as the future. Young Ricardo was the man who was ready to step into the glorious, pig-head-dodging boots of Luís Figo. The world was at his feet and, in July 2003, he headed to the Nou Camp to complete a modest €6.3million transfer to Barcelona.
Quaresma arrived in Catalonia with a newly appointed Frank Rijkaard trying to rebuild and rejuvenate a declining superpower while recapturing that swagger left behind by Cruyff’s departure. Rijkaard was fully utilising the generous transfer budget set aside by the new owner, and so just nine days after signing, Quaresma was somewhat overshadowed by the arrival of a buck toothed Brazilian from Paris Saint-Germain with a shiny new World Cup winners medal to boot.
Ronaldinho’s arrival was perhaps an omen of Quaresma’s future under Rijkaard. Despite acknowledging his obvious talent, the Dutchman found himself almost immediately at loggerheads with the winger who, like a petulant school child or ingenious artist, took immediate exception to the notion of authority over his creativity. His time in Spain was over before it had begun, really, and following a complete breakdown in communication with Rijkaard, Ricardo was off, back to Portugal within a year; this time Porto, with Deco heading the other way.
Incredible how Ricardo Quaresma has been scoring the same goal for his entire life. This is back in '07 FFS. pic.twitter.com/2P2WhoaNHU— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) December 19, 2018
That was a bit more like it. Buoyed by being back in his native Portugal, Quaresma rekindled the briefly absent sparks of his massive talent and won three consecutive league titles between 2005 and 2008, with 158 appearances and 31 goals. His presence on the pitch was certainly being felt, both as a result of his arsenal of tricks and finishes, as well as the slightly less desirable reputation as someone who was liable to get sent off at any given moment. If football is all about entertainment, there are few who do it better. And his ill-discipline is something that hasn't dwindled with age. They say age mellows you. Not this man. Not one bit. He’s 35 and still getting sent off for stamping on someone against Malmö in the 2018 Europa League group stage; a game they lost, sending Beşiktaş out of the competition.
Not perturbed by his hot-headedness, Quaresma was signed by fellow countryman Mourinho to Internazionale in 2008. Another manager-Ricardo relationship that didn’t exactly pan out. The Special One once said of him:
“I am sure he’ll change and become more tactically disciplined. Right now he likes kicking the ball with the outside of his foot.”
Dicky Quaresma hard at graft on his birthday. pic.twitter.com/d67m1IC0u6— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) September 26, 2017
He didn’t change. He did win a Champions League, though, before a very brief (five appearances brief) visit to Chelsea on loan. Following that, Ricardo made his way to Beşiktaş for an environment far more suited to his shoot first/think later attitude, until he threw a water bottle at manager Carlos Carvalhal.
Since then, he's played for Al-Ahli, back to Porto, and then back to Beşiktaş where he’s made over 100 appearances across four seasons since, including 2018/19.
So, 591 professional appearances and 101 career goals for 8 clubs (Porto and Beşiktaş twice) later, Quaresma is seen by many as the unfulfilled footballing anti-hero. Complete with neck tattoos and the “O Cigano” (“The Gypsy”) nickname, the 34-year-old journeyman is painted as the devil sitting smoking a tab on the left shoulder of Portuguese football, as son-and-heir Cristiano does bicep curls beneath his halo on the other. The two Sporting prodigies have taken two different paths, with Ronaldo showing, perhaps, what could have been if you train all day all night and all in between.
Considering that Quaresma, by his own admission, is not going to be told what to do—he’s done fucking well. Carved his own path. Made his own name. Done his own thing. This is a man who has won the Champions League with Inter as well as playing an integral role in the Portuguese side that won the 2016 Euros, after being left out of the squad for the World Cup in 2006. He didn’t just tag along for the ride either; scoring the winning goal against Croatia and the deciding penalty against Poland.
He may not have been the first to arrive at the training ground or the last to leave it. Nor has he had a career where he has constantly looked to evolve and better himself, but what he has done, he’s done on his terms. He has played with a panache and mind-set typified by his own words:
“When I find myself in a situation with three choices, I will always choose a dribble or a trick over a square pass or a pass twenty metres back to our defenders. Life is all about risk and how you confront it, and football is just the same.”
‘Playing like they’re on a playground’ is a well-worn cliché for flair players, something that is, and should be, celebrated. But, in the eyes of many, it's been Quaresma's downfall. The narrative of unfulfilled potential is perhaps unfair. To lament a player for not doing what was expected of him negates a key component of the discussion: what does he expect of himself?
In his own words, Quaresma is very happy with his career, and given he’s won with his country and won with his clubs, who are we to say otherwise? There is something notably admirable about a man who is happy with his lot. I’d be happy with mine too if I had a rabona assist against Benfica on my CV.
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