Portugal has given the world several talents – from Eusebio to Luis Figo, from Rui Costa to Deco – each carving his own niche in the rich technical tapestry of Portuguese football. Their history of technical prodigies have given this generation Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma, both purported to reach the heights of football stardom from a young age at Sporting Lisbon. The trajectories of their careers though, could not have been more different. While Ronaldo surpassed numerous records in his quest for perfection, Quaresma spent his career pinballing between the who’s who of European elite before trickling down the drain.
As a young player, he was touted as the next big thing in world football – finesse in possession, ability to cut inside from both wings, nimble dribbles and the Hollywood goals. Who can forget the Trivelas and Rabonas? However, he never realized his potential. Unlike numerous other wunderkinds gone by the wayside, he did make a name for himself. He was a cult name in the world in his younger days, albeit one of wishful thinking rather than a crowning moment of glory.
That Barcelona opted to buy him over Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2003 speaks volumes. He never made the step up though. Used to a free roaming role at Sporting, he felt shackled at Barcelona, who have a rigid (yet easy on the eye) way of playing the game. Clashing with Frank Rijkaard over his tactical discipline, he was sold after a solitary season to FC Porto. After the unsavory spell at Barcelona, he regained his confidence at Porto, where he impressed and became a regular in the side for a few seasons. There was hope. He had several suitors behind him and possibly a more mature head on his shoulders by then. Jose Mourinho’s Inter came knocking before long. A team looking to beat the world. A manager who was the rage. Another chance at the spotlight. Could this finally be Quaresma’s time?
“I am disappointed with him,” said Mourinho. “He is a player that I wanted in Milan but, unfortunately, he has not been able to overcome the criticism directed at him. Without confidence in oneself, it becomes more difficult. He needs to have the psychological strength to overcome the criticism that will definitely come his way.”
That quote sums up his time at the San Siro quite well. In a year that Cristiano Ronaldo lifted his first Ballon D’Or, Quaresma was weighted down with the Bidone D’oro – given to the worst footballer in the Serie A. The Portuguese’s spell in Italy bore an eerie resemblance to the one he endured at Barcelona – one of inconsistency, a crisis of tactical discipline, the inability to deal with the spotlight and a case of sliding down a spiral of diminishing confidence.
On 2 February, 2009, transfer deadline day, he signed a six-month loan deal with Chelsea. Quaresma’s availability became clear only when Inter confirmed that he had been omitted from their squad for the Champions League knockout stages. Chelsea were struggling with injuries to Joe Cole and Michael Essien. Failing to obtain Robinho in the summer, Chelsea needed someone who could provide cover on the wings. Luiz Felipe Scolari, having worked with Quaresma before, snapped him up on loan, much to the chagrin of Tottenham who were targeting him at the time. However, the reunion would not last long as Scolari was sacked barely days later.
Chelsea played with an unorthodox 4-3-3 that season, with Nicholas Anelka and Florent Malouda on the wings rotating with Joe Cole. Quaresma failed to fit in the squad suitably. In his brief stint at the club, there is not much to show regarding his impact, except the singular assist he made against Coventry in the FA Cup quarterfinals. He made a paltry five appearances, mostly as a substitute after putting games to bed. He was virtually anonymous, a player some wished had signed for Spurs. I doubt many Chelsea fans even remember the fact he played at Chelsea for a short while.
Following a year of warming the bench (and sometimes deemed unfit for that role too) under Jose Mourinho, Quaresma was shipped off to Turkey, where he spent up to five years with Besiktas. There has been an uptick in his stock in recent times though, with his selection for Portugal’s Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018 campaigns. An extra-time header against Croatia and match-winning penalty versus Poland helped Portugal lift their first major international title in 2016.
Quaresma spent his career swinging between his frivolous best and the travails of inconsistency, indiscipline and a lack of self-belief – never quite reaching the heights of stardom that was prophesied of him. Once proclaimed by many as a natural winger who could take the world by storm, he largely failed to reach his very real potential. Although he remains one of the many stories of “what could have been” in our game, it seems harsh to include him in a list of extinguished sparks, for he is not forgotten. It seems wishful to include him in a list of cult heroes of the game, for he was no hero. It is inaccurate to name him on a list of functional players, which he was not. Where, then, does Quaresma find a place in the game?
There are some traits you associate with certain people, that you can simply not forget. I see mazy dribbles and I remember Messi. I see no-look passes and I remember Ronaldinho. I see inverted wingers cutting in from the right and I remember Robben. I see long-range screamers and I remember Gerrard or Xabi Alonso. I see perfect free kicks and I remember Cristiano or Juninho. And so, I see a trivela or a rabona and I remember Ricardo Quaresma. O Cigano!
He remains an enigma wrapped in periods of mediocrity. He will be remembered for his ability to bring a spark on to the pitch. He will be remembered for the “all too human” tribulations of his career. He should be remembered for his undeniable panache with the ball. He should be remembered for the world-class talent that he was. His career shows the cut-throat nature of the game, possibly a microcosm of life itself. What could have been though!