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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 12:11 GMT
Controversy on the road to 1,000
By Bruno Garcez
BBC Brasil, Washington

Romario, Brazil's legendary striker, is two goals short of reaching a milestone: his 1,000th goal.

Romario in a 2000 file photo
Romario inspires a love-him-or-leave-him response, experts say
At the age of 41, he is the main striker of his team, Vasco da Gama, one of Brazil's leading squads.

This year alone, he has scored three hat-tricks.

If he does not score his 1,000th on Wednesday, his fans will look forward to Sunday, when Vasco confronts its most bitter rival, Flamengo, at Brazil's holy football ground, the Maracana Stadium.

So far, Romario has been outscored in world football only by Pele.

The legendary player hit the net 1,282 times - the only one to have scored more than 1,000 times.

And now the player known by his many fans as Shorty is likely to follow suit.

But is he really?

Own goal count

The goal count was done mainly by Romario himself and in order to speed up the process, he recently took part in a series of friendly matches and played short seasons for squads in the US and in Australia that would make Accrington Stanley look like Manchester United.

In Brazil, the local press acknowledges that Romario is nearly there, but says that the numbers are somewhat debatable.

Pele holding the 2006 World Cup trophy
Football's greatest striker has reservations about Romario's claim
Placar, one of Brazil's leading football magazines, claims Romario's personal stats credit him with 100 goals more than he has really scored.

"Currently, there are several parallel counts going on in Brazil," says Joao Carlos Assumpção of SportTV, a Brazilian sports channel.

"Some say Romario has seven goals fewer than he claims and others think he should not include the ones he scored during his youth league days, before becoming a professional.

"Critics say that the perfect day for goal 1,000 would be on April Fools Day," he says.

But many of Brazil's football pundits and fans have chosen not to dig deep in the controversy, for they believe Romario has more than earned the goals he claims.

Romario is absurdly gifted
Tostao
Among them is Tostao, currently one of Brazil's leading football writers and a former legend of the 1970 Brazilian squad.

Tostao claims that whether he is about to reach 1,000 or a bit less is irrelevant.

"Some goals are being disputed because they were not scored in official games.

"But it's Romario's figures and he should be respected. Whether he scored 900, 950 or 1000, that does not diminish the genius of Romario, one of the greatest players of all time."

According to Tostao, "he is not only a fabulous striker, but a player who foresees the moves of his opponents in a few seconds. It's a knowledge that goes beyond logic. Romario is absurdly gifted".

Lavish lifestyle

Amongst those who criticised Romario's "everything counts" strategy was Pele.

A great deal of football history is based on myth and cannot rely solemnly on facts and figures
Jose Geraldo Couto

But Shorty, who has never displayed the reverence that others in Brazil show the mythic player, claims that Pele had no reservations about counting his own goals in unofficial contests.

Jose Geraldo Couto, who writes a weekly football column in Brazil's leading newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo, says that Romario arouses a "love-him-or-leave-him feeling".

"Many criticise him for his lifestyle off the pitch and believe he sets a bad example," the writer says.

Romario had been notorious for his lush life, of being fond of pretty girls and loving the nightlife.

Change of image

But his public image has changed a great deal recently, especially since he became the father of a girl with Down's Syndrome.

His public displays of tenderness for his child and his engagement in the cause has led parents of children with special needs to admire him.

The tears that Romario shed in his last appearance with Brazil's national squad also made Brazilians realise that he was not only a bon vivant, but a devoted athlete.

Many also look back into 1994. That year, thanks mainly to Romario, Brazil won a World Cup after a 24-year gap.

Jose Geraldo Couto, who is also a leading film critic, says that the controversy surrounding Romario's 1000 goals is a bit like the famous quote from the western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

"A great deal of football history is based on myth and cannot rely solemnly on facts and figures," the critic says.

"The exact number is less relevant than the fact that Romario always dreamed of scoring 1,000 goals".




SEE ALSO
Brazilian star joins non-leaguers
11 Mar 05 |  West Yorkshire
Romario mulls Vasco da Gama offer
29 Dec 04 |  Football

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