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Monday, 20 December, 1999, 18:19 GMT
Rivaldo lives up to magic number

The No 10 scores during this year's Copa America semi-final

Wearing the No 10 jersey in Brazil's international side carries a huge weight of expectation.

Not only was it the shirt worn by Pele, but it was also donned by Zico, star of the best Brazilian side never to win the World Cup.

Now Rivaldo can stand alongside these heroes with pride, having been awarded the European Footballer of the Year title by the continent's football writers.

Pele: Illustrious predecessor
And as fans of the British game must now realise, any man who could convincingly beat David Beckham to the award must be pretty special.

A left-sided forward player, Rivaldo posesses pace and superb dribbling ability, plus a finish good enough to give him 24 goals for Barcelona last season.

But while 1999 has unquestionably been a superb year for the 27-year-old, he has not always been feted as one of his country's great talents.

Just like Beckham, a high profile error in a major international game saw him vilified in his own nation.

Rivaldo's 27 years
1972: Born in Recife as Vito Barbosa Ferreira
1989: Joins local club Santa Cruz after father's death
1991: Signs for first division Mogi-Mirim
1993: Joins Corinthians, scores on international debut
1994: Not in World Cup squad but wins Brazilian league title with Palmeiras
1996: Bronze at Atlanta Olympics, moves to Deportivo la Coruna
1997: Joins Barcelona before international recall
1998: Spanish double winner, losing World Cup finalist
1999: Second Spanish league title, Copa America win
While the Manchester United midfielder's mistake in 1998's World Cup was disciplinary, Rivaldo's downfall at the 1996 Olympic Games was technical.

He missed a gilt-edged chance in the semi-finals against Nigeria and the Brazilians crashed out of the competition with bronze medals rather then gold.

Like Beckham, Rivaldo overcame the difficulties going to Spain to leave the troubles behind.

"I retain a bitter memory of this period but it allowed me to find the motivation to show that the criticism of me was unjust," he said later.

Barcelona's successes, this award, and most importantly Brazil's 1999 Copa America success, all mean that he can now hold his head high back home.

Rivaldo began life in 1972, and his early promise was realised by his father before he died in a road accident when he was just 16.

A typical body-swerve and the Brazilian star is away
"He was my first real coach and turned me into a footballer and ensured I remained one," explained Rivaldo.

From hometown club Santa Cruz the young player moved to first division side Mogi-Mirim in 1991, before playing for two of the giants of Brazilian club football.

While with Corinthians in 1993, he made a scoring international debut, although he failed to make it into the 1994 World Cup-winning squad.

That year did see a Brazilian league championship with a new club Palmeiras, who he left in 1996 for Deportivo La Coruna after the Olympic disappointment.

The club finished third in the Spanish Primera Liga in Rivaldo's first season with the Brazilian scoring 21 goals.

That injury has yet to heal
Rivaldo on Brazil's France 98 defeat
A move worth some 15m to Barcelona followed, as well as an international recall.

Barca's cash was repaid with two league titles and a Spanish Cup win, despite a falling-out with Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal about his best position.

Nineteen goals rained in as the Spanish league and cup double was achieved.

Yet 1998 brought disappointment with defeat in the World Cup final - an injury which "has yet to heal" for the player.

Defences find Rivaldo a tough man to beat
One thing that this latest award proves is that Europe's football writers are prepared to put outrageous talent ahead of disciplinary misdemeanours on the biggest stage.

Zinedine Zidane beat rivals including fifth-placed Rivaldo to the 1998 award, despite being sent off on France's road to World Cup glory.

Rivaldo received his marching orders twice in Brazil's Copa America success last summer, while still becoming the competition's top scorer.

He had just wrapped up a second successive league title with Barcelona, and has continued to star as the club has set a frightening Champions League pace this season.

I consider Rivaldo to be the best player
Rivaldo would have voted for himself
But despite all this success there are still those who believe he is a flawed talent.

Spanish soccer magazine Don Balon said in September: "Rivaldo has a problem."

They scathingly explained: "He plays in his own world, never bothers to go looking for the ball of his own accord and wastes opportunites with dumb errors."

It was this tendency to dwell on the ball which cost Brazil dear back in Atlanta in 1996, and if he can get rid of what is a minor fault there is time for much more glory.

Indeed Fifa's World Player of the Year is announced on 10 January, with Rivaldo already a clear favourite.

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See also:
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Rivaldo voted best in Europe
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Brilliant Barca savage Solna
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Man Utd cannot afford Rivaldo
19 Jul 99 |  Football
Brazil eye bigger prize
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Brazil crowned Copa champions
02 Feb 99 |  Football
World football hails Zidane
26 Nov 98 |  Football
Brazilian magic denies United
Links to other Football stories are at the foot of the page.