Álvaro Recoba: Lovely Left Footers
Everything in football is better when done left footed. To honour that, we’re running a series on our favourite left footed players. In the first piece of the series, Matt Kenny takes a look back at the troubled genius of Álvaro Recoba. You can find more of Matt’s work by following him on twitter, @MattKenny89 or on his blog, The Red Samurai.
The diminutive South American forward picks up the ball in his own half, ball glued to his trusty left-foot as he glides past defender after defender with relative ease, throwing in a body swerve here and nutmeg there. As he bears down on goal there is certain inevitability as he blasts the ball into the back of the net, adding another beautiful goal to his vast collection.
Upon reading that opening paragraph you would be forgiven for thinking I was waxing lyrical about Lionel Messi, the greatest player in world football. Barcelona’s number 10 is not the subject of my affection however; I was describing Uruguayan genius Álvaro Recoba, a player that could have been just as good as the Argentine had it not been for unfortunate circumstances which were mostly of his own doing.
Born in 1976 in Montevideo, “El Chino” gained his football education at Danubio where he wowed fans from the age of 16 with his outstanding dribbling skills, set-piece expertise and long-range ability. Having scored an impressive 11 goals in 34 games by the age of 18, it wasn’t long before one of Uruguay’s biggest clubs came in for him and in 1996 he signed for Nacional. There he continued to showcase the sort of form that was quickly gaining him a reputation as one of the hottest talents in world football and after just one season at the club he was on the move again, this time to Europe and Inter Milan.
Several clubs had shown an interest in Recoba after he struck 17 goals in 33 appearances in his sole season at Nacional but it was Italian giants Internazionale that won the race for his signature, in large part thanks to Massimo Moratti’s obsession with the young forward. There is always a lot of pressure when a highly-rated youngster moves to a big European club and the expectation and hype can often hinder a player’s progress.
But it was Recoba’s debut that was perhaps his greatest moment, as he came off the bench to produce one of the best Serie A moments of the 1990s. August 31st 1997 was meant to be a great day for Inter as their star signing Ronaldo made his debut against Brescia at the San Siro whilst fellow new arrival Recoba sat patiently on the side-lines. Inter’s dream day was quickly turning into a nightmare though and with the side 1-0 down with less than 20 minutes to play, 21-year old Recoba was brought on with tough task of saving the game for the Nerrazzuri.
Recoba did more than save the game though; he won it in style and created a moment that would ensure his status as a fan favourite for years to come and show just how good he could be when his head was in the right place. Having received the ball just over 30-yards from goal in acres of space, Recoba took a single touch before unleashing a powerful strike that was reminiscent of a heat-seeking missile as it soared past the keeper and into the top corner.
The goal sent the San Siro into frenzy; they had a new hero and when Inter were awarded a free kick around 25-yards from goal minutes later there was only one candidate to take it. The responsibility lay on the shoulders of our buck-toothed protagonist as he paced out his run-up and composed himself before curling in the type of unstoppable shot that would become his trademark. Recoba had done it, he’d changed the game for Inter, he’d won the game for Inter and he’d done so by scoring two wonder goals on his debut in the last ten minutes of the match. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Unfortunately for Recoba it didn’t get any better than that and he’d spend the remainder of the season struggling to recreate his Brescia brilliance, showing only glimpses of his unlimited talent as he scored just once more in his other 7 appearances. This would be a sign of things to come with Recoba later gaining a reputation as a bottler, a player with little character who could not handle any form of pressure or responsibility.
Moratti would do anything to ensure Recoba was a success at Inter though and it was soon decided that a loan spell to a smaller club would allow him to develop away from the spotlight. That club would be relegation battling Venezia and it was at the Arancioneroverdi where he would play his best football, scoring 11 goals (including a great strike against Inter) and assisting 9 more in 19 games to help the Venice side miraculously beat the drop.
Recoba had proved he could consistently perform at the top level by single-handedly hauling Venezia to safety and it was hoped that he could produce the same sort of magic upon his return to Milan. He would go on to score 25 goals in 71 games over the next two seasons and although not a world class total, it would be the peak of his Inter career as injuries began to take their strain.
Inter’s number 20 would only play more than twenty league games twice over the next six seasons but despite his limited involvement he would produce more pieces of footballing brilliance than most players could dream of, scoring several goal-of-the-season candidates until he finally left the club in 2007. It may seem odd that an injury prone player with a mentality problem would remain at one club for a decade but it was Moratti’s adoration for the South American playmaker that would keep him at the San Siro as he refused to allow his managers to sell Recoba.
Moratti’s blind faith in Recoba probably shows just how talented he was, as he refused to let go of a player that he always believed could one day become the best in the world. Although he would never come close to reaching those heights he always entertained and the fact that he could do nothing for 89 minutes before stealing the show with a brilliant free-kick is something that always endeared him to me.
Like Le Tissier he never fulfilled his potential but if you type his name into YouTube you will struggle to find a finer collection of skills, tricks and great goals. Being able to produce something out of nothing seems to be a trait of many left-footed players and very few did that more than Álvaro Recoba. Yes he could have been better and yes he had his problems, but at his best he was sublime and his unfortunate career only adds to the intrigue surrounding him.
At the age of 35 he is in the twilight of his career, though having played only a handful of games since 2007 many fans probably think he’s been retired for years. But he still has that natural ability and by scoring goals like he did earlier this week he reminds football fans just how good he can be and just how good he could have been and that is why Álvaro Recoba is my favourite left-footed player.