Libertadores Cup – domain of the Golden Oldies?
What more could Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos have in common with Juan Sebastian Veron later this year apart from being among the greatest players in South American football?
As Rex Gowar and Pedro Fonseca write, it is not new for South Americans to return home after brilliant careers in Europe and gain a new lease of life well into their 30s. Veron, though, touched new heights when he led Estudiantes to victory in the Libertadores Cup — South America’s Champions League — in 2009.
Corinthians, with Ronaldo and now Roberto Carlos on board, are celebrating their centenary this year and they have set themselves the target of winning South American football’s top club prize for the first time.
The other big clubs in the Sao Paulo region, Pele’s Santos in the 1960s, Sao Paulo and Palmeiras in the last two decades, have all won it. So have Cruzeiro from Belo Horizonte, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama from Rio de Janeiro and Gremio and Internacional from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.
It rankles with Corinthians that the Libertadores Cup has not embellished their trophy cabinet. They have not even reached the final, something a few lesser Brazilian sides like Sao Caetano and Atletico Paranaense have achieved.
Ronaldo, 33, has already had a year at Corinthians, having turned his back on Flamengo to join them after recovering from the knee injury that ended his European career at AC Milan.
He spearheaded them to victory in last year’s Paulista state championship and the Copa Brasil, the title that secured their place in this year’s Libertadores.
Corinthians, looking to the pair to emulate their great Real Madrid days together, signed Roberto Carlos from Turkey’s Fenerbahce this month to boost their chances.
However, fans of other Brazilian sides have a different view of Roberto Carlos. They see him as one of the men responsible for Brazil’s defeat by France in the 2006 World Cup quarter-finals in Germany.
When Thierry Henry scored the only goal, the Brazil left back was bending down pulling up his socks –- a scene repeated and commented on extensively on television after the elimination of the defending world champions.
Three and a half years later, and now 36, Roberto Carlos hopes to put that episode behind him at Corinthians alongside Ronaldo, also criticised for his 2006 performance.
The played together again this week for the first time since 2007 at Real Madrid, when they turned out for Corinthians in an unimpressive 2-1 win over Bragantino in the Paulista championship.
Expectation was enormous, though. Corinthians’ first home match of the year drew 32,000 fans, double the number who watched national champions Flamengo at the Maracana in their opener last weekend in the Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) state championship.
PHOTO: Ronaldo of Corinthians (R) talks to teammate Roberto Carlos before their Paulista soccer match against Bragantino in Sao Paulo January 20, 2010. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker