Rolling back the years
(Article first featured on Own Goal Podcast 18/06/12)
The 2011-12 season has been a stellar example of age knowing no limits. From Paul Scholes influential return from retirement for Manchester United, Del Piero and Pippo Inzaghi’s emotional farewell goals in Serie A, Raul’s continued predatory instincts and most recently Giorgos Karagounis’ performances to unexpectedly drag Greece into the quarter finals; it proves that true class always shines through. The same is true over in Uruguay where Álvaro Recoba’s single goal gave Nacional their 44th domestic title on Saturday, beating Defensor Sporting in their championship play-off in the Estadio Centenario.
El Chino Recoba showed all his experience and majesty with a sumptuous finish in the 41st minute, a goal truly worthy of winning a championship. The 36-year-old received the ball on the edge of the box from Vicente Sanchez and, letting the ball run across his body, took two players out of the game with a slight drop of the shoulder. He then waltzed into the area and daintily lifted the ball over the head of the on-rushing goalkeeper Irrazábal with his favoured left foot. The win sealed back-to-back titles for Nacional and gave coach and ex-River player Marcelo Gallardo – who happens to be the same age as Recoba – his first championship in his debut season in charge. It was also the first title Recoba had won in his native Uruguay
Due to his age and fitness, Recoba has mainly been used as an impact substitute since joining Nacional at the start of the season. Some supporters were sceptical at first but in his 24 appearances he has netted 8 times including some absolutely vital strikes along the way. Aside from last weekend’s championship winning goal he also scored in the 1-0 victory over Liverpool to clinch the Apertura title in December with a similarly masterful strike. Collecting the ball outside the area, he went past one player with his first touch, turned another and curled in a sublime finish with his left. He also netted the winner, a precise free-kick, against arch-rivals Penarol in a barnstorming 3-2 win last month.
It might come as somewhat of a surprise that El Chino is still going strong as he is often considered one of the prime examples in the category of “what could have been” in a career plagued by injury. Having impressed for Danubio and Nacional in Uruguay, Recoba earned a move to Italian giants Inter Milan where he would spend a mixed decade punctuated with moments of genius. Things started brightly with one of the all-time great debut appearances. With 20 minutes to go and Inter trailing 1-0 to Brescia, Recoba was thrown on, scoring two 30-yard rockets to win the game 2-1 and spoil the thunder of the other toothy South American making his debut, one Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima.
Apart from a Beckham-esque lob, Recoba failed to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him after his phenomenal debut and was promptly loaned to Venezia. He once again showed his class by helping them avoid the drop with 11 goals and 9 assists in 19 games. This proved enough to persuade Marcelo Lippi to bring him back to the San Siro where he scored a reasonable 25 goals in 70-odd games over the next two seasons, President Massimo Moratti rewarding him with a six-year contract that made him the highest paid player in the world.
However, this was quickly followed by a 4-month ban for a fake passport and numerous injuries saw his game time limited over the next few years, only sporadically produce the flashes of brilliance – most notably against Lecce in 2002 and against Sampdoria in January 2004. He was loaned to Torino in 2007 and then moved to Greek side Panionios the following season. Quite a fall from grace for one of the most gifted players of his generation! A move back to boyhood club Danubio in 2010 reignited a flagging career and his has continued his Indian summer this year at Nacional, ensuring that he will be deservedly remembered for all the right reasons.
Despite a quite fitting offer for El Chino to play in China, Recoba has stated that he wants to stay at Nacional. Los Tricolores will play in next year’s Libertadores along with Defensor and Penarol and also qualified for the Sudamericana later this year – also joined by Cerro Largo, Danubio and Liverpool – and hopefully we will be treated to more moments of magic by the mercurial Uruguayan for at least a little while longer.