Love him or hate him, but never doubt Romario’s talent, which is only surpassed by his excessive self-confidence – the combination of which has resulted in a great many anecdotes. Here are ten of the best.
1 – “I’ll pass it next time”
Romario’s fellow striker at PSV was Dutch international Wim Kieft. He told this story: “Romario had no self-doubts whatsoever. Before every kick-off, he’d say to me: ‘give me the ball, I’ll dribble past 5 defenders and I’ll let you score.’ He tried it all the time. It never worked.” The dribbling part of the plan wasn’t always the problem. “He never passed it in front of goal. Meanwhile I díd pass him the ball quite a bit, allowing him to score more goals. He’d respond by saying: thank you, next time you’ll get one from me. But when ‘next time’ arrived he’d always just shoot.”
2 – Revenge for 1998
The biggest disappointment in Romario’s career was missing out on the 1998 World Cup. The official story was that he was injured, but coach Zagallo later confessed the coaching staff had feared Romario’s selfish attitude would ruin the team atmosphere. Romario was initially reduced to tears, but his sorrow quickly made way for anger. He blamed Zagallo and his assistent Zico (“a natural born loser”) and ‘retaliated’ by having the restroom doors of a nightclub he owned in Rio painted over with hardly flattering depictions of the two men he held responsible.
3 – Faking injuries
As coach of PSV, Sir Bobby Robson experienced Romario’s typical training style. From his autobiography:
“In a large pool of good players, we had one tropical fish. Romario, the little jinking Brazilian striker, was as brilliant as he was unmanageable. He was a fantastic player, a match-winner, but his indiscipline was a constant cause for concern. He would train only when he chose to. When it came to one of our brisk five kilometer runs, for example, he would lose all interest in the job. One day, we were playing eight versus eight. One team seemed to be struggling. There was an inbalance somewhere on the pitch. So I counted the bodies – one two three four five six seven. Someone was missing. Just then I turned to see Romario disappearing into the dressing room. From sixty yards away, I shouted, ‘Hey! Romario! What are you doing?’ He pointed to his lower back, made a dismissive gesture and carried on walking in.”
4 – His own training method
Romario’s antics at PSV were nothing compared to how he behaved during his short stint at Valencia. There, he often refused to train with the rest of his teammates, arguing that his own method was better. Running for half an hour was pointless, he said. Better was to do sprints on the beach or on the exercise bike. His coach Jorge Valdano, realizing Romario’s value, let him do it. “But when we watched him he was usually doing nothing. Or he would mount the bike, pedal at high-speed for six seconds, and then relax for five minutes. And again. And again. That’s how he trained”, Valdano told.
5 – “I will nutmeg the next player”
One day at Valencia, Romario arrived late for a training session, his face still greasy and unwashed. He probably hadn’t slept at all, and had arrived straight from a night club. He joined the session, ignoring Valdano’s angry hackling, which went on for 30 seconds. Finally Romario responded by flat-out declaring “I will nutmeg the next player.” And he did. He played the ball right through the defender’s legs. “I could only laugh”, Valdano said. He knew the argument had been settled right there.
6 – Leaving the pitch mid-game
As the above story shows: never doubt Romario’s promises. Upon his arrival at Barcelona, he said he’d score 30 goals. and he did. And already at age 22, he promised he would end up scoring 1000 goals in his career. And he did, even if he had to keep playing into his 40’s, for clubs across five different continents. But the best story about keeping his promises takes us back to his first season at Barcelona. Cruyff himself tells the story:
“One time, Romario asked me if he could miss two days of training to return to Brazil for the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. I replied, ‘if you make two goals tomorrow, I’ll give you two extra days rest compared to the other players.’ The next day, Romario scored his second goal 20 minutes into the game and immediately gestured to me asking to leave. He told me, ‘Coach, my plane leaves in an hour’. I had no choice but to let Romario leave for fulfulling his promise.”
7 – First training session with Cruyff
Romario was fond of Cruyff anyway. “By far the best coach I’ve ever had”. During his first training session at Barcelona, Romario was eager to impress his new coach. Finally a coach with a decent career himself. So for the first time in his career, Romario considered it worthwhile to track back and help in defense. So when his side lost the ball, he sighed and started running back to his own half. “Romario, no!” he suddenly heared. Cruyff was shouting in his direction. “Romario, stay. Don’t run back. You will need all your energy for your attacking actions.” From that moment on, Cruyff became, and would remain, Romario’s favourite coach.
8 – Born for small spaces
Romario was born a tiny baby. Weighing only 1.8 KG, his mother Lita later stated he fitted perfectly inside a shoe box. A suitable start for the man who would one day become the king of the penalty box. For Romario, a square meter was an acre. His talent for small spaces is also supported by his achievement of once having sex in an airplane bathroom, during one of his first trips with Brazil to Europe. The master of small spaces, indeed.
9 – 1000 Women
Romario had a reputation for ‘finishing’ in a broader sense of the word . According to his teammate Stoichkov, Romario’s only friend during his stay at Barcelona, Romario cared about two things only. Scoring goals and having sex. Romario himself admitted: “I’m a womanizer. On the height of my promuscuity, I once slept with three different women in one day”. Indeed, before scoring 1000 goals, Romario, so he claimed, had bedded 1000 women.
10 – The Prince and the Court Jester
Romario’s best friend in football was also his biggest enemy: Edmundo, The Animal. A striker with an ego as big as Romario’s. His history includes receiving seven red cards in a year, racially insulting a lineman, pushing his hand in a referee’s face and feeding beer to a chimpanzee during a children’s party. Edmundo and Romario fell out when Romario had the doors of his club painted with charicatures of Edmundo and his ex-girlfriend.
The two formed a lethal striking duo at Vasco. One night, a problem arose when Vasco was awarded a penalty. As you might expect, both players claimed the right to take it. Romario emerged as the winner. He shot — and missed. Edmundo responded: “The King decided his Prince should take it,” referring to club president Eurico Miranda and Romario. After scoring in Vasco’s next match, Romario sniped back: “Now, everyone in the kingdom is happy — the King, the Prince….and the court jester.”