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Alvaro Recoba: The Ultimate Unfulfilled Talent?

December 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I was recently talking to a close friend and fellow sports enthusiast about footballers who have failed to live up to the incredible hype generated during the embryonic stages of their careers. Some, such as Carlos ‘The New Maradona’ Marinelli, just never had the ability to and were subject to unfair pressure and comparisons. Others, like his fellow Argentine Ariel Ortega, (another ‘New Maradona’) simply did not have the temperament and seemed more concerned with stropping than maximising their undoubted talents. One name that did not come up during the conversation was that of perhaps the greatest unfulfilled talent in living memory: Alvaro Recoba.

Anyone who followed European football in the late 90s, and certainly anyone who played Championship Manager around the same time, will be familiar with the Uruguayan who signed for Internazionale in the summer of 1997 for a fee in the region of £15 million, a huge sum at that time.

Like current Uruguay stars Diego Forlan and Edison Cavani, Recoba was a product of Danubio’s much-vaunted youth system and burst on to the scene as a 16 year-old. Two impressive years at the Montevideo-based club saw the young Recoba earn a move across the city to the country’s most famous club, Nacional. After one and a half seasons plying his trade for Nacional, Recoba was sold to Internazionale, for whom he made his debut in August 1997.

That match will forever be seen as one of the great debuts in Serie A history. With 20 minutes remaining and Inter trailing 1-0 to Brescia, manager Luigi Simoni decided to bring on the man known as El Chino. The Uruguayan became an instant hero as he scored two 30+ yard screamers (one of which was a freekick) to send the tifosi into raptures and help the Milan club to three points. Perhaps his dream debut brought unrealistic and unachievable expectations and the remainder of the 1997/1998 season was less spectacular for Recoba, who was overshadowed by the likes of Youri Djorkaeff and the great Ronaldo. It could not be doubted however, that Inter had landed one of football’s hottest prospects.

During the January transfer window of the 1998/1999 season, the club’s management decided that Recoba needed more playing time and so loaned him to Venezia for the season. Eleven goals and nine assists in 19 games for the Arancioneroverdi proved that the Uruguayan was more than capable of playing at the highest level and made him a cult hero in Venice.

Recoba was subsequently recalled to Inter and was used much more by Marcelo Lippi than he was by either Simoni or Mircea Lucescu. The Uruguayan settled in to the new setup well and despite Inter enduring a difficult season, in which they failed to qualify for the Champions League, Recoba impressed. His performances convinced Chairman Massimo Moratti to offer him a new six year contract which reportedly made Recoba the highest paid player in the world. The 23 year old appeared to have the world at his magic feet.

At this point however, the wheels started to come off. First of all, Recoba was banned from football for a year (reduced to four months on appeal) for holding a fake Italian passport and a string of knee, ankle and shoulder injuries halted his progress further over the next few years. Inter fans were treated to glimpses of El Chino’s brilliance, most notably against Sampdoria in 2005. After entering the game as a substitute, Recoba inspired a comeback that saw Inter, who were trailing 2-0 after 88 minutes, to win 3-2. The Uruguayan set up the first goal for Obafemi Martins before rifling in a 20 yard winner in the 94th minute, demonstrating textbook shooting technique in the process.

Such performances were becoming increasingly sporadic and in his last four seasons at Inter, Recoba managed only 16 goals, a poor return for someone of his ability. Inter loaned him to Torino at the beginning of the 2007/2008 season, where he was reunited with his manager at Venezia, Walter Novellino. He did not however, have the expected impact and by the end of the season was no longer in the starting eleven.

He subsequently joined Panionios where he spent two injury-plagued seasons and has now disappeared in to football obscurity with Danubio in Uruguay.

It cannot be said that Recoba’s career has been a failure, after all, over 50 goals for Internazionale in 175 games is not a bad return and 69 caps for Uruguay are not exactly handed out in Christmas crackers. There is however a nagging feeling that he could have delivered so much more. In terms of natural ability, there have been few with anything like as much. Contemporaries of Recoba such as Zinedine Zidane and Luis Figo are regarded as some of the best players of the last 25 years. Neither had the natural talent of the mercurial Uruguayan. They did however, have a will to win and work ethic that Recoba seemed to lack. The Uruguayan was undoubtedly highly unlucky with injuries and bad advice led to the passport scandal and probably caused him to stay at Inter when a move might have helped to reignite his stalling career. Whatever the cause, I always feel a tinge of sadness when I think of what could have been for Recoba as we were probably denied the opportunity to marvel at an all-time great.

Categories: Football