As Cristiano Ronaldo readies himself for another potentially career defining moment on the global football stage, spare a thought for the man who was meant to join him in the upper echelons of football’s tapestry. Emerging from the same prestigious Sporting Lisbon academy, Ricardo Quaresma was once seen as Luis Figo’s heir apparent. Instead he finds himself on what is likely to be one of the final legs of his footballing journey in the middle east with Al Ahli.
It’s a far cry from his beginnings in Portugal’s capital. Promoted from Sporting’s B-team as a 17 year-old, much was expected of him after a stellar first season in which he lead the club to a league and cup double under the guidance of manager Laszlo Boloni. Arriving right behind him was Ronaldo. As Carlos Quieroz once admitted, choosing which dazzling winger to sign was a genuine dilemma, with one belief unanimous; both would shine.
For a period, Quaresma did. His four years in Porto brought two Portuguese player of the year awards, and a string of highlights that vindicated the opinions formed during his days at Sporting. An expert in the ‘Trivela’ technique, he often reveled in the big stage the Champions League provided him. Yet just as there was a peak, there were also notable troughs.
The summer that Ronaldo moved to Manchester United, Quaresma was also sold to Barcelona. While the former ascended to greatness under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson, Quaresma had his inconsistent performances and poor attitude called into question by Frank Rjikaard. With his first team opportunities limited, the disagreement crescendoed when he said he would never player for Barcelona again under the tenure of Rjikaard, in what was seen as an early example of his arrogance.
A career littered with contrasts, he enjoyed a far more fruitful relationship with Jesualdo Ferreira at Porto. “He’s a very particular player with unusual talents who is really enjoyable to watch,” Ferreira said of the man nicknamed ‘Harry Potter’.
“I’ve seen him become more of a team player but I don’t want him to lose his personality and individuality otherwise he’ll turn into an average player rather than playing like the genius he is. To sum up he’s very special.”
More than just admiration, the experienced coach coddled his winger (arguably in the same way Ferguson did Ronaldo). Ferreira noted that Quaresma was not defensively minded. Consequently he absolved him from such duties, preferring to utilize his pace and tricks on the counter attack to devastating affect. Jose Mourinho had no desire to pamper a player he had invested over €18million in. Having forced wingers like Arjen Robben and Damien Duff to work the entire flank at Chelsea, Mourinho seemed unlikely to change tact, and he didn’t.
Seeking balance from all his players, and noting the frailties of his defensive game, Quaresma found the mentally taxing style of Serie A difficult to adapt to. Marginalized to the role of impact sub, the once joy inducing ‘Trivela’ was now being thrust upon every situation and rarely providing the desired effect. Afforded a temporary stay at Chelsea, even that was chaotic as Luiz Felipe Scolari (the organizer of his loan) was sacked.
As Ronaldo collected the Ballon D’or in 2008, Quaresma was awarded the Bidone D’oro (The Golden Trash Can), for being voted the worst new arrival in Serie A. Just like at Barcelona, his playing time was again restricted. In his second season he averaged 35 minutes a match, the potential star now no more than a closing act despite being only 27. Whether it was due to pity or frustration, Inter sold Quaresma to Besiktas in 2010, taking an €11million hit in the process.
His time with the continent’s elite seemed finished. Thriving with the ‘Kara Kartallar’ he notched eleven goals in his first campaign. Yet like many a raging storm his was preceded by calm. Substituted during the club’s Europa League tie against Atlético Madrid, his fiery temper denoted itself once more, with youth no longer an applicable mitigation. Lambasting coach Carlos Carvalhal, even calling him worthless, the club sided with their mercurial winger and Carvalhal was dismissed.
In return, they hoped Quaresma would agree to a lesser salary as they desperately tried to manage the club’s wage bill. When he refused, president Fikret Orman said he would not play for the club again. Serving as the tipping point, his career in Turkey took a nosedive. Accused of urinating on the club’s kit-man, and flashing a female member of staff, he vehemently denied such claims and threatened to sue.
Rumored with a return home to Portugal, it was mutually agreed before Christmas his deal would be paid up. More diplomatic than in his younger days, he left graciously and quietly. Less than a month later and his latest club, Al Ahli, was revealed with a startling admission: “I don’t really know anything about the club or the league,” Quaresma said, making it difficult to look past financial gain as his motivation.
After a dismal debut that culminated in a booking for insulting the referee, he scored his first goal for the club on Monday, in a stadium with far fewer patrons than Ronaldo will play in front of each week. Often perceived as a shy but jovial character, the beaming smile that littered his Porto days is no longer prominent. At 29, he is unlikely to ever return to the grandest stage, and just as his good friend Ronaldo is proof of what success players can achieve, Quaresma is a harsh reminder that football also has its failures.
Kristian Heneage makes his AFR debut with this article. He contributes for ESPN, Four Four Two and The Guardian, amongst others. You can follow him on twitter @KHeneage. Comments below please.