I Am Romário

Sam Robles/The Players’ Tribune

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At some of my clubs, I had an agreement that let me stay out late. But I never skipped training. Let me make that clear. When I was back in Brazil, I told every president, “Look, I have trouble waking up early, so I’ll train in the afternoon.” They didn’t even have to write it down on paper. Man, there was so much bulls***. “Oh, Romário doesn’t sleep….” Yes he does. He just wakes up later. “Romário doesn’t train.…” Yes he does, just not at nine in the morning. The presidents knew. Whether they told the coaches, well, that wasn’t my problem. 

I never went out the night before a game. For a Sunday match, I’d go out on Friday. Of course, a few times it did happen, but it was one out of 10 at most. And look, I never smoked. Thank God, I never did drugs. I never drank. Not a drop. Who said you have to get wasted in order to have fun? 

That story about the beach? It’s true. We had a game with Fluminense, but I had decided not to play. I honestly can’t remember why. Anyway, the guys got together 24 hours before the game to prepare for the match, while I spent the day on the beach. Then for some reason, I decided that I wanted to play after all, and went straight to the Maracanã. The team had been there for hours. They had even warmed up. I was walking into the dressing room brushing f***ing sand off my feet. And I ended up playing. There was this kid, Marcelo, who was about to make his debut — he had invited his entire family to watch. I started instead of him. Poor guy. Anyway, I scored twice and we won. My mental preparation was simple: Just get there, put on the shirt and score. There’s no other secret to it. There never was.

It’s a bit like sex, you know? You have to do what works for you. Sex, for me, has always been f***ing good. Sometimes on match day I would stay at home, away from the rest of the team. If I’d wake up horny, I’d have sex with my wife and then go to the game. On the pitch, it made me feel calmer and lighter. 

I’m scared of dogs, man. When I was 13 I was visiting my grandmother, and I was attacked by two mutts and a Pekingese. I respect dogs. I’ll never do them any harm. But they scare the s*** out of me. And listen, the smaller they are the worse it gets. A German shepherd? I can handle that. Just get those Chihuahua motherf*****s the hell away from me. 

I wasn’t arrogant. I was confident. You know what I mean? I like to say that when I was born, God looked at me and said, “He’s the man.” People see that as cocky. Arrogant, smug, whatever. But, man, that was the reality. People were like, “Oh, Romário loves partying, he skips training, he’s a womaniser.” Then the next game I’d score a hat trick and it was all, “Man, Romário is so f***ing good!” So he’s cocky, but he delivers. Is that being cocky? No! It’s being sure of yourself and what you can do. I was just telling the truth. Although for sure, I did have my bragging phase too, hahahaha. 

When I was about 20, I said I’d score a thousand goals. There’s a magazine cover in Brazil where I say that I’m going to do it, so that when it happens, no one can say that it was by luck or chance. 

I remember playing football with my dad by the railway tracks near our home in Jacarezinho. I had asthma when I was four, I was a bad sleeper. So at night, if I struggled to nod off, I would take my dad by the hand and grab a ball with the other. We would talk for a bit until we got to the tracks, and there we would play for about 10 minutes. I was already obsessed with the ball back then. Just kicking it around for a bit was enough to make me happy. When we got back home, I would sleep like a rock. 

Building houses never felt like a sacrifice to me. My dad was a dyer in a paint factory, but he didn’t earn enough to send my brother and me to training. So to earn the cash we needed, he took on extra jobs as a bricklayer. Every weekend we would help him to build houses in Vila da Penha, the place we moved to when I was five. We would carry bricks, cement, roof slabs, stuff like that. We were these wiry kids, so for us it was hard as f***, but we did it because we knew it would help us play football. In fact — and you have to believe me on this — we did it with pleasure. While our dad was working on a house, we were working on our dreams.

My old man had five commandments. Don’t fly a kite. Don’t drink wine. Don’t do drugs. Don’t let anyone f*** with you. And when you shake somebody’s hand, do it hard and look them in the eye. Did I follow them? Amen. 

I’ve always considered myself the best. When I say that, I mean the best finisher. If it was impossible for me to shoot, I would pass. If it was almost impossible, I would go for it. It was logical: If I’m the best, then it is better that I finish than if somebody else does, right? That is what’s best for the team. It’s like in basketball, when you need three points in the last seconds. Who do you give the ball to? You give it to Jordan. 

Romário | I Am Romário | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

Did I feel the pressure? Damn, I loved the pressure. For other players the goal got smaller. When I had a chance, it got bigger.

Let’s imagine that I had already scored four goals. In my head, the next chance would always be the last one. I spent most of my career in the last chance saloon.

I never wanted to be on for the whole 90 minutes. For some parts, I would be as quiet as I could. The defenders would go, “Forget about him.…” and then I would strike. I was at my most lethal just when I seemed to be dead.

Dunga was right. When I was playing for Vasco, and we weren’t doing too well, Tita and Roberto Dinamite decided that I, the youngest one, had to run for them. These guys were legends, you know? They thought they could do whatever they wanted. But they weren’t scoring goals! So I said, “Listen, I run for the team. And the running I do is good for the team, just in case you haven’t checked the top scorer list.” I think they were still arguing when Dunga said, “Look, I’ll do the running for him. Just let him score the goals, O.K.?” That’s exactly what happened. He was a smart guy, Dunga. Unlike some of the others…. 

The Netherlands was f***ing hard. When I moved to PSV Eindhoven, I was 22 and had never lived anywhere but Rio. I used to go to Ilha do Governador, Copacabana, Barra da Tijuca. Now I was in a place where it was dark and freezing. Man … it reached –17 one time. Seventeen!! Can you blame me for not training? One time I spent three days without leaving my f***ing house. The guys got worried about me. They knocked on my door and I didn’t answer. I was in hibernation, bro!!

It was worth it, though, because for one real I would have earned in Brazil, I’d earn a fortune there. Whenever I was too cold to feel my toes, I would think back to when I was carrying roof slabs for my dad in order to become a footballer. Was I going to give up on my dream because it was cold?? And, well, that’s how I got through it. I ended up buying my family a house in Freguesia, in Jacarepaguá, with a maid and a driver. That was one hell of a victory for me. 

I’ll always be grateful to PSV. Let me be clear about that. I spent nearly five years there and it changed my life. But I had to leave. Barcelona is Barcelona. 

Cruyff became one of my greatest friends in football. He was my best coach, no doubt. When I came to Barça, I wanted the 11, my favourite shirt. Cruyff gave me the 10. I said, “Mister, this is a great honour, but I prefer 11.” Everyone wants the 10, right? For once I was being humble! But Cruyff said no. I was like, “F***, man, I’m giving away the 10 here!! Why not?” He said, “Because on my team the best always plays with the 10.” Damn, brother. What can you say to that? I was gonna keep the 10 forever. 

The guy could still have played for us. I mean it. He would say, “Get the ball here, turn there, shoot in the top corner.” We would be like, “F***, mister. We can’t do that.” Then he would do it. Pure magic. He really was the guy, you know? In his head, everything was easy. I think it took him some time to understand that, This guy is good, but that one can only go so far. You can work hard, but it will be almost impossible if you don’t have The Gift. 

I was never supposed to go to the 1994 World Cup. That’s the truth. Brazil should have qualified easily, and since I had fallen out with the coaches, they would never have called me up. But in that final game against Uruguay, we had to win or draw to make it. The coaches knew that if they screwed this up, they would pretty much have to leave the country. So what did they do? They came crawling back to their best player. I felt no pressure. I was there to have fun, you know? Well, that, and to prove a point to those motherf***ers at the coaching commission. You can ask anyone who was there and they will tell you that it might have been the greatest match a footballer could have played. On a scale of 1 to 10, I got an 11. 

I made a promise to Ricardo Rocha. Two nutmegs, two chapéus and two goals. After the first half someone on the bench shouted, “So what about the two goals?” I was like, “Calm down, man. All in due time.” 

I always said that we would win the World Cup, and that if we did not, it would be my fault. I knew how good our squad was, and I was convinced that I was going to play the tournament of my life. That’s pretty much it. 

The row about prize money? I just did what was best for everyone. In 1990 we had been arguing about sponsorship money, which ended up ruining our focus on the games. This time, in 1994, they wanted to give some people more than others. I was like, Wait, this isn’t right. So I proposed that everyone get the same — and everyone means everyone. Romário, the top scorer, will get the same bonus as the chef. So we had a meeting, and the majority of the players voted in favour of my proposal. Everyone still got a lot of money. Suddenly we all felt like we were in the same boat. After that, the national team got stronger. 

I’d rather be happy than rich. Or richer, in my case. When I went to Brazil after the World Cup, I had underestimated the power of being a world champion. To really feel it, you know? The love of the crowd, the warmth of the people, the sand under my feet…. I had been away from Rio for so long that I had forgotten how much I loved it. So I got back to Spain two weeks late. When Flamengo wanted to sign me later in the year, I had to ask myself, What do I really want? Financially it wasn’t the best offer, even though they gave me the biggest contract ever seen in Brazil. I was 29, so I had a lot of profitable years left in Europe. I was a superstar on the Dream Team. But if you do the maths, you’ll just back out of it. In Rio I would be close to my parents, my brother, my children, my friends … my beach, my funk, my hip-hop … my sun … my Barra da Tijuca. I know my decision seemed strange to others, but to me it made total sense.

When I was 35, I stopped caring about playing well. I just wanted to get to 1,000 goals. People say I didn’t practice. Yes I did, just in a different way. Other players might do 70 sprints or run seven kilometres. I took 70 shots at goal. I did training that was specific to what I was doing on the pitch. You understand? Those last years I would do finishing drills four out of five days. Nobody can get good without practicing, not even me. Take any natural genius in sport and I can assure you that they practiced a lot

People say, “Wow, you were selfish.…” Of course I wasn’t, man. If I score a goal, I win, and my team wins too. That’s it.  

The thousandth goal was one hell of an ordeal. I was 41, so my mind had to do the work that my legs refused to do. I was thinking, Where am I going to run? How can I shake off my marker? You see what I mean? After each game my brain was out of breath. 

I had invited friends from around the world to see my thousandth goal. They flew in from the Netherlands, Australia, Miami. They saw one game, but I didn’t score. Then they saw another and another … three games and that f***ing ball wouldn’t go in. For a player like me, that was an eternity. We had been building up to this big celebration, but toward the end they were all like, “Listen, bro, let’s just get this s*** done.” 

What do you do after scoring a thousand goals? Even that party didn’t last forever. I needed a new target. In football, there wasn’t much left for me. 

Everyone is a politician. In our daily lives we all argue and negotiate, you know? When I got into the Brazilian senate, I faced the same problems I’d had as a player, because there are politics in football, too. The quarrels I had with coaches, directors and presidents, they were all because of my authenticity. Football never really had any tolerance for a person like me. Even less so today. If I hadn’t been so forthright with people, I could have gone to two more World Cups and two more Olympics. But that’s the price I had to pay for being myself.

I got into politics to fight for people like my daughter Ivy. Sixteen years ago she became my sixth child, and she was born with Down syndrome. She has been such a blessing. God decided to send me an angel. You see, before she was born I had never really seen people who had any kind of disability or rare disease. There’s no point being a hypocrite here — I was blind to their problems. Then Ivy made me realise that they needed help, and that nobody in Brazil was helping them. So now I’m known for defending these people, especially those who are less well-off. They have the same right as we do to be part of society. 

When Ivy was born, many of my friends began to tell me about people in their families who also had rare diseases. They had never shared it with anyone, but now they were. I feel so happy that I have helped people open up about it. What is there to hide anyway? Ivy has never made me feel anything but pride. 

Do I ever regret anything? Man, I’ve been so many things: cocky, nasty, a dickhead ... it’s a long list. But you have to judge each action for the moment in which it took place. I was a different guy before, and the world of football was a different place. I came from nothing. I had to fight so hard to get to the top, and I ended up pouring out all of my emotions. Whatever I did, good or bad, it came from the heart. 

Would I do it all again? Yes. But time passes for everyone, right? Tomorrow I will be 56. I’m calmer. So I would probably do the same things, but in a different way. That’s the truth. 

Then again, nobody is perfect. We were never meant to be. And thank God for that.