After a somewhat extended hiatus, What Could Have Been returns with a look at some of world football’s most exciting prospects whose career paths have taken unexpected detours towards disappointment. This week, we return with one of Europe’s most technically gifted players whose fame never quite reached beyond Youtube superstardom – Ricardo Quaresma.
Let me introduce you to a young man whose reputation as a showman precedes him. The subject of countless Youtube showboat compilations, this Portuguese trickster is as well known for his array of flashy hairstyles as he is for his step-overs, back heels and trademark wonder goals. Having began his career and honed his skills at Sporting Clube de Portugal – taking the league by storm – this player has gone on to play for two of Europe’s biggest clubs – a Spanish giant and an English powerhouse - amassing a cumulative transfer fee greater than most players on the planet. If this series of articles was not so lamentable in nature, I could easily be introducing you to one of the greatest players on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo. But alas, the focus of this article is on Ricardo Quaresma – a player who many thought would be standing alongside his compatriot Ronaldo as one of the foremost talents at the top of his game. Sadly for Quaresma, their career paths have gone in opposite directions, so now we must ask just why that happened.
Born in Lisbon in 1983, Ricardo Quaresma was given the nickname o cigano (the gypsy) because of his Romani mother’s descent, but it could have easily been a reference to the Scottish craftsmen who are also often referred to as gypsies, for Quaresma has within him a craft and hustle unmatched by most in football. He came to prominence as a product of the famous Sporting CP academy that has produced household names such as the aforementioned Ronaldo, as well as Portugal legend Luis Figo and current internationals Nani, João Moutinho and Miguel Veloso. At the tender age of 17, it took Quaresma just little over a dozen games for the Sporting B team to grab then manager Laszlo Boloni’s attention. A hectic debut season established the dynamic winger as an exciting prospect and was one of many highlights in a season that ended in a league and cup double for the club.
The prospect did not take long to become an institution at Sporting as the following season saw Quaresma play more football than any other outfield player at the club. However, having won the league in two of the past three seasons, a bronze medal finish served as disappointment to fans of a club who had gone into the season as overwhelming favourites to lift the Primeira Liga. It also prompted European giants Barcelona and Manchester United to tempt away two of Sporting CP’s most prized assets in Quaresma and Ronaldo, who together had been the sole highlight in an otherwise unremarkable season. It seemed that both were destined for greatness with their respective career progressions, but things did not work out as planned for the elder of the two.
Quaresma arrived in Barcelona amid a flurry of transfer activity instigated by the newly elected club president Juan Laporta. Ronaldinho was very much the marquee signing from PSG, while Rafael Marquez arrived from Monaco with Rustu Recber signing on a free transfer having impressed at the World Cup a year earlier. Having wrestled Ronaldinho away from Manchester United in the summer’s premier transfer saga, Quaresma’s transfer somewhat flew under the radar despite the seal of approval from Nike, who had Quaresma dance his way around Roberto Carlos in their blockbuster Olé commercial that was the talk of television at the time. Amid the ins and outs at Barcelona that summer was Juan Roman Riquelme, who left on loan to fellow La Liga side Villareal. Riquelme and Quarema’s time at Barcelona bore strong resemblances, as both would eventually leave after a single season at the club in which inconsistency went hand in hand with personal clashes with club management.
Quaresma would leave on loan to childhood club Sporting’s rivals Porto, a deal that would be made permanent following his revelation that he would never return to Barcelona while Frank Rijkaard was in charge (it also served as part of Barcelona’s contribution towards the acquisition of Deco). His time at Porto would go on to be his most prosperous – in his four years at the club, Porto won the Primeira Liga three times, with Quaresma twice being named the league’s player of the year. His performances earned him a big money move to Italian giants Inter, who were then coached by José Mourinho, who had just left Porto the same summer that they had signed Quaresma. His time at Inter proved to be even less pleasant than that at Barcelona. Mourinho went public in his criticism of Quaresma, and the winger would barely make an impact in the Italian champions’ season. The list of personal plaudits he had racked up at Porto suffered an embarrassing addition as Quaresma was awarded the gimmick-award of worse footballer in Serie A that year.
Despite his poor performances at Inter, Quaresma earned a shock deadline-day loan move to Chelsea after learning of his omission from Inter’s Champions League squad that season. Unfortunately, his time in England would not prove worthwhile, and he returned to Italy after failing to force his way in Guus Hiddink’s plans. He would spend one more season at Inter, and despite that season ending in an unprecedented treble for the Italians, Quaresma would make no significant contribution in their quest for glory. His international football career has gone in much the same direction – inconsistent performances have seen him miss out on major tournaments and he has always remained behind the likes of Figo, Ronaldo, Nani and Simao in the depth chart over the years (despite the occasional wonder goal).
Today, Quaresma can be seen plying his trade with Besiktas following a summer move from Inter and seems to have rediscovered the form that made him somewhat of a household name around Europe – assuming that house had access to the internet of course. A clear pattern emerges when you take a look back at Quaresma’s career so far – a period of superstardom in one of Europe’s below-headline leagues is soon followed by a disappointing spell for a continental giant. However, it is important to note that Quaresma is still only 27 years of age and it is not too late for a fairytale ending to the career of a player who has all the natural talent in the world but is sadly lacking in consistent application of said talent. Should he continue to set Turkey alight with his marquee goals and dazzling trickery, it could be third time lucky if one of Europe’s big clubs come back in for the Portuguese man. While we won’t hold our collective breathes on him scaling the same heights as the forever-linked Cristiano Ronaldo, we’re not closing the book on Ricardo Quaresma just yet.