21st Century Greats – Roberto Carlos

The sight of this little Brazilian galloping up and down the wing evokes nostalgia for many a millennial football fan. Carlos was not the kind of player that you forget easily.

He was a physical specimen, unusually small for a professional footballer but powerful in build and the owner of some of the most powerful thighs in sport.

Unlike most full-backs, Carlos was pure box office.

Unlike most full-backs, Carlos was pure box office.

Indeed, ‘Thunder Thighs’ did much to define a position during a glittering career from the mid-90s to mid-00s. He would be placed high on this list but for the relatively short time in which he was at the peak of his powers this century. The 2006 World Cup was the beginning of the end for Carlos as he struggled to replicate his once dynamic self.

However, physical decline at age 33 was hardly surprising given the strain he exerted on his body after years of lung-busting runs. One famous example of that was his underrated part in the greatest Champions League goal of all-time.

While it is Zidane’s crowning moment, Carlos began the move with a typical passage of play. Receiving the ball on the halfway line, he played a one-two down the wing before executing an inch-perfect cross to Zidane under immense pressure.

Time stood still for Zizou as he struck the volley, as much because of the quality of Carlos’ cross as because of the Frenchman’s exquisite technique.

It was one of the few times where Carlos did not grab the headlines for something great he did on the pitch. Unlike most full-backs, Carlos was pure box office.

His high standing in world football was established with some ridiculous goals in the 1990s which are Youtube hits today, most famously a banana free-kick against France in 1997 that is still baffling Fabien Barthez.

As a result of that goal, Carlos developed a reputation as a free-kick specialist. Although he actually had quite a poor conversion rate, he scored some quite notable free-kicks in his career with one against Athletic Club in 2002-03 being instrumental to Real Madrid winning La Liga that season.

It was this ability to capture attention from an unheralded position that gave Carlos critical acclaim, finishing 2nd in the Ballon d’Or vote in 2002 following a fantastic season where he won the Champions League and World Cup.

As the years progressed, Carlos’ return runs from marauding attacks became more laborious. His natural propensity to attack fit in well with the rest of the Galactico team but it left the team an unbalanced mess as Carlos’ overly enthusiastic dashes upfield added more cooks to an already spoilt broth.

When he was caught out of position, it begged the question – was Carlos actually a good defender?

Despite being listed as one, Carlos seemed to spend much of his time in the opposition half, benefiting from a Brazilian system that sees full-backs as the equivalent of wingers in a standard 4-4-2 formation. In fact, it is hard to imagine Carlos fulfilling a more defensive role like Azpilicueta with Mourinho’s Chelsea today.

Perhaps it was more of a question of mentality. Carlos was simply too spectacular and too much of an offensive weapon to use as a conventional full-back.

By David Gorman

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