Renowned for his clinical finishing and known as one of the greatest players of his time, Romário de Souza Faria, known simply as Romário, arrived in Australia on the 21st of November 2006 to play for Adelaide United in a four-match guest stint in the A-League. It was seen as a public coup for the newly-established A-League as Romário was signed by Mel Patzwald, a board member of Adelaide United Football Club at the time, in an attempt to attract crowds and fans. The veteran forward has numerous trophies from club and international level, including one World Cup and two Copa América during his time with Brazil. He has also played for some of the world’s biggest clubs, including Spanish giants Barcelona and Valencia and Dutch side PSV Eindhoven.
At the time of his signing, Romário was 40 years old and had scored over 600 competitive goals prior to his arrival in Adelaide; he is also one of the few players to score at least 100 goals for three separate clubs. He was swarmed by fans at the Adelaide airport after a long flight from the United States where played for second division side Miami FC.
“I’m going to score plenty of goals, I come here to score goals, I don’t know how many,” Romário said in an informal press conference. He was also pursuing to reach 1,000 goals before his retirement which reached notoriety amongst world football at the time. Romário needed 16 more goals to meet the milestone although his goal tally of 984 goals was questioned by the Brazilian press.
Romário made his maiden appearance on 25th of November in Gosford against Central Coast Mariners in front of a crowd of 13,119 – the highest in the season for the Mariners. The debutant had a disappointing display, failing to touch the ball for the first six minutes and almost looked bored and unfit around the pitch despite having a couple of opportunities to score in their 2–0 loss.
“You’re so old, it’s unbelievable,” sang the Mariners’ fans. Following the match, Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna stated that Romario hadn’t had too much influence on his game and highlighted his fitness to be a “bit behind the boys.” Although his rather unfit state can be credited to his partying – something that he is notable for throughout his career.
It was a rather mixed reception by fans and media but optimism awaits for Romario’s next game against Melbourne Victory, who United defeated in their previous meeting. Despite Victory’s apparent concern about the threat he could pose, Romário went through the entire match without scoring and, unfortunately, had minimal impact as Adelaide United fell to a 4–1 defeat at Hindmarsh Stadium.
The same would be repeated in the subsequent match against New Zealand Knights which saw him scoreless for a third consecutive match and an early substitution in the 63rd-minute. After sitting on the bench for a few minutes, Romário was then seen leaving the stadium with two security guards. He also failed to show for a recovery session at Henley Beach a day after the match, telling an an intermediary that he was unhappy with his treatment.
His final game was against Newcastle Jets at home on 15th of December 2006, where he scored his long awaited goal for the club in the 15th minute, assisted by an impressive run from Jason Spagnuolo. Romario even managed an assist in a tightly contested 3–2 win. After the match, Romário departed back to his home country Brazil where he scored 15 goals for Vasco da Gama in the 2007 season and eventually achieved his 1000th goal milestone from a penalty in a Campeonato Brasileiro match.
Romário’s spell at Adelaide United was seen by many as disappointing, especially from a World Cup winner. However, it would be rather harsh to criticise someone who was still playing professional football in their forties; rather it was impressive for Romário to last as long as he did despite health concerns and age and many other contributing factors behind the scenes.
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Romário is one of the greatest strikers in football history and has proved that time and time again throughout his prime, combined with the trophies he has won for club and country. His stint at Adelaide United is a reminder that age catches up to everyone, no matter if you are a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Gianluigi Buffon – age is something we all experience as humans; it only matters what we do in the prime of our lives. Even if he didn’t impact on the pitch during his time in the A-League, Romário brought crowds and attention towards the league from all around the world, and his signing can be commercially viewed as a success. He even holds the A-League record as the oldest player to appear and score for Adelaide United, achieving this at the age of 40 years and 320 days.
Adelaide United can brag, even now, that they had a World Cup winner put on the red shirt. We all must remember that in his prime, Romário was a generational talent and it was a privilege for many who had watched him scoring goal after goal.