Inter lit up a grey November afternoon in Milan with a sumptuous performance against poor Lecce. Their six goals came from six different players, three with the right foot, three with the left. In order: Georgatos, Zanetti, Jugovic, Zamorano, Ronaldo, Recoba. And the greatest of these was Recoba, who came off the bench (Inter had a lot of attacking riches back then) and scored an absolute pearl of a goal.
The little Uruguayan’s left peg was a wonder of world football. But he was a slightly flawed genius. Frequent injuries and a casual attitude (he was late for training all the time – his wife once called him “lazy and romantic”) prevented Recoba from reaching the highest peaks in the game. Former team-mate Juan Sebastian Veron said Recoba didn’t become the best player in the world simply “because he didn’t want to”.
Really, the man they called El Chino (Italians and nicknames, I know) was the ultimate luxury forward, especially for a starred Inter team that had Original Ronaldo in its line-up. And Recoba seemed happy enough to sit on the bench, then come on and perform a magic trick or two.
Football needs more Recobas (fans are romantics too): the casual maestro with socks rolled down, who only reveals his talent occasionally. They are a dying breed, alas. We don’t allow players to have off days. They must perform, perform, perform. But watching well-oiled machines like Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski – both men are obsessive weirdos too, whereas Alvaro was as human as the fans who cheered him on – is exhausting and sometimes tedious.