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Romario's celebrations mark fool's goals

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Sometime over the next few days, Romario will cap a brilliant career by scoring his 1,000th 'first-class goal'. When he does so, Brazil will erupt with celebrations and tributes to the man considered by many to be the greatest penalty box striker the game has ever seen.

So why the inverted commas?

Because Romario counted his goals using the same quintessentially Carioca mix of stealth and cunning that made him such a danger to defenders the world over. Perhaps no one except the little man himself really believes he has scored anything like as many.

An enquiry by top football magazine Placar cast considerable doubt on Romario's claims.

According to Placar, Romario has not yet reached 900 official first class goals, with the magazine accusing him of including 71 goals scored as an amateur and another 18 in unofficial friendly matches played against teams of amateurs and retired pros.

The magazine also said they could not find any record of nine first-class goals he alleges scoring for PSV Eindhoven and said another eight supposedly scored for Vasco actually took place in exhibition matches or league games whose results were later declared void.

All in all, Romario added 101 questionable goals to his total, Placar said.

To anyone who has followed the life and times of Romario de Souza Faria it should come as no surprise that he adopted dubious means to get his name on that very exclusive list of players alleged to have netted more than 1000 times. For the man affectionately known as Shorty has made a career out of fooling people.

The most sublime examples come on the pitch, where his ability to drift past defenders, control the ball in tight spaces and finish from the most unlikely places is unrivalled. Ever since he burst on the scene with Vasco da Gama in 1985 he has shown an exceptional aptitude for putting the ball in the net.

First it was Vasco as a tiny 19-year old but even as he stepped up level by level, going to Europe and then on the international stage, he has continued to put them away.

After Vasco it was PSV Eindhoven, where he won three Dutch League titles and was top scorer each year. Then it was Barcelona, where he won the Spanish championship alongside Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronaldo Koeman and scored 30 goals in 33 games. And not forgetting Brazil, who relied on his goals to help them end a 24-year drought and win the 1994 World Cup.

The years since have been only slightly less fruitful. As he played out his career in search of the goals that would take him to the magic number he has gone backwards and forward from a host of clubs in Brazil to places as diverse as Spain, Qatar, Adelaide and Miami. Everywhere he played, he scored.

Just last week he showed that even at the grand old age of 41 the formidable brilliance is still there. Two hat-tricks in two games in the Rio State Championship, even against modest opposition, were proof of his greatness.

The problem with Romario is that he has employed the same sneakiness off the field as on it. The consummate individual in a team game, almost everywhere he went he brought trouble. The most famous battles were with Edmundo while at Vasco back in 2000 but he has also needlessly insulted all-time greats like Pele, Zico, Mario Zagalo and Johan Cruyff.

He leaves a string of ex wives and paternity suits in his wake and he punched or slapped opponents and team mates on more than one occasion. At Fluminense he even waded into the stand to attack supporters of his own team.

He considered himself above training at any number of clubs and the effects have been clear for years. At Vasco he now shuffles about the penalty box like a comatose grandfather who's lost his zimmer.

He abused fans at several clubs and disdained them at others but they turned a blind eye to such behaviour in Brazil, particularly when he was scoring goals. Brazilians treat people who can get round the system using that uniquely Brazilian blend of charm, cunning and dishonesty, as heroes. And no one was better at doing that than Romario.

A friend of mine met him when he opened his sports bar a few years ago here in Rio and being from the US he told the Brazilian striker how much it reminded him of Michael Jordan's bar and restaurant in Chicago.

It was a measure of Romario's sense of self worth that he just nodded knowingly at the comparison. Romario certainly believed - and still believes - he is every bit as legendary as the basketball star who could fly.

Romario, though, has not a shred of Jordan's class. For those living outside Brazil who saw only his goals, be thankful. But remember, when the ball hits the net and he celebrates number '1,000', it's not really the real thing. He's just fooled us into thinking it is.


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