On Monday Romario de Souza Faria celebrated his 52nd birthday. And all over Brazil, others celebrated the year that Shorty stood head and shoulders above everybody else in world football.
In what was one of the all-time individual performances at a World Cup finals, 1994 saw Romario lead the line in USA as he returned the Selecao to the promised land, ending a 24-year wait for the title and rebuilding the self-esteem of the most successful country in the sport’s history.
It would also see him become became the first Brazilian to be crowned Fifa World Player of the Year.
And Romario's performances for his club, Barcelona, played a vital role in a historical year for his country.
Known as the ‘genius of the penalty area’, Romario joined Barcelona in 1993 after five years with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands. He amassed a remarkable 165 goals in 167 games for the Dutch club, helping them to three league titles. Those goals earned him the switch to Joan Cruyff’s Dream Team in a $4.5 million USD move.
"The best player I ever coached? It was Romario,” Cruyff told El Mundo Deportivo in 2012. He was an extraordinary player, with extraordinary technique.”
Romario was at the height of his powers in Barcelona, truly announcing his arrival in his first Clasico as he hit a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of bitter rivals Real Madrid. He ended the season as La Liga’s top goalscorer with a remarkable 30 goals as Barca narrowly beat Bebeto’s Deportivo La Coruna to the title.
But as was the case for much of his career, his inclusion in the Brazil squad that summer was still a controversial one. At 28-years-old he was desperate to make it to the World Cup after injury cost him his place four years previously, but his public criticism of coach Carlos Alberto Parreira had left him ostracised from the Selecao for much of the qualifying campaign.
However, with Brazil struggling in the five-team Conmebol Group 2, Parreira became desperate and Romario returned. In their final match of the campaign, Brazil had to beat Uruguay at the Maracana. Romario scored both in a 2-0 win, ensuring the Selecao kept up their 100 per cent attendance record at World Cup finals.
Now guaranteed his place in USA, Romario proved decisive as the perfect complement to the pragmatic approach of Parreira. Forming a devastating partnership with Bebeto, the duo ran riot, hitting eight goals between them – Romario grabbing five.
Time and again he proved the difference, laying on Bebeto’s goal to claim victory over the hosts in the second round and hitting the only goal of the game to see Brazil past a tough Sweden side in the semi-finals. He also scored in the penalty shootout-victory over Italy in the final.
And Parreira must take some of the credit, for it was he who insisted Romario room with the authoritative, focused captain Dunga. "This was an example that football is not only won on the pitch,” Dunga recently told Zero Hora.
“The intention was to try and focus Romario on what he really wanted, which was to be world champion, top scorer, the best player of the tournament. He put [me with him] a true friend, who could speak frankly.”
Romario picked up the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player. And ended the year as the Fifa-sanctioned best player in the world.
And after a quarter of a century without the ‘Copa’, gone went the doubts of Brazilian football. No longer was a nation concerned it didn’t have the talent, tactical discipline or mental resolve to take on the best in the world.
Romario returned A Selecao to the top of the pile. He made a nation believe again. Shorty towered over them all in USA.
Happy birthday, craque!