x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Lost to likes of Ronaldo, Quaresma's charisma to rub onto UAE

The globetrotting winger has been there, done that, and Ian Hawkey wonders, if he has enough speed to dazzle in the Pro League for Al Ahli.

Quaresma was once a difficult choice to make when Cristiano Ronaldo was spotted by Manchester United. Francisco Leong / EPA
Quaresma was once a difficult choice to make when Cristiano Ronaldo was spotted by Manchester United. Francisco Leong / EPA

The first instinct when the news broke of the latest of Ricardo Quaresma's many transfers was to wonder - as he joined yet another league in yet another country - just where the globetrotting winger has not been in his hopscotch career.

Certainly, he brings to Al Ahli a full CV: stints at four of the clubs who have won the Uefa Champions League in the past nine years, and a string of titles and medals.

There might have been even more, had events in the summer of 2003 unfolded a little differently.

Back then Quaresma was 19 and making his name as one of Portugal's most exciting young players at Sporting's academy in Lisbon, a dazzling trickster in green and white hoops, with zippy acceleration and a portfolio of hard to pull off manoeuvres with the ball.

At Sporting, as a winger, you have to stand out to get noticed. Quaresma did. The club have a reputation of finding and nurturing talented wide players. He seemed to strengthen the tradition upheld by the likes of Luis Figo, the winner of the Ballon d'Or in 2000, Simao Sabrosa, the owner of 85 caps for Portugal, and Nani, later of Manchester United.

The most celebrated is the former Sporting winger who carries the tag of the world's costliest footballer of all time.

He is Cristiano Ronaldo, who was 18 months younger than Quaresma when United began watching Ahli's new signing closely, with a view to bid for him. United's scouts were impressed with his speed and his daring. They also saw Ronaldo had something special.

As Carlos Queiroz, an assistant coach at United at the time, said, the choice between Ronaldo and Quaresma had been a genuine dilemma.

The rest is history. United offered Sporting what was then a colossal sum for the prodigy Ronaldo, reluctantly deciding they could not afford to also recruit Quaresma. He moved instead to Barcelona, following in the footsteps of Figo and Simao.

He was not the most exciting signing Barca made during that close season. He joined at the same time as Ronaldinho.

In the first full 90 minutes he played at Camp Nou for Barcelona, Quaresma had a good game in a comfortable Barca win over Real Murcia, but the evening's standout moment would be the accurate pass, over 15 metres, made by Ronaldinho using not his foot, his chest or his head, but his back, by compressing the space between his shoulder blades.

Perhaps it has always been Quaresma's bad luck to be in the shadows of a great creative genius: first his compatriot Ronaldo at Sporting then Ronaldinho at Barcelona.

When he joined Porto after a single season in Spain, it was almost as a sidekick to another Brazilian, Diego, later of Juventus, Wolfsburg, Werder Bremen and Atletico Madrid.

At Inter Milan, Quaresma very quickly dropped even below Figo, by then 36, in the hierarchy of a Jose Mourinho team which looked for width chiefly from attacking full-backs. In his brief loan at Chelsea, he seldom threatened to oust Salomon Kalou or Florent Malouda from the first XI.

By the middle of his second season with Besiktas, his compatriot Simao was recognised there as the more consistent performer of the two.

Comparisons may be unjust.

With Quaresma, you risk doing him a disservice even comparing one match to the next.

There is to his football a strong element of the unpredictable.

At its best, that quality thrills: a surprise drop of the shoulder to wrong foot a defender, a cross executed not with the leading foot but the trailing one (Quaresma tries this often, a rabona, as it is known in Latin football cultures).

At its worst, the unpredictability makes Quaresma look a prima donna, an indulgent individualist operating in his own private sphere, a frustrating teammate.

He has fallen out with a few colleagues. At Besiktas there was a well reported scuffle with Nihat Kahveci, the Turkish international striker. With Portugal, for whom he has over 60 caps, there was a Euro 2012 training ground row with the full-back Miguel.

He has not always seen eye to eye with coaches. His confrontation with Carlos Carvalhal, a fellow Portuguese at Besiktas, after he had been substituted was a key event in what would be a sharply deteriorating relationship with the Turkish club from whom Ahli signed him.

At Barcelona Frank Rijkaard lost patience with a player who offered him cameos rather than sustained threat.

Mourinho had his faith tested at Inter for what the coach would outline as the shortcomings in Quaresma's addressing the defensive duties of his wing position.

Quaresma collected a Champions League medal with Inter, although he did not make the squad for Inter's win in the 2010 final, and made only sporadic contributions to the two Serie A titles Inter won in his season and a half there.

He made a memorable contribution - a fine cross to set up a goal in the sixth round - to Chelsea's successful FA Cup run in 2009. But again, his medal for that was given to him later; he was not in the squad for the final. His quartet of Portuguese league titles, one in his teens with Sporting, and three successive championships with Porto, were each well earned.

After a tough first campaign when he first moved to Porto from Barcelona, he had a major impact on his native Superliga.

Quique Sachez Flores, his coach at Ahli and a former Benfica coach, will be familiar with that version of Quaresma.

At 29, with his speed over short distance, his dexterity on either flank and the clever torque he can put on a dead ball, he has it in him to make a splash in the UAE Pro League, too.

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE