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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Once a flop at Barcelona, Chelsea and Al Ahli, Ricardo Quaresma is thriving again at Porto

A flop at Barcelona, Chelsea, and Al Ahli, Ricardo Quaresma has recaptured the form that propelled him to the verge of stardom 11 years ago, writes Ian Hawkey.
Ricardo Quaresma has adopted a senior role at Porto and is clearly enjoying his football. Gregorio Cunha / AFP
Ricardo Quaresma has adopted a senior role at Porto and is clearly enjoying his football. Gregorio Cunha / AFP

Ricardo Quaresma was 19, exciting but raw, and had just made the first big move of his career to become a Barcelona player.

The contract signed, the Barca president, fresh to the job, turned to the agent who had brokered Quaresma’s transfer from Portugal’s Sporting and looked a little anxious.

The agent read the signals. “Don’t worry,” said Jorge Mendes to president Joan Laporta. “If he doesn’t succeed here, we’ll make sure you can sell him on for another €1 million (Dh4.2m) than you paid for him.”

That was 11 and half years ago and ever since Mendes’s high-profile agency has been arranging for Quaresma to move on regularly, sometimes for a profit, although not lately.

Quaresma lasted a year at Barcelona, a season lit up by the occasional brilliant cameo in between nights of exasperating frustration.

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Other clubs he has passed through would recognise the pattern and some will be surprised to see him on Wednesday night lining up to try for a place in a Champions League quarter-final.

Quaresma’s list of employers is a who’s who of recent European champions, although his hopscotch from one to the other has seldom coincided with their peak achievements.

He left Barcelona while they were still building towards their pre-eminent period. He joined Porto – for slightly more than Barca had paid Sporting – after they had stormed to the 2004 Champions League.

He was not in the match day squad when his Inter Milan won it in 2010 and was a barely remembered ex-player at Chelsea when the London club lifted the cup in 2012.

Quaresma is now 31 and in his second spell with Porto after he rejoined in January last year, six months after he had quit Al Ahli.

A resume of his time in Dubai would read much like a precis of his stints at Barca, Inter Milan, Besiktas and Chelsea: inconsistent and below expectation.

He did score an important quarter-final goal en route to the 2013 President’s Cup triumph, but when he left the Arabian Gulf with two goals from his 10 league appearances, not many would have forecast that within a year he would be close to being picked for Portugal’s 2014 World Cup squad.

His renaissance in the 12 months since he rejoined Porto had not gathered enough momentum to make it to Brazil, but he is back in the national team’s reckoning.

In a young Porto team, he has shown a maturity and generosity in his football.

“We have asked more of Ricardo,” said Julen Lopetegui, the Porto coach, this month, “and he has put himself at the service of the team.”

Quaresma’s principal gifts are still his dexterity in possession, his dribbles and, occasionally, his spectacular goals.

Nicknamed “Harry Potter” as a teenager because of his magical manoeuvres, he was praised recently by Arsene Wenger, the manager of Arsenal.

“An enormous talent,” Wenger said of him, “and typically Portuguese in that he’s great on the ball and able to deliver the final pass.

“Maybe some of the clubs he was at didn’t value him enough, or had other good players in his position.”

That was certainly the case in Sporting’s youth system, where another winger, a year younger, was emerging at the same time as Quaresma.

That player has won the Ballon d’Or three times and, in fact, Cristiano Ronaldo was offered to Barcelona in the same summer Quaresma joined them.

Manchester United got him instead, although they were in a quandary over whether to go for Ronaldo or Quaresma.

He has said he wants to finish his career at Porto, for whom he played in all but one of their group stage matches in the Champions League.

He hit the winning goal in the 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao that helped them finish top and Porto’s reward is a last-16 tie, where they look narrow favourites.

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