Winger has been Portugal’s most decisive player this summer
Ricardo Quaresma has long been something of an idol in Portuguese football; that much should have been evident from the rapturous applause he received when entering as a substitute during Portugal’s first game at this Euros against Iceland.
But it has always been a case of it having much more to do with he could have been than for rather than what he’s actually delivered in the shirt of the selecao; many will tell you that that when he came up through the ranks at Sporting Lisbon alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, he was the more talented of the pair.
But in terms of the progression of their respective careers, there is no question as to who has put the gifts at their disposal to better use.
He’s led the most nomadic of existences. More than once, he’s donned the shirts of Porto and Besiktas, in addition to spells at Barcelona, Inter, Chelsea, and Al-Ahli in Dubai.
The outrageous talent has always been there to see, but there has always been something missing from the winger nicknamed ‘O Cigano’ — ‘The Gypsy’.
“I was always blamed for everything; when people say that there’s no such thing as racism, it makes me laugh”, Quaresma lamented during an interview on Portuguese TV once.
“One day something went missing at school, it had nothing to do with me but all the parents said ‘oh, it had to be that gypsy’”
“Because I was a gypsy they tried to blame everything on me, so I became a rebel as a child.”
This summer, the rebel finally seems at ease in his role as a super-sub for the national team.
He travelled to the 2008 Euros and again four years ago, but in the latter he didn’t see a minute of action on the field.
This time, he’s featured in every game to date — albeit only starting once — and in the last two matches, his extra-time goal against Croatia and penalty in the shootout versus Poland have proved critical
He puts this down in no small part to the bond he’s formed with his coach Fernando Santos, who took the helm following Portugal’s first round exit at the last World Cup.
“After the Poland game, he gave a big hug”, Quaresma recounts.
“He’s a manager who I’ve always respected, the only one at international level who’s given me the confidence that I’ve needed.”
“It’s mutual,” says Santos.
“He knows he might only play a few minutes, or the whole match, but I’ve let him now how important he is to me.”
Throughout his career injuries and fallings-out with managers have held O Cigano back.
But now that he’s ‘O Velho’ Quaresma — ‘The Older’ Quaresma — he has adjusted to his role as the understudy, the one who’s always ready when called upon.
At 32 years of age, O Cigano has finally become the decisive one for Portugal; and the only thing he can be accused of being responsible for is dragging his side to within one match of the final.