Brash, showy, reckless and daring, with an unbridled enthusiasm for the game that no one could match last year. Welcome to the world of Roberto Carlos, a defender who lives to attack and the most successful player in world football, left back for two world champions, Brazil and Real Madrid.
Selfish, overhyped and over-rated are tags that often get pinned on Roberto Carlos. He's too extravagent. He showboats to the point where it costs the team, always choosing spectacular over sensible. The abiding memory of Roberto Carlos at France '98 is the fresh air attempted bicycle kick clearance that nearly cost Brazil their quarter-final with Denmark, letting in Brian Laudrup to equalize.
He shoots when his team-mates are better positioned, and these aren't just shots. These are wild, crazy, wacky, misjudged, ill-visioned, popcorm with the lid off projectiles that could go anywhere and usually do. Once in a while, one of them goes in, ripping the back of the net for a goal that will be replayed over and over again. His critics say it's on goals such as these that his reputation rests, and he's been dining out on that free kick at Le Tournoi for the past six years.
So why is this sort of behaviour tolerated on not one, but two world champion teams? We're talking about a guy who won every international competition he entered last year, achieving honours that no player before him has dared dream of. In a year when Brazil captured their fifth world title, the Brazilian left back celebrated a "penta" of his own, winning the World Cup, Champions League, Intercontinental Cup, European Supercup and Spanish Supercup.
He was the only undisputed choice on a World Cup all star team where even Kahn and Ronaldo's places were questioned, this despite the unimpressive stats of one goal and no assists, converting one free kick from a tally of nine attempts that was second in the tournament only to Francesco Totti's. He's been almost universally hailed as the best left back in the world for the past six years, named on European Sports Magazine team of the season five times. Internet voting even saw him sneak on to FIFA's all-time World Cup team last year, ahead of legends like Breitner, Maldini and his double World Cup-winning countryman, Nilton Santos. Not bad for a guy who's too selfish and can't defend.
No player dominates his position as Roberto Carlos does. Raul Bravo is the best young left back in Spain, and is already a regular in Inaki Saez' Spanish national squad, but he couldn't get a name at the Bernabeu, so he's a misfit on loan at Leeds. Santiago Solari showed he's a world class left bak in the Champions League against Lokomotiv, but he has to masquerade as a winger if he wants to play for Real. And there's a whole generation of highly rated young Brazilian left backs who have been tipped to push Roberto Carlos for his place in the ntaional team - Ze Roberto, Serginho, Felipe, Fabio Aurelio, Junior, Cesar - only to end up having to convert to midfield roles to improve their chances of playing for the selecao. Left back is traditionally one of the most competitive positions in the world, but of the current crop, the likes of Mickael Silvestre, Ashley Cole and Francesco Coco aren't even close to challenging the Brazilian's supremacy. So just what is it about Roberto Carlos that makes him such a magnet for silverware and individual honours alike?
On the face of it, he's not your typical Brazilian. He's not the sort of dribbler who can go past defenders, like Denilson or Rivaldo. The main qualities he brings to the table are stamina, energy, speed and a connon of a shot, qualities that are more German than Brazilian. In Brazil, defenders aren't considered important enough to be known by a single name, like Pele or Zico or Ronaldo or Rivaldo, and Roberto Carlos has to live with the fat that in the land of jogo bonito, a defender can never be a superstar. It's also hard to talk of him as the best on his team - that would be difficult, considering he plays alongside guys like Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo, Raul and Rivaldo.
But when we talk of jogo bonito, Roberto Carlos is the beautiful game. He stands for everything that's exciting and pure in football today. To watch Roberto Carlos play is to know that something spectacular could happen at any moment, and usually does, whether it's an amazing goal, a tantalising cross or a glaring miss. Watching Roberto hit Row Z is more entertaining than watching most players score.
He's an anomaly in modern day football, a defender who spends more time on the opposition touchline than most out and out wingers. It was said that Alfredo Di Stefano would cover every blade of grass in the Bernabeu in the course of the game, and Roberto Carlos continues that tradition by making the entire left side of the pitch his territory, switching between attack and defence in the same manner the great Argentine once did. Arguably no player is more fundamental in making Real the devastating attacking force they are today, for every time Zinedine Zidane brings the ball upfield, he knows that this Pepsi'd-up little garden gnome is going to appear steaming forward to his left, making himself open and striking fear into the heart of the opposing defence. As unquestionably great as Raul and Zidane are, it is their lesser sung team-mate who is Real's attacking conscience, always driving them forward and playing every game as though it was his last.
No one can deny Roberto's passion for the game, but the last year has revealed him as the ultimate competitor as well. Eager to throw off the tag that he was a defensive liability, he relished every marking assignment he was given at Korea-Japan, facing up against Beckham, Umit Davala and Bernd Shceider in the last three games, and each time, the Brazilian came out the victor. Even when Schneider and Thorsten Frings had Brazil at sixes and sevens in the opening exchanges of the final, Roberto dug in and gradually wore them down. The possible lenghty ban he now faces for shoulder-charging the referee in Brazil's loss to Portugal in March is a measure of his insatiable appetite for victory, his refusal to accept a red card resulting in a moment of costly petulance. But lets hope FIFA realise that football is a better game with Roberto Carlos playing it than without. In a typical display of bravado, he has vowed to go on playing until he's 37, no doubt dooming the hopes and dreams of another young generation of Brazilian left backs. Ina whirlwind trail that has already earned one World Cup and three European Cups, we can look forward to another seven years of that now familiar sense of awe and wonderment.