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Ricardo Oliveira: a Real Betis hero

Ricardo Oliveira
Image: Eurosport

At the ripe old age of 39, Ricardo Oliveira shows no sign of quitting the game he has graced professionally for almost two decades.

A slightly late developer, Oliveira did not make his professional debut until well past his 20th birthday when he made the first of more than half a century of appearances for Portuguesa in his native Brazil.

Two years at Portuguesa were followed by a short spell at Brazilian rivals, Santos before Oliveira left Brazil for Spain. Signed by Rafael Benítez at Valencia, Oliveira played an integral part in Valencia’s 2004 La Liga title and UEFA Cup successes, chipping in with eight goals from 21 league appearances.

However, much to many people’s surprise, Oliveira once again moved on at the end of the season when he joined Real Betis in a transfer deal worth €4 million. It was at Real that Oliveira developed into an international class player and played some of the best football of his career. That his initial two-year spell at Betis was to end in controversy and bitter acrimony doesn’t detract from the fact that it was this portion of his career that was the making of him as a player.

A strong-running striker, Oliveira was reasonably prolific in averaging approximately one goal in just under two matches at Betis, but he was also able to combine creatively when required. Almost exactly six foot in height, Oliveira has a powerful middleweight boxer’s build and similar stamina which enabled him to hit the ground running upon signing for Betis.

In his first season with the club, he scored a more than respectable 22 times in 37 league matches as Real Betis finished fourth in La Liga and so qualified for the European Champions League for the first time in their history. The 2004-05 season was an unqualified success with Betis adding the Copa del Ray to Champions League qualification courtesy of a 2-1 extra-time victory over CA Osasuna, a game in which Oliveira netted the opening goal.

The 2005-06 season opened promisingly with Oliveira scoring twice as Betis defeated AS Monaco in the third qualifying stage of the Champions League, thus qualifying for the group stages.

Due to Liverpool winning the 2005 version despite not qualifying for the 2005-06 competition through the league, they had no ‘country protection’ when it came to the group stages and so in an anomaly, Real Betis found themselves in a group with two English sides.

It was an injury sustained in a group game with Chelsea that changed the course of Oliveira’s career, certainly with Real Betis anyway, forever. On 1 November 2005, Oliveira suffered serious knee ligament damage in what proved to be his last game for Betis the first time around.

There then followed long spells of rehabilitation where Oliveira and the club clashed. Oliveira believed he was not getting the support he needed or deserved from the club as he fought to make a recovery, while the club, in turn, felt that he was more concerned with potentially missing out on the 2006 World Cup with Brazil than he was with the club and its plight.

A war of words escalated and this resulted in Oliveira returning to Brazil to join São Paulo FC on loan until the end of the season. Tempers frayed to near breaking point and they weren’t helped on either side when Oliveira ultimately ended up failing to make the Brazil World Cup squad anyway.

However, worse was to come early the next season. Oliveira returned to his parent club a matter of days later than agreed, and Betis were not impressed. The reason for Oliveira’s apparent tardiness was that the season had been extended, and although FIFA intervened and gave him permission to stay on and play in the last game of the season, Betis did not.

Oliveira returned to Spain in fighting mode and promptly demanded a transfer. He alleged that he was owed considerable sums of money and that he would never play for the club again. In the event, he was wrong there but the whole affair left an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

The Betis fans were devastated by Oliveira’s transfer to Milan in August 2006 but their anguish was nothing to that which Oliveria and his family went through when he sister was kidnapped and held captive for five months during the 2006-07 season.

After one season in Milan, a further spell back in Spain with Real Zaragoza eventuated before, in January 2009 with the club mired deep in relegation trouble, Oliveira returned to Real Betis.

It was a surprising move, to say the least, and although the early signs were good with Oliveira scoring on his second debut, it could not be maintained and the club was relegated at the end of the season.

Undeterred by relegation, Oliveira planned on staying with Betis the following season but an offer from UAE club, Al-Jazira was too lucrative to turn down and so Oliveira was on his way once again.

That was in 2009 and in the decade since Oliveira has plied his trade both in the Middle East and back in his homeland of Brazil.

He is currently playing for Atlético Mineiro, where he has spent the last two years.

In addition to his club career, Oliveira also appeared 16 times for the full Brazil national side in a twelve-year span from 2004 to 2018.

About the author

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David Nesbit

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