It was approaching half-time with Portugal and Iran locked in a goalless draw in their final Group B qualifying match. After a pulsating draw against Spain in their opening fixture, the Portuguese had stumbled to a 1-0 victory against Morocco and now needed at least a draw to ensure progression to the knockout phase. A goal would ease any concerns, but with the first period almost up, it hadn’t materialised.
Ricardo Quaresma had featured as a substitute in the Spain game but then missed out against Morocco. For the match-up with Iranians though, Fernando Santos had given the enigmatic wide man a starting place and he was about to repay his manager’s faith. Cutting in from the right flank, he hit a shot with the outside of his right foot that swerved with such dramatic effect that it deceived Munir Mohamedi, in the Iranian goal, and flew into the net. It was a strike of rare quality, and for any who had doubted it, merely underscored the often fatally latent talent of Quaresma. The goal would be nominated as the best of the tournament.
Portugal would get their draw despite a late Iranian equaliser and with the European Championship already secured, looked real prospects to go deep into the tournament, especially if Quaresma could repeat his startling goal form. When the football fates circled around Ricardo Quaresma however, there’s a strange but almost sad inevitability that such things simply aren’t meant to be.
For the round of sixteen games, Santos returned Quaresma to the bench, the decision perhaps being a manifestation of the realisation held by so many about the fleeting moments of brilliance that the player would explode with before disappearing back into a lethargic mediocrity. With the game against Uruguay slipping away after Cavani had notched his second goal to put Uruguay 2-1 ahead, the manager would turn to Quaresma in the hope of a rescue act. As with so many times in his career though, the magic for the moment had deserted his boots. Portugal lost and were eliminated. Ricardo Quaresma was again relegated to the shadows. Sad to say, but the 2018 World Cup was almost a microcosm of the career of Portugal’s outrageously talented but often frustratingly anonymous talent who lived, and some would say wilted, in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ricardo Quaresma was 18 months or so older than Ronaldo, but very much of the same generation. When two such talents arrive at the same time, both wide players with dancing feet and pace to burn, there’s an inevitability that one will overshadow the other. Almost like a see-saw, if one rises, the other is bound to fall in comparison. It’s not quite the same as the VHS against Betamax battle that surfaced in the early days of video recorders – for those old enough to recall such days – but not too far distant from it. Although to many pundits at the time, the elder man looked the more naturally gifted, it would be Ronaldo sitting on the elevated end of football’s see-saw, and for so much of a career blighted by inconsistency and a perceived lack of application to a team’s cause, Quaresma would be left to merely peer up at the success of his compatriot.
In a career spanning almost 20 years, Quaresma would display his talents for no less than nine clubs, with some of the major teams of the era featuring among his often all-too-brief stays. Periods with Sporting CP, Barcelona, Porto, Inter Milan and Chelsea form the sort of CV envied by many of the best players in the world, but only on isolated occasions had he delivered the form that persuaded such clubs to invest in his apparent footballing talents. Indeed, only once, with Porto between 2004 and 2008, did he enjoy anything like a settled period. Even then, despite averaging around 40 appearances per season, for such a gifted forward, his return of less than eight strikes a season on average, was less than inspiring. His second term with the Lisbon club for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons would be an improvement, with 19 goals in 67 appearances being the most prolific of his career to date, but still well short of what such ability should have delivered.
If we are drawing comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of natural ability, any stacking up of goals scored across the same period markedly puts Quaresma’s achievements in the shade, especially when considering that the latter’s strikes came overwhelmingly at the highest level in the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. Quaresma’s record in those same leagues add up to 67 appearances and a paltry two goals. It’s a damning comparison, and perhaps tells the tale of a talent that only in the very briefest of moments – the goal in the game against Iran being a recent example – truly flared into an incandescent light. It’s a history summed up by a former coach at Sporting CP. “He has the ability to win a game with two or three touches because he has fantastic talent,” Laszlo Boloni explained. Damning with faint praise perhaps though, he added that, “He doesn’t always play well, but he can still surprise everyone and change a match.”
The almost casually added final element of that quote perhaps sums up the enigma that is, and was, Ricardo Quaresma. Observing that when his talent is revealed, it’s a “surprise” is a sad reflection on a player that too often visited the shadows inhabited by the ordinary, instead of living in the bright light of brilliance suggested by an abundance of natural talent.