Friday 09 September 2016, 16:03

Ricardinho: We’re not scared anymore

Every artist has their muse, and the men who have made futsal the unique spectacle it is today are no exception to the rule. “What’s my inspiration? The first was the internet, especially YouTube,” Portugal star Ricardinho told with a laugh, acknowledging the role played by a site where many of his dazzling goals and moves now appear, all part of a repertoire he will be hoping to showcase once more at Colombia 2016.

“I watch a few other football, basketball and futsal players too, especially Falcao, who’s always been one of my role models,” added the wide man, who has just turned 31 and is preparing for the third FIFA Futsal World Cup of his career. “And I’ve got some friends who do freestyle. I watch them too and they do the most amazing things.”

That kind of praise is all the more notable when it comes from someone with the talent of Ricardinho, a player capable of playing no-look passes, bamboozling opponents with seeming impossible nutmegs and scoring goals such as the one that pulled Portugal level in their group game with hosts Serbia at this year’s UEFA Futsal EURO before the footage went viral online. Hemmed in on the left flank by an opposing defender, he sent his marker the wrong way with a feint, flicked the ball up and over him, and skipped round to chest it down and thrash it into the roof of the net.

So, how does he feel when he watches one of his superlative goals again? “My hairs stand on end, firstly because they’re things that I’m not sure I’d be able to do again very often,” replied the man they call The Magician. “Then there’s the fact that I love seeing the look on my team-mates’ faces. When I scored against Serbia, they all had their hands on their heads. Some of them didn’t even know if they should run towards me. I was the only one celebrating.”

Giving a third reason, he added. “It’s also really great to see how an arena of 12,000 people suddenly stop whistling you because you’re giving their team a hard time and start applauding you. When futsal fans see something good like that they acknowledge it. And there’s no better accolade than the respect of the people who pay to watch you.”

The entertainment game Ricardinho went on to explain that his trickery is a reflection of how much he values the opposition and himself: “It’s important to me to test them when the going is tough. It’s easy to do it when things are going well or you’re winning. I try things even when we’re losing because I respect the opposition and because it’s the way I play, because I think it’s the right thing to do at that particular time. That’s the way I like playing.”

So much does Ricardinho enjoy his own game that he even admits to surprising himself on occasion, and he accepts with good grace the desperate measures opponents sometimes resort to in a bid to stop him: “Nobody likes to be caught out by a feint, a nutmeg or by having the ball flicked over their head. I put up with the kicks and the tugs, as long as it’s all within the spirit of the game.”

The Portuguese star enjoys being entertained himself, even by the opposition: “I like watching skilful players and it means a bit more for them if they can pull something off against me. I even feel like congratulating them.”

Ricardinho is unanimously regarded as the rightful heir to Falcao, a comparison he does not sidestep: “I’ve never wanted to be better than him. We’re good friends actually, and I’ve even got a tattoo of him on my calf. I’m just looking to make my mark, to make my history and have people say when I retire: ‘futsal is Ricardinho’.”

His desire for personal excellence also drives him to do his best for the team. “The most important thing for me is that my team wins,” he explained. “I contribute what I can, whether it’s goals, assists or pulling a defender away to create space for a team-mate.”

Portugal’s time at last? Having ruled out playing 11-a-side football five years ago, after realising just how much he had put into his futsal career, Ricardinho believes Portugal are mentally tougher than before. “We’ve changed our mindset. Before, we used to get scared when we heard how well Brazil, Spain, Italy or Russia were going. We need to show ourselves how good we are, not the rest.”

Just as in Thailand four years ago, many are tipping Portugal for the title in Colombia. The scorer of eight goals in nine Futsal World Cup matches, Ricardinho was quick to dampen expectations, however: “Title contenders are teams that have won something before. We’ve never won anything.”

Not even his country’s recent triumphs at the 2015 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup or UEFA EURO 2016 are causing Ricardinho to set his sights on the title: “We’ve spoken about it and we don’t want to mess up, but our objective is to reach the semi-finals. If we do that, then we’ll be closer to achieving something.”

Portugal will start Colombia 2016 right in the spotlight, with the hosts providing the opposition in their opening game. “They’re the toughest side we could face because of the fans and because they’ll want to show that what they did four years ago was no fluke,” said Portugal’s magic man. “What we’ve got to do, though, is look inside ourselves and play our game.”

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