Way back in 1995/96, a still relatively unknown young talent called Pedro Miguel Carreiro Resendes left his native Azores in favour of the Portuguese mainland and then second-tier outfit Estoril-Praia. And, just as he had been doing in Azores footballing circles, the striker better known as Pauleta wasted little time in demonstrating the eye for goal that would go on to earn him a place in the history books of both the Portuguese and French games.
After bursting onto the scene thanks to 19 goals in that first campaign in Estoril, a hoped-for move to a leading Portuguese club did not materialise, with Pauleta instead making the trip across the border to Spain. A notable stint in La Liga would be followed a few years’ later with an even more successful spell in French football. On the international stage, meanwhile, the front-runner went about making his mark for A Selecção das Quinas, despite being the country’s first senior international never to have played in Portugal’s top flight.
And what a mark it was too. Over the course of 88 senior appearances, the Ciclone dos Açores (Azores’ Cyclone) scored no fewer than 47 goals, in the process overtaking the previous record of 41 set by the legendary Eusebio – a benchmark that had for many years been considered unbeatable.
‘Records there to be broken’
Even after outdoing a figure of the stature of Eusebio in this particular ranking, the current vice-president of the Portuguese FA (PFF) is not holding out much hope of holding onto top spot for long. “It makes me very proud,” said Pauleta, speaking to FIFA.com.
“I’m happy to have reached that figure and to still be the national team’s leading scorer. But records are there to be broken and, just as I beat Eusebio’s, another player will go on to beat mine. That’s life, but being among the group of leading scorers is a huge achievement and being first is even greater,” he added, before giving the name of his probable successor.
“Cristiano Ronaldo will beat my record. It’s totally natural that he would beat it, given his age and of course his ability. And I’d be happy to see that, because the more goals he scores the more games Portugal will win,” said the prolific former marksman, prior to recalling some of the highs and lows of his time in the red jersey.
“Fortunately I had more good than bad moments. I played at two EUROs and two World Cups. Scoring a hat-trick [against Poland in the group phase in 2002] at a World Cup is once-in-a-lifetime stuff, but it was reaching the final of the EURO in 2004 that was both the pinnacle and, at the same time, the saddest moment in the careers of my generation of Portugal players,” said Pauleta, in reference to the 1-0 defeat against Greece in that year’s continental decider on home soil.
“The trophy just eluded us,” he said. “To reach the final and not win is desperately disappointing, particularly when you’re playing at home. It was a unique opportunity. It was such a sad moment but, at the same time, it was something to be very satisfied with because, by reaching the final of a major senior tournament, we achieved something Portugal had never done before.”
As he continued to look back over his career as a whole, the ex-forward did admit to one minor regret: “The fact I never played in the Portuguese first division makes mine a unique case [for a full Portugal international].
“But these things happen in football. I left Portugal for Spain at 22 and things went really well for me, first in Salamanca and then in A Coruna. Then when I got to France things went even better. Because of the number of goals I was scoring it became impossible, at that point, to go back to Portugal. It’s true that I’d always aimed to play for a big club in Portugal but later, after I turned 30, it began to make less and less sense.”
Fan favourite in Spain and France
Pauleta may not have had the opportunity to shine for any of Portugal’s traditional big three – Sporting CP, Porto and Benfica – though his time in the Spanish and French leagues left no doubts over his goalscoring pedigree. From Salamanca he signed for Deportivo La Coruna, helping the latter to win the Spanish championship for the first and so far only time in 1999/00.
The silverware and the plaudits continued to flow for Pauleta once he moved to France, with the player, who celebrated his goals with his arms out wide in imitation of an Açor (goshawk), the symbol of his native archipelago, being voted the best player in Ligue 1 for both 2001/02 and 2002/03 while at Bordeaux. Following a big-money transfer in mid-2003 to Paris Saint-Germain, where he would remain until hanging up his boots in May 2008, Pauleta made history by becoming the club's all-time leading scorer.
Going full circle
After enjoying such a rich and varied career including so many record-breaking feats, you might have expected Pauleta’s retirement to be for good. However the pull of his roots proved too strong, with the lethal goal-getter eventually heading back to grace the pitches of the Azores once more.
“Two years after leaving PSG, I decided to join my local club, where my dad had played and where my son is playing. I played three or four games for Desportivo de Sao Roque to give the fans a bit of cheer too. The first time I played the stadium was full, and that was part of the reason I went there: to help my club,” recalled Pauleta.
“I obviously would have liked to have played more games for them, but my body wouldn’t let me,” he revealed. “Even so, I scored seven goals in two games (laughs). We won the Sao Miguel Island Cup, which meant a lot. I even managed to play for ten or 15 minutes in the final, only to get injured. It was still great though and I’ll always remember moments like those.”
A new challenge
His boots hung up once and for all this time, Pauleta has thrown himself wholeheartedly into a new project. As the vice-president of the PFF, his role also encompasses overseeing youth development, a remit that allows him to pass on his vast and wide-ranging experience to his country’s young hopefuls.
“It’s been a pretty pleasant experience,” said the ex-Selecção das Quinas frontman, as the interview drew to a close. “Going back to the FA to work with the national set-up makes me very proud, because I always felt like the national team was my club side in Portugal.
"I’ve been working with the younger age levels and, without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I think I can set a good example to them in terms of professionalism. Being able to pass that message on to the youngsters is a really good thing.”
Clubs: Santa Clara (1990 to 1992), Operario (1992 to 1994), U. Micaelense (1994/95), Estoril-Praia (1995/96), Salamanca (1996/97), Deportivo La Coruna (1998 to 2000), Bordeaux (2000 to 2002), Paris Saint-Germain (2003 to 2008) and Desportivo de Sao Roque (2010/11).
Main honours: Runner-up at UEFA EURO 2004 (Portugal), winner’s medals in La Liga (1999/2000), the French Cup (2003/04 and 2005/06) and the French League Cup (2001/02 and 2007/08).