Ricardo Oliveira's Indian summer

Brazilian forward Ricardo Oliveira has a CV that would be the envy of most players. The former Valencia, Real Betis and Milan front man is the proud owner of UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup, Spanish league and Copa del Rey winner’s medals, and was also a member of the Brazil squads that won the FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 and the 2004 Copa America. Having now turned 30, the centre-forward is embarking on a new footballing adventure, leaving UAE outfit Al Jazira for a loan spell with Sao Paulo, his second with the Brazilian club.

“It’s like starting from scratch again,” he told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview after making his return to the Morumbi. “I’ve been away from home for a long time and this is a fresh beginning for me. I’ve been out of the limelight for the last couple of years and a lot of people had lost track of how I was doing. It might sound like I’m getting carried away when I say this but this is the chance for me to show that I’ve got what it takes to get back in the Brazil team. After all, I haven’t forgotten how to play football.”

The much-travelled striker has the perfect opportunity to prove his ability remains undiminished this Thursday, when O Tricolor Paulista take on Internacional in the second leg of their Copa Libertadores de America semi-final. After losing 1-0 at the Beira-Rio last week, Oliveira and his new team-mates have plenty to do if they are to fight it out with Mexico’s Guadalajara for a place at the FIFA Club World Cup 2010.

Old scores to settle
In rejoining Sao Paulo, Oliveira has the chance to atone for the disappointment that capped his first sojourn at the club, a four-month stay in 2006 that ended with him watching his side’s Copa Libertadores final against Internacional on television, his loan deal having expired before the showpiece tie.

“I felt powerless at not being able to go all the way, at not being able to help,” he recalled. “I watched the game at home and it was tough for me. And when it came to saying goodbye to all the staff here at the training centre I was in tears.”

Also a member of the Santos side that lost the 2003 Copa final to Boca Juniors, Oliveira was set on a move to the Morumbi as soon as the chance to come home presented itself. Key to the deal was the UAE club’s confidence in the abilities of Sao Paulo to get the player fit and firing again following an operation on his left knee in March.

Explaining the ins and outs of the move, he said: “Al Jazira made one thing very clear: the operation had to be carried out by someone with links to Sao Paulo and they also said I’d have to do my rehabilitation here. By the time I’d finished my rehabilitation programme and was training again the deal was well on the way to being completed.”

On the comeback trail
Oliveira’s reappearance could not have come at a better time for Sao Paulo, who went five games without a win in July, including that setback in Porto Alegre. The barren run finally came to an end with a 2-1 win over Ceara in the Brazilian league last Saturday, a timely fillip ahead of Thursday’s return leg against Inter.

The new recruit made a 20-minute appearance in the first leg and played for fully 70 minutes against Ceara, scoring a goal and surprising the coaching staff with his mobility.

“Those two games have boosted my confidence,” said Oliveira. “I felt good and I didn’t have to take too much out of myself either. It was also important for the team. Internacional put us under a lot of pressure in the first leg and we came in for plenty of criticism. People are expecting big things from us now, though. The team is full of belief and confidence, and with the fans behind us we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”

For Oliveira, appearing in a tie as crucial as Thursday’s is a triumph in itself. “I just wanted to feel important again, to play in a big competition for a big club,” he said before signing off with a vow for the Sao Paulo supporters: “There’s only one thing that’s on my mind right now and that’s beating Inter.”