Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos, now in his tenth season with the Spanish giants, has etched his name in the club's annals by pulling on the famous white jersey more times than any other non-Spanish player. In clocking up 331 league games with the club, the flying left-back has overtaken the legendary Argentine Alfredo Di Stéfano, the current honorary president, who is incidentally making a steady recovery from a recent heart bypass operation.
The Brazilian international arrived at the Bernabéu in the 1996/97 season after then coach Fabio Capello lured him away from Inter Milan. It was the Italians who had given Roberto Carlos his first taste of European football after he had achieved hero status with Brazil's Palmeiras and forced his way into the national side. The affable defender settled in Spain straightaway and soon won over perhaps the most demanding supporters in the country with some superb performances.
Over the last decade he has made the left flank his own, his startling pace leaving many an opposing defender bewildered. That is nothing, however, compared to the state of panic he usually induces in opposition walls whenever he lines up one of his trademark free-kicks. His impressive haul of 41 goals includes some of the finest dead-ball strikes ever seen in the Spanish league.
In his time at the club he has built up an amazing collection of silverware: three Spanish league titles, three UEFA Champions League trophies, two Intercontinental (Toyota) Cups, three Spanish Super Cups and one UEFA European Super Cup, not to mention the two Copas de América, the FIFA Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup™ he has won with Brazil in that time.
At the age of the 32 he remains one of the best left-backs in the world and an undisputed first choice at his club. Last week's league encounter at Villarreal saw him break Di Stéfano's record of 329 appearances, which had stood since the 60s, and with yet another game under his belt against Seville on Sunday he is already on the way to setting a new mark.
Tough timesHis ten-year spell at Real Madrid has certainly had its highs and lows. With the team enduring a lean spell in recent months, the Brazilian international has fallen out on several occasions with both press and fans.
Nevertheless, Roberto Carlos has proved one of the Merengues' most consistent performers over the last decade, coping admirably with the media glare the club is exposed to and the pressure and wear and tear of competing in three competitions.
Throughout that time he has remained a permanent fixture in Carlos Parreira's Brazil side, repaying the coach's faith with some sterling performances down the left flank and plenty of goals, the last of them coming in his country's final qualifier for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ against Venezuela.
The Brazilian star still has one year left on his contract with Real Madrid and, although the Spanish media is rife with rumours that the club is on the hunt for a replacement, he says he is very happy where he is and hungry for more silverware. "I've got one year left and I'm not leaving without winning more trophies. I've got five months left to win them. Then we'll sit down and see what's best both for the club and for myself," he said recently.
In the meantime he has another record firmly in his sights: to overhaul the total of 336 Spanish league games ex-team-mate Luis Figo played with Barcelona and Real Madrid. With the tireless Brazilian showing no signs of slowing down, you would not bet against it either.
|** Season**||**Appearances**||** Goals**|