He has been called controversial and irresponsible, labelled a troublemaker and a womaniser. Romario has been called many things but he is, above all, a soccer legend, of the kind that only Brazil seems capable of producing.
On several occasions, Romario de Souza Faria has threatened to retire. At the beginning of last year, he was planning to play a farewell match at which he was to wear the shirts of Vasco da Gama and Flamengo, Rio's two best-supported clubs. He made one last appearance for Brazil last April, playing against Guatemala at Pacumbu in Sao Paulo. But Romario is carrying on, continuing because he just cannot stop scoring goals.
The age of a veteran, the appetite of a boy
Nobody holds any doubt that Romario is a special striker, one who possesses a truly outstanding talent. But a year ago few people believed that, on the cusp of turning 40, the hero of the Brazil at the 1994 FIFA World Cup would end up being the highest scorer in the Brazilian league in 2005. Scoring 22 goals in 31 matches, Romario became the oldest player to achieve the honour since the competition was first held in 1971.
Yet the one they call Baixinho (or Shorty) wants more. What else could a football legend, a millionaire, who has won the game's biggest honours, possibly want? He wants to do what he does better than anyone else: score goals. It is not for the fame, or the money, or even his love of the game. What Romario loves best is scoring goals and he does not want to stop until he has achieved his greatest ambition: reaching the 1,000-goal mark.
The day before his birthday, his team Vasco da Gama, faced America (the club, curiously enough, which his father supports) in the Rio state championship. America poured cold water on what should have been Baixinho's party, winning 2-1, but Romario got his reward. He scored and, according to his own accounts, brought his total to 950 (see the list of goals below).
Even in defeat, Romario was happy with the party held in his honour. "I wasn't expecting them to do all this for me," the player said. "I wasn't expecting this support from the fans and the press. And of course I'm very happy to know that I haven't been forgotten."
The Brazilian press have frequently claimed that Romario is the highest-scoring player currently active in the world today. According to one report, he has scored 483 goals. But that figure represents goals scored in the first division of a national league (plus those scored at the state level in Brazil). Pele heads the all-time ranking with 541 goals. Romario's overall total, just 50 shy of four figures, includes goals scored in friendlies, national games and even amateur games.
His club Vasco da Gama is currently implementing what is known as the Romario 1,000 Project, a plan which involves holding friendlies against teams in lower divisions to help their idol reach his mark. On his birthday, the striker said: "If I don't reach my target, having come so close, it's going to mark me for life."
Romario's story is typical of so many, born in the shanty towns on the outskirts of the great Brazilian cities, who have achieved fame and fortune through football. Born in the district of Jacarezinho on 29 January 1966, football provided the young boy with an escape route from what could have been a life marked by troubles and poverty.
Romario started his career playing for Estrelinha, a local team based in Vila da Penha. His next port of call was Olaria but things really started off when he joined Vasco da Gama in 1980. Right from the beginning he showed that he was a merciless finisher, and before long he started to accumulate trophies both for the club and the Brazilian national side. In 1985, he won his first international title, the South American Junior Cup, held in Paraguay.
Later, after two consecutive Carioca championships with Vasco in 1987 and 1988, and a silver medal at the Seoul Olympics, where he was the competition's top scorer, he accepted an offer to test his goalscoring prowess in Europe with Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. During a five-season stint in the Netherlands, he collected a further six titles.
But it was at his next destination that Romario's profile rose to star status. Johan Cruyff took him to Spain to form the attacking spearhead of Barcelona's famous 'Dream Team' named after the American basketball team which thrilled the world at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. During his stay at Camp Nou, he added the Spanish Primera Division title to his burgeoning list of titles and finished his debut season as the top flight's Pichichi or top scorer with a tally of 30 goals.
Then, four years later than scheduled, Romario finally got the chance to show his pedigree at a FIFA World Cup. Shortly before Italia 90, he had suffered a fracture which threatened his chances of playing at the tournament and although selected for the squad, he barely featured in Italy. In the United States, however, he was in top physical condition and at last was able to show the world what he was capable of. Scoring five goals, he was the shining star in the team that won the trophy for the first time in 24 years. To cap a dazzling 12 months, he was named FIFA World Player of the Year 1994, becoming the first Brazilian to win the prize since its inauguration three years earlier.
Return to Brazil
At the peak of his powers, as unpredictable as ever, Romario decided to give up his career in Europe and return to Brazil, signing for the most popular team in the country, Flamengo. Back at home, there was more silverware - and controversy. He had disagreements with players, fans and coaches. He exchanged angry words with his former friend Edmundo and slapped a team-mate at Fluminense, Andrei, during a match they lost 6-0.
He felt betrayed by Zico and Zagallo for not picking him for the 1998 FIFA World Cup - and in response had cartoons displayed in a nightclub he owned which showed the two men sitting on toilets - and later fell out with Luiz Felipe Scolari who, in his first match as Brazil coach, picked him and made him captain before excluding him from his plans for Korea/Japan 2002. On top of this, he was involved in several ill-starred ventures abroad. There were two brief spells at Valencia in Spain, and an even shorter stay at Al-Sadd in Qatar, where he scarcely played and failed to score a single goal.
But with the maverick streak came a hunger for more trophies. At Flamengo he won Carioca league titles in 1996 and 1999, as well as the Mercosul Cup in 1999. With the national team, he won the Copa America in 1997 (having won it once before in 1989), and, in the same year, took home the FIFA Confederations Cup. At Vasco in 2000, he won the Mercosul Cup and the Joao Havelange Cup (the name given to the Brazilian league that year). He was also top scorer in the Carioca league five years in succession (1996-2000).
On his return to Vasco, Romario continued to be one of the biggest names in the game and a star who was revered throughout the country. Many would still like to see him play for Brazil in Germany but at the age of 40, after a 20-year career in which he's won one FIFA World Cup and 18 other titles, Romario is tired of chasing trophies. His principal objective is to reach that elusive target of 1,000 goals.
Name: Romario de Souza Faria
Born: 29/01/1966 in Rio de Janeiro
Clubs: Vasco da Gama, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Flamengo, Valencia, Fluminense, Al Saad
Carioca championship - 1987 - Vasco
Carioca championship - 1988 - Vasco
Silver Medal at the Seoul Olympics - 1988 - Brazil
Flanders Cup - 1989 - PSV Eindhoven
Dutch championship - 1989 - PSV Eindhoven
Copa America - 1989 - Brazil
Dutch Cup - 1990 - PSV Eindhoven
Dutch championship - 1991 - PSV Eindhoven
Dutch championship - 1992 - PSV Eindhoven
Dutch Super Cup - 1992 - PSV Eindhoven
Spanish championship - 1994 - Barcelona
FIFA World Cup - 1994 - Brazil
Carioca championship - 1996 - Flamengo
Copa America - 1997 - Brazil
FIFA Confederations Cup - 1997 - Brazil
Carioca championship - 1999 - Flamengo
Mercosul Cup - 1999 - Flamengo
Mercosul Cup - 2000 - Vasco
Brazilian championship (Copa Joao Havelange) - 2000 - Vasco
Goals (up to 28/01/06 - unofficial)
Vasco 298 (up to 1 February 2006)