August 31st 1997, The Guiseppe Meazza stadium in Milan was packed, blue and black flags, scarves and banners filled the stands. This beautiful stadium was at its absolute best as it soaked up the Milanese sunshine. The home crowed were buzzing with excitement, you’d have thought it was the beginning of a ‘Derby Della Madonnina’ (Inter – AC Milan) or a ‘Derby D’italia’ (Inter – Juventus). Instead Inter were hosting provincial struggler's Brescia. The excitement was fuelled by the Nerazzurri’s latest acquisition. Inter president, Massimo Moratti, had just splashed out on a player who was arguably the best striker in the world – Ronaldo. Their game against Brescia was the day the Brazilian ace would make his debut. However, despite all the build-up and attention Ronaldo received, there was also another South American making his debut that day. That man was Alvaro Recoba.
The Brazilian party wasn’t going to plan as Inter trailed 1-0 thanks to a Dario Hubner strike. Inter coach, Luigi Simoni, decided to turn to Recoba. The Uruguayan came off the bench in explosive fashion and made an immediate impact. He stole the headlines from Ronaldo as he inspired an Inter fight back, bagging a brace in a 2-1 victory. It was quite an incredible debut, especially given the quality of the goals. The first was a 30-yard screamer. The second was something we’d get used to seeing during Recoba’s years in Serie A, a trademark free-kick which flew over the Brescia wall and looped into the net. Simply sensational.
From that day onwards, the diminutive attacking midfielder was a fan favourite during his debut season. He was a joy to watch. He terrorised defences with his blistering pace. He had a wand of a left foot, breath-taking technique and an unbelievable range of passing. And as he demonstrated on his debut, he was something a set piece specialist.
However after the Uruguayan’s first season at Inter he found his playing time limited and the Nerazzuri would loan him out to Venezia in 1999. The Venetian’s were really struggling and fighting for their Serie A lives at the foot of the table. Recoba had other ideas for the Arancioneroverdi. He seemed to be a man on a mission, out to prove a point that he could still play at the very highest level and that Inter were wrong to send him out on loan.
He became instant hero in Venice. He was the focal point of the team and during that 1999 season he was at the heart of almost every Venezia goal, either as the architect or as the scorer of another blockbuster. He developed an almost telepathic understanding with strike partner Filippo Maniero, to form one of the most lethal attacking duos in Serie A. During his 19 matches with the Leoni Alati,Recoba scored 11 goals and accumulated nine assists. His sensational form was integral to Venezia’s survival in the top flight. His scintillating displays didn’t go unnoticed an after less than a season his parent club Inter decided to take him back.
Massimo Morrati was a huge fan of Recoba and after his brief spell in the ‘Floating City’ Moratti rewarded him with a bumper deal, an estimated 4 Million Euros a season, thus making him the highest paid footballer in the world at the time. Having signed him to a new deal, Inter were expecting great things from Recoba, similar to the feats he had achieved in Venice. However things started to turn sour. He would receive a year ban for having a fake passport which was reduced to six months on appeal. On top of this, Recoba started picking up a number of injuries which stymied his playing time. He would still turn in notable performances for Inter, chipping in with important goals, however most of these appearances were now as an impact substitute.
Recoba and Inter eventually parted ways in 2007 after Recoba couldn’t turn down the chance to work with his old Venezia mentor, Walter Novellino. Novellino brought Recoba to Torino in a hope that he would re-capture his form in Venice. Yet he would only spend a season in Turin as once again injuries hampered his progress. Nonetheless he still had moments of magic, most notably the double he scored in Torino’s 3-1 Coppa Italia victory over Roma.
The 2007/08 season would be Recoba’s last in Italy. The Uruguayan wizard entertained Calcio fans for just over a decade and gave us some moments of pure genius. Moments that will live long in the memory. While there was always a feeling that Recoba had plenty more to offer in Italy, there is no doubt that he was one of the most gifted and exciting talents to ever grace Serie A.
By Giovanni Dougall