Rivellino: The greatest ever South American ‘skillster’?

Harry Burford

South Americans have always provided the beautiful game with a range of technical wonders and dazzling skill moves that few could seek to replicate without a struggle.

To the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and the great Diego Maradona himself – rip-roaring technique is something that comes naturally. It’s inherent within their overall style and personality, aligned to the very fibre of their being when they first set out on that football pitch to dazzle and deceive.

When it comes to highlighting the greatest South American ‘skillster’ of all-time, fans of the modern game often look towards Ronaldinho as a player more than worthy of such hefty acclaim. The renowned Brazilian international successfully took the world by storm with his daring displays and dangerously quick-feet inside the final third – captivating his respective onlookers with skill, dexterity and a remarkably self-expressive style of play.

Yet whilst the widely admired attacking showboat deserves great recognition as one of the most elaborate tricksters to ever grace the beautiful game with his presence, perhaps Ronaldinho owes much of his ability and flair to another great Brazilian who paved the way before him.

“I used to dream of being Roberto Rivellino. I would watch endless videos of him and wanted to be left footed like him, do tricks like him. He was, and still is, one of my greatest idols and heroes.”


The name ‘Rivellino’ may not crop up frequently within the modern footballing era. It may not serve to excite and enthral with the same level of passion and fervour it once did within the famed 1970s – but that doesn’t mean that the former Corinthians and Fluminense attacker shouldn’t be celebrated accordingly.

For without the efforts of one Roberto Rivellino – arguably one of the greatest ever footballers to showcase his unreal natural ability for the rest of the world to behold in wonder – there would arguably never have been a fresh-faced Ronaldinho ready to step up and follow in his footsteps. Without Rivellino, the beautiful game as we know it would probably look a whole lot different…

Source: Twitter

Rivellino first burst onto the scene as an up and coming youngster with the world at his feet. Even as a naive 17-year-old boy – who could often be found roaming the streets of downtown Sao Paulo without shoes, desperate to locate a football so he and his friends could finally get their games underway – many people saw great potential in the young Corinthians attacker, potential that could well reach the world stage with just a little bit of hard-earned luck on his side.

As it turned out, Rivellino was able to rely on his sheer technical mastery and impressive ball-control far more than the gifts of good ol’ Lady Luck. According to his contemporaries, the young South American possessed a fantastic shot at a very early age, his positioning and touch were second only to the great Pele himself – and when it came to firing balls home from all manner of testing positions and angles within the set-piece scenario – this was a player who clearly failed to disappoint.

Rivellino’s talent was blindingly obvious. His name quickly became synonymous with a wide variety of memorable tricks, dribbles and faints all across the opposition’s half – yet perhaps it was his infamous execution of the famed ‘Elastico’ skill that really sent his gifted reputation into orbit.

The move may have been originally choreographed by an old Brazilian teammate of his, and Ronaldinho clearly re-branded the ‘flip-flap’ for modern football fans far and wide to watch on at in excitement – but it was most certainly Rivellino, with the crowd calling his name and that thick moustache hair blowing firmly in the wind, who perfected the skill beyond all standard recognition.

The Brazilian national team eventually came a-callin’ in the run up to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Rivellino was to be cast alongside the likes of Pele, Tostao, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho – among a side many have since seen fit to label as the greatest international outfit to play the beautiful game. Via their free-flowing play and intelligent movement all across the park, Brazil saw off the likes of England and Italy en route to World Cup success that year – with much of their unmatchable style and panache coming as the result of Rivellino’s influence.

The silky South Americans may have proven unable to replicate their triumphs of the 1970 World Cup once the competition re-adjourned in West Germany back in 1974, but despite losing out to a Johan Cruyff inspired Netherlands outfit – the new kids on the block in terms of revolutionising the way football ought to be played upon the global stage – Rivellino and co. still had a tournament to be proud of.

Sadly for the moustached left-winger, however, Rivellino failed to enjoy the same level of success and worldwide admiration at club level with Corinthians. He was unable to land that elusive league title whilst operating down in Sao Paulo, eventually opting to leave for Fluminense where his ongoing quest for silverware finally came to a hard-fought end.

Today, Rivellino is remembered as one of the greatest South American ‘skillsters’ of all time. The Brazilian technician struck a memorable chord with several younger players who were seemingly on the verge of falling in love with the beautiful game. For his pioneering use of the ‘Elastico’ move alone, fans of modern football ought not to overlook Rivellino’s impact.

He was the first of his kind to manipulate the ball with such finesse and composure – and although many future tricksters have sought to emulate the successes of Brazil’s great footballing heritage of the infamous 1970s – no player has ever gone about their business quite like Rivellino. The man was a true, one-of-a-kind footballer. There’s simply no doubt about it.

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