It was three years ago that I saw Ricardo Quaresma at what must have been his low ebb.
This would have been in Abu Dhabi, in the stands at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, where I watching the final of the President’s Cup — which pitted Al Ahli and Al Shabab on a stultifying May evening.
A decade before, Quaresma had, by some accounts, been the inspiration for a young Portuguese teammate named Cristiano Ronaldo.
But by January of 2013 Quaresma had tumbled into the UAE’s professional league after his most recent European club, Besiktas, had told him to get lost and ate the final six months of his contract just to be rid of him — apparently to the tune of 1.48 million euros (about $1.7 million).
That unpleasant parting followed on disastrous stints with Inter Milan, Chelsea and Barcelona, where Quaresma seemed more interested in demonstrating ball tricks than putting in a dependable shift.
(In 2008, while at Inter, fans of a Italian radio show voted Quaresma the Bidone d’Oro — emblematic of that season’s most disappointing player in Serie A.)
The Quaresma who turned up in Dubai, with Ahli, brought a name and a reputation for moments of inspired play– but not much else.
He was badly out of shape; he played in the UAE while carrying around a noticeable belly. Ahli used him in 11 matches, and he scored three goals, somehow — and then they released him in May. He was unemployed the rest of 2013.
In my mind’s eye, I remember Quaresma jogging around the pitch (though I cannot find a list of players for the 2013 President’s Cup final; the day before, he had been mentioned as likely to play). It seems clear he did not start for Ahli, who defeated Shabab 4-3 in a see-saw match — and then moved on without the mercurial Portuguese.
And that looked like the end of Quaresma’s odd, contentious career — right up to the start of Euro 2016, when the Bad Boy of Portuguese soccer rejoined the national team and, tonight, scored the 117th-minute goal in a 1-0 round-of-16 victory over Croatia.
The Quaresma seen in Euro 2016 carries a few more tattoos than he did a few years ago — including neck tattoos and a teardrop tat — which carries dire gangland symbolism — in the U.S., anyway.
At least, he seems in shape. And apparently the current Portugal coach, Fernando Santos, has not yet been alienated by Quaresma — who does seem to have avoided trouble in returns to Porto and Besiktas, since Ahli kicked him into the void.
In 2014, he scored his first goal for the national team in eight years, though he had not played in the World Cup earlier in the year — and also was ignored for the 2010 and 2006 iterations of the tournament.
His goal tonight was nothing special. He was in the right place at the right time, but yes, that counts for something.
Cristiano Ronaldo had put in a sharp shot that was deflected by the Croatia goalkeeper — right in front of the face of the advancing Quaresma, who headed it into a gaping net.
Where does Quaresma go from here? The course of his career would suggest an implosion is overdue.
But his recent history, with this Portugal team and with Besiktas, seems to suggest he may have turned the corner in his relationship with coaches and teammates.
It’s not too late for him to be something more than the guy with the exquisite ball-handling skills who never really reached the heights many predicted he would scale.