When the officials of Doha club Al-Sadd offered Brazilian superstar Romário a three-month contract worth US$1.5 million, they thought they knew what they were getting. Alongside strike-partner Bebeto, Romário became a household name in the Middle East, guiding Brazil to the 1994 World Cup in the US, leaving his name on the lips of every youngster in the region. However his spell in Doha would see him make only three appearances for the Qatari club, scoring a total of zero goals while clocking up 246 minutes – leaving the Al-Sadd president to pick-up the bill.
“I am fully aware of the challenges laying ahead of me here” declared the beaming Brazilian on his arrival in Doha but his transfer was a disaster from the moment he put pen to paper on February 24th, 2003. Al-Sadd had signed the player known as El Baixinho (meaning ‘The Short One’), on-loan from Rio based Fluminense hoping that he could stir them to the semi-finals of the AFC’s prestigious new US$3 million Asian Champions League.
The club’s press officer Khalid Al-Jaber told journalists and anyone who would listen “We have undeniably the best attacking line at club level in Asia. “Nothing will prevent Romário from joining his team mates to conquer Asia.” Al-Jaber would later have to eat his words. The signing of the striker was supposed to have been the biggest surprise of the tournament, but the big surprise came when Romário arrived in Dubai for the Group C matches as a mere spectator!
In one of the biggest transfer mistakes in Asian football history, embarrassed Al-Sadd officials had overlooked the AFC regulations for the competition and in a catastrophic error signed the 1994 World Cup winner 15 days after the transfer window had closed. Assad Taqi, the head of the competition’s committee at the AFC speaking to Qatari daily newspaper Al-Raya was crystal clear over the AFC’s laws “Players not registered before the closing window set by the AFC on February 9, 2003 won’t be available to compete, Romario’s case is no exception in this respect.”
“In addition, players should sign a 6-month contract with their clubs in order to participate in the quarter-finals stage, this being strictly requested by the competition regulations,” he concluded. Romário had only signed for three months.
The former Brazilian international could only watch impotently from the sidelines as his new club were knocked out of the competition after two defeats and a meaningless 3-1 win over Saudi Arabian champions Al-Hilal in their final group game.
“I signed a three-month contract with Al Sadd mainly to participate in the AFC Champions League and not to spend some days in the UAE as a tourist,” said the 37-year old in one of his interviews, for any journalist who was willing to part with US$25,000 claiming the money was for an orphanage back home in Brazil.
A week earlier in Doha, Romário had made his long awaited league debut for the Qatari league leaders against Al-Rayyan on March 3rd in front of 15,000 but had failed to shine, caught offside six times throughout the 90 minutes as his side went down 1-0. After returning from their nightmare trip to Dubai, the club’s officials set their sights on a record 9th championship and were in confident mood with Al-Sadd leading the Qatari league with 30 points, a point ahead of unfancied Nadi Qatar, who they played in their next game.
The side looked for inspiration from the Brazilian boy from Rio but it never came as he was easily contained by his man-marker. Al-Sadd’s Croatian coach Luka Peruzović substituted the veteran World Cup winner in the 66th minute, in a match which would again result in defeat for the club, surrendering their leadership at the top of the able to their opponents Nadi Qatar thanks to a goal from Angolan Fabrice Akwa four minutes from time.
He sat out the following 2-1 defeat to Al-Arabi which saw the end of the club’s title hopes after being omitted by the coach.
In his post-match press comments Romário insisted that he respected the coach’s decision but was nearing the decision of packing his bags. He was reported to have tried to negotiate a termination of his contract and return home but the club said he would have to pay back $600,000 dollars so he stayed. In his third and final appearance on the last day of the season against Al-Ahly, he started but again never got his name on the scoresheet.
Both parties decided enough was enough and Romário was replaced by Moroccan Youssef Chippo, with the Brazilian watching as a tourist from the terraces, as they claimed the Emir Cup.
He flew back home to Rio and quickly returned to scoring form for Fluminense and later admitted that his move to Doha was a mistake but modestly put the blame firmly on his Croatian coach Peruzović, “My problem was the coach, the rest was perfect. If I’d have known it was going to be that bad, I wouldn’t have gone. Looking back at it, that was undeniably a regrettable move in my career.”
His stint in Doha had taken him away from his target of reaching his historic 1,000 goal mark before he retired but Brazil’s third highest goal scorer behind Pele would certainly agree that the $1.5 million he earned in his three months at Al-Sadd was the easiest million he had ever earned in his football career.