Romário is back: He’s player-chairman and a big fan of a revitalized Brazilian soccer club

MESQUITA, Brazil (AP) — América, a once-great soccer club in northern Rio de Janeiro, was recently on the verge of folding due to years of mismanagement.

But then its most famous fan decided to come back from retirement at the age of 58. He brought sponsors, rebuilt part of the club’s decrepit stadium, removed the weeds from the pitch, signed new players and came up with a plan to make it as mighty as it once was.

World Cup-winning striker Romário, now also a senator/lawmaker, became president of his boyhood club earlier this year not only to save it, but also to play a few matches for the Rio state’s second division side with his 30-year-old son Romarinho.

Romário, the former Brazil, PSV and Barcelona striker, gathered a group of five top managers, including one who is not that interested in soccer. They helped to revive the club that was also one of the passions of Romario’s late father, Edevair Faria de Souza.

So far, so good.

América is now among the leaders in Rio’s second division and hoping to climb back to the top-flight division next year to compete with glamor teams like Flamengo and Fluminense.

Founded in 1904, America won seven Rio state titles at a time that those could be considered almost as big as winning the Brazilian championship. The club’s greatest moment was also one of its last; in 1986 it reached the semifinals of Brazil’s main national championship.

It has been mostly mediocre since, but there is now room for optimism.

“The most important thing for me now is that America wins its matches. In some matches there will be a real chance that I play, I spoke to the coach about it. But sometimes it won’t be the day for that,” Romário said after his team’s 2-0 win against Petropolis in front of 1,800 fans at the Giulite Coutinho Stadium.

“I want to make fans happy on the pitch too, but it is not for that yet.”

Since Romário took over at América, many of the 180,000 residents of the city of Mesquita have seen a drastic change.

An uncomfortable quiet in the stands has changed into an atmosphere with playful chants like “let’s get the senator in” and “Romario is your terror.” Locals are once again proudly wearing America shirts, bought in small newsstands on streets nearby.

For players, joining Romário is a bonus. André — nicknamed Nightclub André by Brazilian soccer fans — scored five goals in his first five matches for América.

A former striker at Sporting Lisbon and several Brazilian clubs, the 33-year-old André wanted to please his soccer hero and share some time with him on the pitch.

“Romário just cornered me in a conversation and I ended up shaking his hand,” André told media after an América match. “I never thought it would get this big.”

Charismatic striker André is also one of the club’s attractions on social media. With him and Romário, América jumped to more than 200,000 followers on Instagram after years with no more than 25,000.

América executives are now under pressure to expand the small stadium’s capacity so more fans can see former retiree Romário in a match. The arena, still dusty and filled with cracks, also hosts meetings of club executives, as part of Romário’s philosophy.

Some fans approve of Romário’s arrival, but others don’t think that is enough to assure the club will survive.

“The hole is too deep now,” said Lauro Santos, 68, a retiree and Flamengo supporter who supports América as his second club. “I’ve always followed América too, and I find it hard that Romário at this age will change the club dramatically just with marketing.”

But a team official has a different opinion.

“The truth is that without Romário this club would be closed by now,” said Marcio Estrella, América’s legal and financial director. “This management wouldn’t be here. None of us contemplates replacing him at this job. We know that he is the plug.”


AP soccer:

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up