Romarinho: Al Ittihad's centurion, forever pivotal to RSL champions

Al Ittihad has seen it all over the past six years: relegation scraps, title-winning success, and an influx of headline names that have catapulted their international reputation.

Throughout it all, however, has been one constant - Romarinho.

The 33-year-old Brazilian has become part of the furniture in Jeddah since arriving from the UAE’s Al Jazira back in August 2018. His 169 league starts make him Al Ittihad’s longest-serving foreign player; a fine achievement given the names that have walked through the doors at the two-time Asian champions.

The former Corinthians star achieved another milestone in black-and-yellow this past fortnight, notching 100 goal contributions for the club since his move to the Kingdom almost six years ago.

The century of contributions comprises 76 goals and 24 assists, proof of how dangerous Romarinho can be in the final third as either the provider or the scorer.

“I’m very happy to achieve this personal goal,” the quietly spoken Brazilian said after providing the assist for Saleh Al Amri in their recent 3-2 win over Al Hazem in Matchweek 28.

“Especially coming with the victory, I’m really thrilled. In this league, I want to keep scoring more goals and making more assists to help my team.”

Evidently, the former FIFA Club World Cup winner doesn’t do a lot of talking, instead preferring to make his statements on the pitch. And it is there that, over the years, he has had plenty to say.

His season in 2021-22 was arguably Romarinho’s best as he took Al Ittihad to within two points of the RSL title with 20 goals, finishing second in that campaign’s Golden Boot standings behind Odion Ighalo, then of Al Hilal.

At Al Ittihad, the combination and partnership Romarinho developed with Abderrazak Hamdallah quickly became one of the league’s most formidable when the Moroccan arrived in Jeddah in December 2021.

In two-and-a-half seasons together, the pairing has combined for 82 goals, 34 of which came last year, in their title-winning season – Al Ittihad’s first in nine seasons.

No one will forget Romarinho’s stunning bicycle kick in their 5-0 cruise past Al Adalah, nor his famous double “shaka” goal celebration.

Of course, Romarinho and Hamdallah were no strangers to each other when they met up in Saudi Arabia. The two had spent time together in Qatar at El Jaish, which is where their connection first developed. But while it took root in Qatar, it flourished in the Kingdom.

Before all that, however, Romarinho made a name for himself in his native Brazil with giants Corinthians. Born in Palestina, a small city of around 13,000 in the state of Sao Paulo, he worked his way through the labyrinthine state league system in Brazil before catching the attention of Corinthians in 2012.

A forward of obvious talent, he joined at just the right time as the club won the prestigious Copa Libertadores before going on to lift even more silverware at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan that year, too. It remains the last time a South American club has won the competition.

“I was very happy to win the Club World Cup with Corinthians as it was the first time,” Romarinho said in an interview with The National in 2017. “Winning the Club World Cup was a really amazing experience, and I can remember all the happy moments.”

Much has changed since then. Romarinho swapped Brazil for Qatar, then the UAE and now Saudi, but the happy moments keep on coming.

Romarinho's famous No 90 at Al Ittihad

While Romarinho and Co were unable to back up last season’s title win with a successful defence of the RSL trophy, there is still plenty to play for as they look to seal third spot in the table and a return to the AFC Champions League Elite.

Sitting fifth, they have five matches in which to overtake both Al Ahli and Al Taawoun, starting with this weekend’s visit to the southwest of the country to face relegation-threatened Abha, who are reeling after successive 5-0 and 4-0 defeats.

With the personal milestone out of the way, the focus for Romarinho is now solely on team success. And you suspect, if Al Ittihad are to overhaul the two teams in front, who sit one and two points ahead, their ton-up Brazilian will play a leading role - as he has done during his time at the club.