Saturday, May 29, 2004

Baía's courageous comeback

Tuesday, 02 September 2003
By Carlos Carvalho

The phoenix from the flames. It is an adage that could well apply to the FC Porto goalkeeper Vítor Baía. After a long-term knee injury that required painstaking surgery, the Portuguese international has the same desire he possessed before injury left him with a mountain to climb to resurrect his career.

Elegant performer
Vítor Baía is considered his country's best goalkeeper of all time. "He has all the necessary characteristics of a goalkeeper - and adds to this his own unique elegance," said one observer. And now he is back in business, his superb displays having helped Porto claim the Portuguese Superliga, the Portuguese Cup and, best of all, the UEFA Cup last season.

Dream move
Those performances recalled the Vítor Baía of the mid-1990s, whose form had prompted a €6m transfer to FC Barcelona from Porto in 1996. But after a hero's welcome to Catalonia, the dream move turned sour. Following a fine debut season at Camp Nou, a severe injury to his left knee put his career in doubt, and when he tried to play through the problem, his reputation also hung in the balance.

Four operations
Surgery was needed on four occasions with the aid of top orthopaedic specialists including Spanish professor Josef Borrel, doctor Mário Beça in Portugal, and then Bosnian surgeon Nebosja Popovic - first in Belgium and then at a specialised hospital near Porto. All the while, Vítor Baía showed faith in his own will and rejected any psychological support. "I was perfectly aware of the risks," he said. The 33-year-old remembers the "tremendous pressure" he faced at the time, but a move back to Porto in 2000, after an initial return on loan, proved beneficial.

No regrets
Now he is through the barrier of his comeback, the player has no regrets. "I knew I was going to recover because I have a strong will and enjoyed the support of my wife and sons as well as the Porto management," he explained. "I also had the privilege of knowing who my true friends were. I found out about those people who seemed to be friends but walked away. There were so many rumours and a lot of wrong information. Only a few people believed I would be a top goalkeeper again."

Shining example
Vítor Baía recognises that he learned an important lesson, saying: "I have grown up a lot as a human being and as an athlete. Today I feel stronger and much better prepared to face any eventuality - any good or bad thing that can happen to me." Back at the top of his profession, he merely wants to "enjoy the matches, take pleasure from the game, enjoy being on the pitch again irrespective of whether my team wins or loses". By showing this ambition, confidence and willpower, Vítor Baía is an example of how players can overcome serious injury and haul themselves back up the ladder.

Fonte site da Uefa