Rivaldo last night gave the clearest indication yet that he is ready for a move to the Premiership. The Brazilian international, who has been in England most of the week in preparation for today's friendly against Jamaica at Leicester City's Walkers Stadium, admitted that life in Milan was "very tough at the moment" and that he would "be happy to play in the Premiership".
Rivaldo, who has already been linked with a number of high-profile English clubs in the last three years, said that the idea of trying his hand at British football "really appeals to me". "If there is no improvement in my position at Milan by December," he confirmed, "then I will look for an English club to join during the January transfer window."
Today's friendly against a Jamaican side that will be made up mainly of English-based players, is the perfect opportunity for Rivaldo to remind any interested managers that he is one of the best footballers in the world. "This game is a good showcase for me to display my skills to the big clubs in England," he said. "I always want to do well anyway, but this match will have an extra incentive."
Having won the World Cup and then the Champions' League within the last 14 months, one would expect Rivaldo to be one of the more contented footballers around. But he is miserable. Never the happiest looking of people at the best of times, Rivaldo's expression is even gloomier at the moment. It is clear that his team-mates are aware of his mood, because they spent much of Friday afternoon's training session at a health spa in Leicestershire praising his every pass and shot.
"This is not a very good moment for me," Rivaldo conceded, "because I am not playing in many matches at Milan. I was leaving the club until the president and the supporters asked me to stay a little longer. So now I'm waiting for my chance and I'll see what happens. I'm depressed, but the fact that there are English clubs interested in me is keeping me going."
It is difficult to see how the Brazilian midfielder will suddenly come into Carlo Ancelotti's plans at Milan, so an imminent switch to the Premiership does seem the most likely outcome. Rivaldo's ultimate English destination is a mystery, but the money that will be required to secure his signature is not. He is currently on £115,000 per week at Milan, a salary that no British club would match.
Even Chelsea. They are the obvious front runners, although Rivaldo was at pains to point out that, contrary to reports back in August, there had not yet been contact between the two parties. "The stories that were published about me and Chelsea were simply not true," he explained. "I have never spoken to anybody at the club." That may all change in the next few weeks if Chelsea start to struggle in the League, or indeed if there is a new Swedish manager in place with a desire to spend more of Roman Abramovich's money.
The other club with deep pockets are Manchester United, who, having missed out on the signature of his compatriot Ronaldinho, could be tempted to switch their attentions to Rivaldo. With Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out injured for three months, and no one else able to fill the role once performed by Eric Cantona and then Teddy Sheringham, Sir Alex Ferguson will probably be in the bidding war.
Other possible destinations for the 31-year-old are Newcastle or Arsenal. The latter option would make sense from a footballing point of view, not least because the club's current link-man between midfield and attack, Dennis Bergkamp, is nearing the end of his career. The problem is that the Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger is not one for purchasing big stars. Rather, the Frenchman prefers to bring in players with potential to nurture them into world-class talents.
There would be no such theory from Sir Bobby Robson, whose Barcelona team of 1996 came into contact with the then Deportivo La Coruña player. Whether the South American would adapt to the culture and climate of the North-east remains a legitimate concern, especially when one considers the limited success of Colombia's Faustino Asprilla.
On Friday, however, Rivaldo was at pains to point out that neither the English food nor weather were of any concern to him, but one wonders how much of that was a front.
There is another English club with whom he has been linked - Tottenham. The North London club made an offer in the summer of 2002, but Rivaldo plumped for Milan ahead of Spurs. The player then sent a personal letter to the board explaining why he had turned them down. "They had made a very nice approach," he said, "so I felt I had to be polite and tell them why I was going to Milan. I thought at the time I was making the right choice, because I needed a very big club after leaving Barcelona, but perhaps the Tottenham offer can be revived now."
Rivaldo will no doubt be a huge draw wherever he ends up, although perhaps he should avoid the Midlands. When a lady of a certain age in a leotard found the path to her next health treatment blocked on Friday, she enquired what the mêlée was all about. "It's Rivaldo," an excited journalist said, "he's being interviewed by Brazilian TV." "Well I'm sure he's a very nice chap," she retorted, "but I need to get to my pilates class."
Operation Europe for British clubs
Uefa Cup 1st round, 2nd legs, Wed
Blackburn Rovers (1) Genclerbirligi (1), 8.0
Graham Souness feels Brett Emerton's away goal brought Blackburn back into the tie. Yet the unfancied Turks created so many chances they too will be confident. One thing Souness does not lack is experience of European nights. Some cause for concern: Rovers have lost three of their four home Premiership matches.
Liverpool (1) Olimpija Ljubljana (1), 8.0
Loosen the top button, for a recovering Michael Owen is unlikely to take his place. Owen pounced 12 minutes from time for the all-important away goal and his 21st in Europe, before hobbling off against Arsenal. Even without him, the hosts should still be able to improve on their own limp first-leg performance.
Lokeren (2) Manchester City (3), 7.30
Having got into the competition via the Fair Play route, Kevin Keegan's men will need to roll up their sleeves and risk the odd card if they are to progress. Poor defending - a Club Keegan trait - means City cannot flirt with defeat. Having said that, they created so many chances that Fowler and Anelka's late goals earned a deserved win.
NAC Breda (0) Newcastle Utd (5), 7.15
Third from bottom in the Premiership, players on court charges, manager having to denying quitting. These are turbulent times for Newcastle, but a smooth passage to the next phase beckons after their 5-0 first-leg stroll - Craig Bellamy (2), Titus Bramble, Alan Shearer and Darren Ambrose - all but makes this irrelevant.
Steaua Bucharest (1) Southampton (1), 5.0
Don't mention the draw. On their first foray back in Europe after 19 years, the Saints were scripted to see off the Romanians with a bagful of goals before completing the job. In the event they needed Kevin Phillips's equaliser. You would have to back him or James Beattie winning this; what they can ill-afford is to fall behind again.
Perugia (2) Dundee (1), 7.30
To use the most over-hyped term in football, Jim Duffy was "gutted" to see Massimiliano Fusani score with six minutes left. "That was an education for us, but we are still in the tie," Dundee's manager said. Actually, probably not, as the Seria A club are unlikely to squander two away goals.
Zeljeznicar (0) Heart of Midlothian (2), 7.15
"We're going to Europe", sung to the theme of "My Way", is a familiar chant round Tynecastle, and thanks to Mark de Vries and Andy Webster the Scots are favourites to go to the second round at the expense of the Bosnians. Most importantly, Hearts did not concede an away goal.
Compiled by Gary LemkeReuse content