In the early years of Pro Evolution Soccer, when players’ resemblance to real-life footballers was just coincidence (ahem), R. Larcos was the one player you needed in your team.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2 was a fantastic arcade-style game; the sort of thing you could spend hours playing against friends to the point that ‘one last game’ became day turning into night and back into day once more.
Occasionally, though, you’d have the kind of responsibility no one wants: hours spent alone where you have to – god forbid – play the single-player Master League game. This was where you had to do your research, picking out the best players to give your team the biggest boost as early into the season as possible. Enter R. Larcos.
When you look at Pro Evo’s unofficial likenesses from the early 2000s, you begin to understand why Gareth Bale attempted to trademark his heart celebration.
Sure, the unlicensed players didn’t share names with those who they were meant to represent, but it was easy enough to tell who was who, from dreadlocked Dutch international ‘Oranges005’ to the very left-footed Welsh winger ‘Gigsi’.
So, when you saw a Brazil left-back with a shaven head and a distinctive free-kick run-up, we’re not sure any argument about resemblances to Roberto Carlos being purely coincidental would have held up in a court of law (or should that be a lourt of caw?).
When you were starting a Master League save, the main thing you needed was pace.
With the greatest will in the world to Iouga, Valeny, Minanda and the rest (if you know, you know), they were not exactly blessed with speed. If you wanted results in your first few games, your best course of action was often an Allardyce-style long ball game with an over-reliance on Minanda’s just-above-average set pieces, eking out the occasional long ball. For once, José Mourinho’s maxim that you wanted the other team to have the ball so they could make mistakes actually rang true.
A few games into the season, though, you’d invariably have enough budget to recruit exactly one new player from the transfer market. If there was a player available who was both faster than the rest and in possession of much greater stamina than anyone else on the pitch (for either team), it was a no-brainer.
Giving the ball to your best player and just letting them run with it was something you did in the playground, not in a ‘real’ football match. It felt like you were exploiting a glitch, not in the game of Pro Evo but in the game of football as a whole, and you were hardly going to stop just because it was ‘unfair’.
Whether out on the wing or through the middle, on the edge of the box or deep in your own half of the pitch, you were giving the ball to R. Larcos. And you weren’t expecting it back.
Of course, while the runs and goals from open play carried your team up the league, the main event came in the form of free-kicks.
Just like with Cristiano Ronaldo’s set-piece deliveries at Manchester United, you didn’t have any beef with the countless efforts which smacked into the wall or flew over the crossbar. This was because when it worked, it really worked.
Continuing to hand free-kicks to R. Larcos was like buying dozens of Wonka chocolate bars in the hope that one of them would contain the golden ticket you craved. The only difference was, when it came to the set pieces, you knew you would strike gold eventually. It was a matter of when, not if.
While he attention-to-detail on this game wasn’t always the best, there were times at which it felt Konami had invested its entire likeness budget on one player. And, do you know what, we were absolutely fine with that. The tiny steps, like a child about to enter a swimming pool for the first time. The almost counter-intuitive acceleration and lack of control as he drew closer to the ball. The perfect arc on the banana-kick. Perfect, every single part of it.
Nailing the little steps the real Roberto Carlos took when approaching a free-kick was completely unnecessary in the grander scheme of things, and yet – with the benefit of hindsight – it’s something we feel we couldn’t do without. After all, you can’t replicate an icon without replicating exactly what it was that made them iconic.
Just as football fans who grew up with Pro Evo have stuck with the same controls while playing Fifa (square to shoot, circle to cross), the ‘real’ Roberto Carlos will always be R. Larcos to a certain generation who will always owe him a debt of gratitude.
Even as your team grew more competent, outgrowing the default players and bringing in familiar faces like Shevchenko, Hierro and – yes – Oranges005. Even then, one man did all the heavy lifting himself. A solid defence and clinical front-line would be enough to reduce the number of situations where you needed bailing out, but they’d occasionally still arise. And when that happened, there was only one man for the task.
They don’t make them like R. Larcos any more. But then again, they don’t really make them at all.
by Tom Victor