There are 25 of them, but there may as well be 50 or 100, as many have created the football-art that is practiced in Brazil. Gods or heroes, idols of many generations, they can also be seen as angels whose wings transport them through space to the cathedral where their inventiveness, the poetry and the magic of the game is worshiped. They are truly baroque angels!
BEBETO Salvador, BA, 1964
Excellent striker, expert in passes, has great speed, always towards the goal. Successor of Zico in Flamengo and ideal partner for Romário during the four-time world championship campaign. He also played for Vasco, Botafogo and clubs of Spain, Mexico, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
CARLOS ALBERTO TORRES Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1944
The “Tri-championship Captain”, as he has been known since 1970, stands as the perfect model of the modern right back following the generation of Nílton Santos. With technique, class and balance. He was as effective on defense as on easel and offensive actions. Fluminense, Santos, Botafogo, and New York Cosmos were his clubs.
DIDI Campos, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1929-2001
The meandering dribble, the pass with effect, and the ‘dry leaf’ are some of his style’s contributions to the football of the twice world champion. The international press considered him the best player of the 1958 World Cup, and he was one of the survivors of the 1954 failure. A cold and cerebral player, his presence on the field had, for Nelson Rodrigues, the nobility of an “Ethiopian prince of the ranch”.
DJALMA SANTOS São Paulo, SP, 1929 – 2013
It only took him one match – the final against Sweden – to be the best right back of the 1958 World Cup. Four years later, already an absolute as a starter, he was on the team that won Brazil’s second world championship in Chile. In 1963, he was the only Brazilian in the team FIFA selected to play against England in the celebration of the centennial of football. A star in Portuguesa and Palmeiras, he won several state and national titles. Balance, quick thinking, technicality and physical vigor were his most outstanding qualities. He was great in support and relentless on the marking, never taking advantage of faults to neutralize an opponent.
FALCÃO Abelardo Luz, SC, 1953
The most notable midfielder attacker of his generation, he brought together all the qualities (creativity, dynamic, tactical knowledge and offensive power) required for the total and solidary football of the turn of the 1980s. He was crowned “King of Rome” after playing in Italy for five years. He debuted on International, a team from the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and retired on São Paulo.
GARRINCHA Pau Grande, RJ, 1933-1983
More than a player, he was a phenomenon, or rather, a symbol. A symbol of how the impossible – following the example of his own birthplace – can become possible: he was bandy-legged, illiterate and immature, latter leading to a wild life. His repertoire of moves was limited to a predictable dribbling from the right. In spite of all of those, he was one of the greatest players of all times. Twice world champion (the second title being mainly his work), he played football like he was doing it only for fun. And jokingly, he became a feared weapon by every defense in the world.
GÉRSON Niterói, RJ, 1941
Known as “Canhotinha de Ouro”, for his “Golden” left kick, he is one of the rare Brazilian players who only needed the left foot to lend to the ball the glamour of art. With only one difference: unlike most, he was a technician in the field, a strategist midfielder, an organizer, a master in his game vision. He won Brazil’s three-time championship in Mexico, and also played for Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense and São Paulo.
GILMAR Santos, SP, 1930 – 2013
His serenity – even while holding the lone, nerve-wrecking position of goalkeeper – was decisive for Brazil’s first and second world titles, in Sweden and Chile. Besides it, good reflexes, sharp eyes, steady hands and elasticity for long runs were also important features of his.
JAIRZINHO Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1944
He managed to score in each and every match Brazil played throughout the victorious 1970 World Cup, a time when he was at his best both physically and technically. His impetus, the way he grubbed for the goal and beat the defenders ahead of him, justified the nickname he received: “Hurricane”. A revelation of Botafogo, he also played for clubs in Belo Horizonte, São Paulo, Manaus, Venezuela and Ecuador.
JULINHO BOTELHO São Paulo, SP, 1929-2003
His lack of luck left him out of two World Cups won by Brazil – in 1958 he was playing in Italy and in 1962 he ended up injuring himself. Still – fast, outstanding on short dribbles, creative and master of a strong kick –, he established himself as Brazil’s most complete right wing, and one of the best in the world. He was a champion in Portuguesa and Palmeiras, an idol and champion for Italy’s Fiorentina, and the first Brazilian to win abroad. With his spectacular performance, he triggered one of the greatest boos ever heard at Maracanã, turning it into an ovation when, one year after the first World Cup had been won, he replaced Garrincha in a friendly match with England’s national team.
NÍLTON SANTOS Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1925-2013
He was the perfect link between his precursor Domingos da Guia, with his classic style, and his successor Carlos Alberto Torres, with his role of offensive right back. For his talent and his vocation to be a striker (developed from his street football practice, in Flecheiras), Nílton Santos was the first right back to project himself consciously into the opposing field, which was not allowed until then. Having played for Botafogo, he was an absolute starter for the Brazilian national team that won the country’s first world title.
PELÉ Três Corações, MG, 1940
Athlete of the Century, King, the greatest in history, genius and living proof of the existence of perfection – all those praises were given to him. Perfect in dribbling, passing, playing one-twos, heading, kicking and scoring goals, his talent is a precious fusion of beauty and efficiency, resourcefulness and irresistibility. After winning three World Cups, two world championships for clubs, and countless state and national titles, he achieved another record: scoring 1282 goals. After retiring in Brazil, he decided to devote himself to a different challenge: teaching North Americans to enjoy soccer.
RIVALDO Paulista, PE, 1972
Though a victim of the injustice of the international press, that elected a German goalkeeper the best player of the 2002 World Cup, Rivaldo was an attacking midfielder whose short dribbles, body swing, raw passes and very well-aimed kicks were essential for the Brazilian team to conquer its fifth world championship. His first club was Santa Cruz, and after it he played for Mogi Mirim, Corinthians, Palmeiras, Deportivo la Coruña, Barcelona, Milan, and Cruzeiro. He came back to Brazil in 2011, and since then had played for São Paulo, São Caetano and Mogi Mirim.
RIVELLINO São Paulo, SP, 1946
The efficiency of his left foot led some people to compare him to Gérson, but Rivellino was not that tactical, while Gérson was not that offensive – obvious differences when they played together in Brazil’s campaign for the third world title. A superstar, he was an idol for Corinthians and, after it, for Fluminense, in which he was the main player. His last year of activity was in Al Hilal, Saudi Arabia.
ROBERTO CARLOS Garça, SP, 1973
World champion in 2002 and owner of an incredibly powerful kick, he was able to make the ball travel at 120 km/h. He is the second all-time player to play the most for the Brazilian national team, with 125 matches between 1992 and 2006, being only behind Cafu, who played 142. That’s how the left back Roberto Carlos da Silva won his place in the history of Brazilian and world football.
ROMÁRIO Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1966
Number one striker of his generation, champion of Brazil’s fourth World Cup, Romário is swift, decisive, opportunistic and precise, the last representative of the successful traditional center-forward strategy, having as field of action the opposing penalty area, rarely coming from further behind. True to that style, he scored over a thousand goals in clubs in Brazil, Spain, the Netherlands and Qatar. He was elected the best player of the 1994 World Cup.
RONALDINHO GAÚCHO Porto Alegre, RS, 1980
The youngest player in this gallery, he was a very early revelation, fulfilling his promise by rising quickly to the Brazilian national team. He is one of the most technical and creative ball controllers the world has ever seen. He has shone in Paris Saint- Germain, Barcelona, and Milan, and later on, back to Brazil, in Flamengo and Atlético Mineiro, where he won the Copa Libertadores da América in 2013.
RONALDO Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1976
The Italians called him “Phenomenon”, a term that would end up as a surname. Outstanding striker. For his surging towards the goal, he modernized the striker’s role, represented by Romário, to whom he was a reserve player in 1994. Elected three times the world’s best, he played for clubs in the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. After a miserable 1998 World Cup, he was rehabilitated in 2002, when Brazil won its fifth cup, and was top scorer of that cup. Back to Brazil in 2009, he became one of the idols of Corinthians.
SÓCRATES Belém, PA, 1954-2011
The “Doctor” (he actually had a medical degree) was technical, intelligent, and always found the place where his team would take the most benefit from, between the midfield and forwards. He played for Botafogo SP, Corinthians (where he won three championships), Flamengo, Santos, the Fiorentina in Italy, and Brazil’s national team. He lost two World Cups, in 1982 and 1986, but that fact didn’t stole his glow as one of the greatest players of the 1980s.
TAFFAREL Santa Rosa, RS, 1966
He was one of the most conscious goalkeepers of Brazil, and knew the physical and psychological requirements of the position in terms of special training – few were so well prepared as he was. His good defense of decisive penalty shoots, including one during the fourth World Cup won by Brazil, was due to that.
TOSTÃO Belo Horizonte, MG, 1947
After seeing him playing in the three time world champion team in 1970, the Scottish journalist Hugh McIlvanney predicted that his player profile would be regarded the best football style in the following World Cup. In fact, Tostão would not be in it (he abandoned his career one year previously to the tournament), but the vision, the occupation of spaces, the constant alternation of positions and tactical intelligence, all played with a perfection of individual technique, would make him the most modern player of his era, an anticipation of what Johann Cruyff and his Dutch “total football” would show in 1974, in Germany.
VAVÁ Recife, PE, 1934—2002
He was able to disrupt the defense with strength, courage, and lacking fear when facing the toughest markers. And yet, he could not be confused with other players with these characteristics, the so-called “tanks”. Alongside his physical stamina and guts, Vavá also used his technique to become Brazil’s top scorer in the 1958 and 1962 victories.
ZAGALLO Maceió, AL, 1931
Zagallo is a winner. More than that, in the history of world football, he is one of the biggest collectors of titles: two-time world champion as a player, one as a coach and one as assistant coach. He is also a tireless worker. For his simple, practical, supportive, intelligent, and hardworking football style, he was nicknamed “Formiguinha” (Little Ant). An ace in a generation destined to win. Like himself.
ZICO Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 1953
A sophisticated physical training program turned a skinny kid into an athlete when he went to train in Flamengo in 1971, becoming the greatest idol in the club’s history. A master in his technique – dribbling, runs for the goal, speedy one-twos, free kicks – and an instinctive striker, he was a complete player. The loss of a penalty in the game that eliminated Brazil in the 1986 World Cup stripped his bio of the definitive, consecrating chapter that he deserved.
ZIZINHO São Gonçalo, RJ, 1921-2002
The most complete Brazilian player of the 1940s and 1950s. Not coincidentally, even his opponents called him a “master”; also not coincidentally, the king Pelé got to know him closely and was inspired by him in 1957. The year was also that of Pelé’s debut in Santos, a 16 years old boy, and Zizinho’s prime year as a 36 year old veteran for São Paulo. Before that, Zizinho had played for Flamengo and Bangu. He was a master in creating plays, passing, dribbling, tactical positioning and finishing, being elected the best player of the 1950 World Cup, when an Italian journalist compared him to Leonardo da Vinci “creating masterpieces with his feet”.