Zico of Brazil, born Arthur Antunes Coimbra at Rio in 1953, was the youngest of five footballing brothers. He made his league debut for Flamengo in 1973 and his international debut in 1976, against Uruguay, scoring with one dead-ball shots for which he became famous. Zico netted over 100 goals in his first two seasons and was South American Player of the Year in 1977 (and in 1981 and 1982).
In the 1978 World Cup he suffered niggling injuries and was unhappy with Coach Claudio Coutinho’s defensive game. In 1982 however, Brazil returned to the attacking style which suited Zico’s change of pace, body-swerves and dynamic shooting. His hat-trick against Bolivia clinched a place in the 1982 finals and in Spain his four goals, including the equalizer against Scotland, took his total for Brazil past 50.
(Planet World Cup)
Zico is arguably the greatest footballer to never win a World Cup and quite simply one of the greatest attacking midfielders to pull on a pair of football boots. Despite the national team’s failures in 1978, ’82 and ’86, Zico’s style, confidence and breath-taking free-kicks maintained the hereditary line of golden football greatness.
Often called the White Pelé, he is commonly considered one of the most skilled dribblers and finishers ever and possibly the world’s best player of the early 80’s. He was also known as one of history’s greatest free kick specialists, able to bend the ball with pace and accuracy as well as having an extremely powerful shot.
He is the greatest scorer on Flamengo’s history, with 508 goals on 731 games. He is the idol of a nation of more than 35 million fans all around the Brazilian country. He scored 333 times on Maracanã, a record not yet broken by any other player. It is not possible to precise the exact moment that a man turns into an idol, when it happens naturally, with no influence of image building resources. Zico is a true old-fashioned kind of example, once it all started from the cozy neighborhood of Quintino, by the feet of a gifted boy, filled with love for soccer, respect, discipline and lots of courage. Just to mention some of the mix main ingredients, nothing artificial or built up.
During his childhood, his relation with the ball was already very affective. Zico used to sleep with it next to his pillow, treating it with a lot of tenderness. It could be just a ball made of socks or at table soccer game, but his attentions were always focused on it. And on its turn, the ball never let him down. It learned to be always near his feet and to obey his will on the way to the goal.
Zico’s first memories of Maracanã date from April 23 of 1961, when he was only eight years old. And that day was marked by the beginning of the love affair between the all-star and the Temple of Soccer. Taken by his father to a game in which Flamengo ended up conquering the Rio-São Paulo tournament, the little Arthur could watch a very talented player called Edvaldo Alves de Santa Rosa, also known as Dida. Flamengo’s number 10 scored twice for the championship and for the place of idol on Zico’s heart. The little boy was completely fascinated. There are also who swear that this love story started much earlier. “Di-Da” would have been one of the first words spoken by Zico, at the age of two.
With the same number 10 that once belonged to Dida, Zico surpassed the mark that once also belonged to his idol. He scored 333 times for Flamengo on the Temple of Soccer. He also scored six times on a match against Goytacaz, by the State Championship of 1979 (7 to 1), equaling the feat of the man that once inspired him.
Dida passed away at the age of 68. The testimony below, part of the biography ‘Dida: Histories of a champion’, written by his brother Luiz Alves, Gávea’s number 10 during the fifties and sixties makes an affectionate analysis of the all-star, fan and friend:
“Some people relate Zico’s fame to the idea that he was a pre-fabricated all-star, a lab product. But this is not true. What led Zico to a glorious career was his simplicity and, in a more significant level, his congenital technical qualities, attributes that no laboratory or machine could ever create. No machine could teach him the perfect shoots that became his trademark, and could not either tell him how to see the game from inside the field. No computer in this world, no matter how advanced it may be, would be able to teach him how to execute those perfect free kicks in a way that only he could ever do. Zico’s extraordinary reflex is a natural born quality, something no laboratory could create. Zico is a much more complete player than I ever was… If I had such a firm kick, I would have gone much further in soccer”
In common with many Brazilians, he spent much of his youth dreaming of playing professional football. In 1967, while still a teenager, he had a scheduled trial at América, where his brothers Antunes and Edu were playing at the time. But he caught the attention of the radio reporter and friend, Celso Garcia, who asked Zico’s father to take him to a trial at Flamengo instead. Being a fan of Flamengo, Zico had his father’s approval, beginning his path towards being one of the most admired players in history of the sport.
Physically Zico was not strong, and his history of determination and discipline began with a hard muscle and body development program conducted by the Physical Education teacher José Roberto Francalacci. A combination of hard work and also a special diet sponsored by his team enabled him to develop a strong body and become an athlete. This later proved to be essential for his success.
In 1971, he had some appearances in the professional team but only one year later, after 116 matches and 81 goals in the youth team, Zico was promoted to Flamengo’s professional squad.
While at Flamengo, Zico was a key player during the most glorious period of the team’s history. Along with many other titles, in his first period at Flamengo he led the team to victory in the 1981 Copa Libertadores, the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, and four national titles (1980/82/83/87). On the field, Zico made goals in all imaginable ways, was also a great assister and team organizer, and was known for his excellent vision of the field. He was a two-footed player and an expert at free kicks.
With 731 matches for Flamengo, Zico is the player with the 2nd most appearances for the club. His 508 goals make him the club’s top scorer ever. The achievements of the greatest idol in Flamengo’s history inspired the Brazilian singer Jorge Benjor to write a song in his honour – Camisa 10 da Gávea – helping create the mystique of the club’s number 10.
In the 1978 World Cup against Sweden, Zico headed a corner kick into the goal in the final minute of the match, apparently breaking a 1–1 tie. However, in a call that became infamous, the Welsh referee Clive Thomas disallowed the goal, saying that he had blown the whistle to end the match while the ball was still in the air.
1982 World Cup would see Zico as part of a fantastic squad, side by side with Falcão, Sócrates, Cerezo and Júnior. In spite of his 4 goals and great skills by that squad, the team was defeated by Paolo Rossi and Italy in the second round.
In 1983 after 650 goals and four Brazilian championship medals, Zico made a £2.500.000 move to Udinese.
Zico played in three games in the 1986 World Cup, all as a substitute. His last match was the quarter-final against France when Brazilian fans chanted for him. Alas, minutes later he missed a penalty. It was a sad end for one of Brazil’s most popular players of all time. After 1047 senior games, including 71 for Brazil, he eventually retired in 1990 and was appointed his country’s Sports Minister.