Arthur Antunes Coimbra: utmost idol and unsurpassed striker of Flamengo, the most popular football club in Brazil, and second highest scorer with the Brazilian national team.


Nicknamed "Arthurzico" by his younger sister, Zico was born on March seven, 1953, in the low mid-class neighborhood of Quintino, in the northern zone of Rio de Janeiro. Son to José Antunes Coimbra, a Portuguese tailor who came from Portugal to Brazil in his early childhood, and Matilde da Silva Coimbra, Zico grew up specially tiny and squalid amongst his five not so big brothers and sister. Obviously, his physical weakness had a great impact both is his personality and in the way he played. The young Zico was very creative and somewhat self-centered and, a bit later in his teenage phase, he would eventually develop a strong sense of discipline and strength of will, both very uncommon in that age.

Zico's mother put him to take piano and acting classes in his childhood, and he never stop studying: he managed to reach the fourth year in the faculty of Physical Education, which he was forced to leave when he was sold to Udinese. While none of this "side" education could prevent him from becoming a professional player (who are normally seen as poorly cultured citizens, no?), it in fact helped him to stand much above the average at understanding both the game and the "world in general", if you allow me the ready-made phrase.

In 1975, Zico married Sandra Carvalho de Sá, one of his brothers' sister-in-law. If his wife's word is to be taken as accurate, Zico is a very kind husband and father, taking part not only in the education of their three sons but also in more mundane activities such as diaper switching.

Blessings in Flamengo, curses in the World Cup


Zico began his career as a professional footballer playing for Flamengo when he was 17 years old, in 1971. Although he won the Rio de Janeiro state championship in his debut year, his early years in Flamengo weren’t all that easy. Even being technically brilliant, he was still very slim and fragile for a footballer. Many people from inside Flamengo did not trust that such a feeble teenager might become a successful player, but George Helal, then Flamengo’s president, stuck with Zico. He convoked a team of doctors that set up a training and medication plan that, in four years, made Zico grow up six centimeters and to gain nine more kilograms of muscular mass. Physical practice was in its beginnings then in the realm of football, and so this procedure caused many troubles to Zico: many people, specially journalists and fans of Flamengo’s rivals, still doubted him, and some even started to refer to Zico as a laboratory-made freak, a Frankenstein of sorts who only by unnatural means could cope with the game. This was bullshit, obviously; today most players that are considered to have a physical disadvantage in relation to their opponents are trained that same way. After four years of training, Zico was up for the show.

For sixteen seasons, from 1971 to 1989, with an interregnum in 83/85 when he played for Udinese, Zico shined with Flamengo and Brazil’s shirt, spotting a total of 745 goals, 333 of which in the Maracanã, home of Flamengo. Zico won every single title that there was to be won by a Brazilian football club. Zico and a brilliant generation that sprang then in Flamengo’s pre-professional teams eventually turned out to be the most victorious team of the 80’s in Brazil, having seized the Brazilian championship four times: ’80, ’82, ’83 and ’87, plus the Libertadores de America and the Intercontinental Cup against Liverpool in ’81.

Few players have such impressive scores in Brazil and elsewhere, but a big frustration plagued him for his entire career: his failures in the three editions of the World Cup he played, in Argentina ’78, Spain ’82 and Mexico ’86.

The first frustration was in 1978, when the Argentineans seized their first cup and Brazil, although returning undefeated and with a third place award, was in fact a mediocre, rather defensive team, and Zico was far-off from his best. In 1982, however, he took part in one that some believe to be the best Brazilian assemblage of all time, rising above even the fantastic lineup of 1970. But in the decisive match at the Sarriá stadium in Barcelona by the quarterfinals, neither the brilliancy of the Brazilians nor the tedious style of the Italian team could prevent another defeat for Zico. Although Brazil was looking for not more than a tie to reach the semifinals, the Italians expunged Brazil from the '82 World Cup with a 3-2 victory.

However defeated, Zico was by far the best player in that competition, thus wetting the appetite of an obscure (yet very rich) Italian club, the Udinese. In the following year they reached an agreement with Flamengo’s administrative body by which Zico was to be sold to Udine and stay there for three years. "Detail": Zico was not aware of anything until the agreement was closed, that is, Flamengo did not feel like keeping him anymore. Zico went to Italy, not before making it very clear that he didn’t want to go. Two years later he was bought back by Flamengo, which spent more money to bring him back than it earn by selling him. Why did they make it, then? Well, well, no such thing as "cause" when it comes to Brazilian football management.

Unluckily, in his new debut with Flamengo’s jersey after his return from Udine, Zico suffered an injury in the right knee -- caused by a ghastly foul by an antagonist, which left him away from the game during the next year. He recovered just before the Mexico World Cup.

In 1986, four years after the tragedy of Sarriá, Zico was again under the curse of the World Cup. Brazil’s defeat to France in the penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie was specialty painful to him, because he missed a penalty during the 90’s that could give the victory to Brazil, but alas, he missed, and Brazil was once again kicked out. Zico was then 33 years old, and that was his last World Cup.

One flew over the cuckoo's nest


Zico was the president of Rio de Janeiro's Football Player Union for a period in the late 80's. Although that commitment to political activism shows his will to do something useful, it seems to me that Zico is also a somewhat naive man. In his quest to make things work "like they should work", sometimes he accepts involvement with people that obviously have very different, even opposite, worldviews: people that are corrupt, surreptitious filchers. He most likely knows this, but for some reason he trusts that he can do his work amongst these people and maintain his honesty unblemished. Perhaps he thinks that popular support can back him against the ills of dishonesty? He was deceived twice: first in 1990, when he took office as National Secretary of Sports, under the ill-famed government of Fernando Collor de Melo, who was spat out of the presidential chair after a bribery scandal in 1992. Zico left the government before that, in 1991, but I still keep wondering why on earth would he feel that he could do something positive while in there.

The second time was at least a little less awkward, was in his partaking in the Brazilian national team technical staff that went to France World Cup in 1998. Confusions, mismanagements and a quite inspired Zinedine Zidane eventually sent the Brazilians back with a 0-3 defeat on the final match. It became clear during the campaign that Zico and the Brazilian coach M.J.L. Zagallo had quite dissimilar concepts on how to conduct things. While Zico favored discipline and humbleness, Zagallo was some sort of cantankerous and overconfident old man, who apparently believed that no one could ever win against Brazil. In any case, France beat Brazil, and Zico and Zagallo alike were ousted from their posts.

"Jico san"

After his demise from Flamengo and the national team, Zico was invited to participate in an ambitious project in Japan. He took a decisive part in the drafting of what came to be the J-league, the Japanese national championship, in 1991. He helped to found the Sumimoto, which later changed its name to Kashima Antlers. Zico not only acted as a manager and "CEO" of the new club, but he as well played three more years for it, spotting 54 goals in 88 matches. Zico is undoubtedly the man responsible for the popularization of football in Japan.

* * *

Zico is possibly the second best Brazilian player of all-time (second only to 'him', of course), and certainly few players in the whole world have numbers so impressive as his. He won the Brazilian Championship four times with Flamengo ('80, '81, '83 and '87), the Rio de Janeiro State Championship in 1972, '74, '78, '78, '81 and '86 and the Libertadores de America and the Intercontinental Cup in ’81.

His goals in official matches shall be presented in the unavoidable stats table:

Team                    Games           Goals
Flamengo                765             568 (club's all-time top scorer)
Undinese                79              57
National Team           89              66  (second scorer, loses to Pelé (104))
Sumimoto/Kashima        88              54
_________________       _____           ____
Total                   1021            745       


Sources: (official website)