They say there’s a chimpanzee seeing out its days in a Brazilian zoo that shudders at the mention of the name Edmundo. Its name is Pedrinho, and the talk is if you look deep into the primate’s eyes, it can almost recall the day the footballer took it on a journey of abandon and excess. Over a lost weekend, the rented chimp was plied with alcohol and nicotine before being photographed for posterity alongside the wide-eyed footballer. By the time it was returned to its shocked owners it was said to have had a thousand-yard stare like it had been up the river searching for Colonel Kurtz. Plainly, the whole incident didn’t mark out Edmundo as David Attenborough material.
For the notorious footballer it was just another incident in a long line of gonzo craziness. By the time he’d finally hung up his boots in 2008 he’d left behind a scurrilous wrecking ball of chaos that would be pretty much unsurpassed in the modern game. For Edmundo it was simply part of his make up. Nicknamed ‘the Animal’, he would combine a sense of pure anarchy off the pitch with a brilliant goal scoring talent too. First with the Brazilian side Vasco de Gama, he would mark his intent as a striker of real promise. It was with the Rio based club that he would forge an almost spiritual bond.
Although he would also have prolific spells with Palmeiras and Corinthians, his return to the club for a second spell in 1996 would coincide with them winning the league title and a spell of form for the centre-forward that would prove career defining. With almost a goal a game, it was only a matter of time before the big sides in Europe also took note, particularly the Italian clubs whose leverage in the transfer market at the time was noticeable. It would be Fiorentina who would finally win the race to acquire his services. In the process however they were to get a little bit more than they were bargaining for.
The authoritarian nature of Italian football was never a natural home for a Brazilian footballer – never mind one like Edmundo. He would clash with both the hierarchy of the club and the Italian press from the start. Under heavy scrutiny after one particularly bad performance, he would label the gathering football writers as chupa pau’s (cock-suckers). Alongside fellow striker Gabriel Batistuta, however, he would propel Fiorentina to Serie A’s summit by mid-season.
Unfortunately controversy wasn’t far away. As the Rio carnival loomed in his homeland, Edmundo took the ill-informed decision to leave for it unannounced and party for four days. The fallout was huge. Manager Giovanni Trapattoni hardly spoke to the player again, the Italian press had a field day and the club would eventually lose the title – blaming it for the most part on a Brazilian centre-forward who after the season ended would never play for the club again.
In response, Edmundo simply shrugged his shoulders and moved back to Brazil. A transfer back to his favourite club Vasco must have seemed a no brainer after his controversial stay in Italy. Unfortunately a few months into his return he was to run slap bang into his nemesis in another Brazilian centre forward whose exploits off the pitch were almost as famous as those on it.
To say Edmundo and Romario had history is a bit like saying North and South Korea have history. It had begun in 1998, when upon opening his own bar, Romario had placed a picture of his rival on a urinal door sitting on a deflated football. Edmundo hit the roof, claiming it was an insult against his football abilities. The bad blood was stoked further when it was claimed Romario had made reference to a car crash in 1995 Edmundo had been involved in. The striker had been at the wheel, and over the drink driving limit when three people had been tragically killed. It cast a dark shadow over the rest of his career and he was jailed for manslaughter. Not something the centre-forward needed reminding of by the football press or by his slightly hypocritical rival.
Romario had ended up at Vasco by default. An infamous sacking by Flamengo because of his incessant partying didn’t exactly make him a paragon of virtue in Edmundo’s eyes. Then there were his more salacious habits. A notorious ‘flesh taster’, the striker was well known as a sex addict in Brazil. ‘If you put lipstick on mud, he’d screw it.’, one of his ex-girlfriends had been quoted as saying, but like Edmundo he also had a glorious talent too. He was certainly a first choice for Vasco chairman Eurico Miranda. As the 2000 World Club Championship had loomed for the chairman, privately he had been worried about Edmundo’s temperament, particularly as Brazilian TV kept replaying the moment he’d missed a penalty and tried to kick a cameraman’s head off in response.
There was also the matter of their opponents. In the second game of the mini-competition they were to face Manchester United, who were seen as football aristocracy in Brazil. For the English club the tournament was something of a global marketing exercise. They had been heavily criticised back home for dropping out of the FA Cup because of it. In Brazil, however, it carried a lot of kudos and for Vasco chairman Miranda it was an extremely important moment. He wanted a good showing at any costs, even if it meant fielding two players who literally hated each other’s guts.
He needn’t have worried. Whatever differences Edmundo and Romario had off the pitch, they would gel brilliantly in the cauldron heat of the Maracana. From the off they simply mesmerised United, especially in a first half that probably ranked as the worst 45 minutes of Alex Ferguson’s reign. He would later describe the whole trip as “disastrous”, with the Vasco encounter in particular proving a low point.
Already two goals up in half an hour, courtesy of Romario, the game was already slipping away from the English side when Edmundo would produce a piece of audacious skill that would have graced any Brazilian side throughout history. Receiving the ball into his feet, he somehow span the ball past a lunging Mikael Silvestre and into the path of his own run before stabbing the home past Mark Bosnich. As he sprinted away celebrating, even Romario nodded appreciatively. The two wild men of Brazilian football had conspired to slay a flailing United with an ease that was eye opening.
It would also prove to be a final high point for Edmundo. Although he would sporadically turn out for the national side, there were simply too many world class strikers in front of him to make an impact on the international stage. He would play for a succession of clubs after that and pretty much score goals for all of them. A prolific spell for Figureinse in 2005, when he would help stave off relegation for the club, would be his swan song. He would finally retire in 2008, bringing to an end a career that had pretty much everything: death, goals, danger and drunk chimpanzees. In the history of modern football there’s not many players you can say that about.
By Craig Campbell for the SOUTH AMERICA series.