Prior to this summer’s World Cup, Brazil were hit by an injury in a department that was far from its greatest strength. Right back Dani Alves of Paris Saint-Germain damaged knee ligaments in the French Cup final and suddenly the race was on to find his replacement. Despite initial worries, the two faced with replacing the talismanic Alves were Danilo, a £25m signing for Manchester City, and Fagner, who was also a championship winner with Corinthians.
Although these two options were far from the calibre of world-class luminaries such as Carlos Alberto and Cafu, they were more than capable of filling the void, on paper, for the Seleção. Certainly, Tite’s plight was a world away from the conundrum that faced Tele Santana prior to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
The famed, but ultimately failed, Brazil side from España ’82 had aged four more years by the time they arrived in Guadalajara. Leandro, the Flamengo right back who’s rampaging runs and decisive crosses added another dimension to Brazil’s attacking powerhouse was hit with a dilemma. Winger Renato fell foul of Santana’s strict regime one too many times having missed training due to his propensity for partying. Santana, keen to avoid the failings of 1982, dropped the Gremio man from his squad and with it his place at the World Cup.
Leandro considered himself a principled man and upon hearing what had happened to his close friend informed the national manager that he too would withdraw from the squad in a bizarre act of solidarity. Next up in the pecking order was Edson, who duly took his place at right-back for Brazil’s opening victory over hosts Spain. It was in the second game with Algeria, however, that the injury bug bit when the Corinthians defender twisted his knee, forcing Falcão to slot into defence for the remainder of the narrow 1-0 win.
Santana was keen to avoid deploying Falcao in an unfamiliar position again for the final group game with Northern Ireland and, with two wins already under their belt, the manager looked for a stop gap. During preparation for the game, Alemão was instructed to drop back into the full-back position only for a relatively unknown squad member to speak up and stake his name for a place in the team.
The squad make-weight was Josimar, a 24-year-old from Rio who had seen his contract with Botafogo end and was therefore technically without a club. He had played for O Glorioso since 1982 and they had spent the season leading up to the World Cup languishing in mid-table. His steady performances, however, had caught Santana’s attention, but he had yet to make an appearance for his country.
Josimar, disappointed to see he was being overlooked again, decided enough was enough and approached his coach at training to vent his feelings. “I told Santana he was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole,” he told FourFourTwo. “He brought me into the squad to play, so he should play me.” Suddenly someone there to make up the numbers was thrust into the first team, an opportunity that debutant Josimar would grab with both hands.
Under the sweltering midday sun of Guadalajara, Northern Ireland set out to gain their first win of the tournament against a Brazil side looking to cement their place as group winners. Some 51,000 fans crammed into the Estadio Jalisco and it wasn’t long before the weight of the Northern Irish task increased tenfold when in the 15th minute Careca rifled a bouncing shot past Pat Jennings, who had to pick the ball out of his net on his 41st birthday. Meanwhile Josimar, wearing the number 13 shirt, had been given license to maraud down the right flank as Brazil controlled the game’s tempo.
The erstwhile Jennings, in what would be his final appearance for his country, stopped Brazil from inflicting further damage until shortly before halftime when a moment of brilliance gave the Samba nation an unassailable 2-0 lead. With half-time approaching Northern Ireland were forced to retreat deeper and deeper, Brazil stroking the ball around midfield with their usual confident swagger. Alemão rolled the ball into the feet of Josimar who had come in from the right side, taking advantage of the energy sapped Green and White Army.
Josimar’s first touch pushed the ball into his stride and, with the wilting defence unable to close the space quick enough, he unleashed a 30-yard rocket that soared up and over Jennings and into the top corner of the goal. The reaction from the Norn Iron goalkeeper said all you needed to know about the ferocity of the strike, Jennings unable to even raise a hand towards the ball before it had beat him.
Arms thrust into the air like an NFL official signalling a touchdown, Josimar high-stepped away in celebration, one that would be repeated across parks and playgrounds all that summer. A second goal from Careca shortly before full time sealed Brazil’s place in the next round but for fans of the Seleção, a star was born in their new goal-scoring right back.
A goal on his debut repaid the faith that Santana had shown in Josimar, who kept his place for their last 16 game. Poland had lost 3-0 to England in their previous game, Gary Lineker with three goals that would help him secure the Golden Boot. Despite this, Poland qualified as one of the best third-placed teams and headed for Guadalajara and the unenviable task of stopping the Brazilian juggernaut.
Poland stemmed the tide of Brazilian attacks until the half-hour mark when Careca was clumsily bundled to the floor in the area. German referee Volker Roth in no doubt as he pointed to the spot, Socrates converted with ease after a leisurely two-step run-up. With the searing Mexican heat coming into effect Brazil looked to finish the Poles off early in the second half.
A lack of discipline from Poland again proved their downfall when Alemão was felled some 30 yards from goal. The resulting free-kick saw a speculative drive from Edinson blocked by the steadfast Polish wall. Josimar was in his usual advanced position and was played in from the rebound. He weaved in and out of two defenders and shrugged off a last-ditch challenge before cannoning in a shot from an acute angle. The shot flashed past a shocked Jozef Mlynarczyk in the Poland goal, as the ball found the same top corner as the effort against Northern Ireland.
The celebration returned, Josimar ran towards the fans, hands stretched upwards before jumping to punch the air. The Poles were deflated, two further goals gave the scoreline an emphatic looking 4-0 finish, yet the rampaging right-back was the name on everyone’s lips.
Goals in his first two appearances for the national side on the world’s biggest stage had made the opposition sit up and take notice. Brazil’s record of not conceding ended in the quarter-final, however, when Michel Platini cancelled out Careca’s opener as the game ended with a penalty shootout. The usually dependable Socrates missed the opening kick and when defender Julio Cesar saw his effort smash off the French post, Luis Fernandez put the final nail in the Seleção coffin.
A Brazil side that looked unstoppable were on their way home, fans unaware of the bitter infighting that occurred within the squad. Injuries had cost Socrates his influential position amongst his teammates, whilst clashes between both the younger and more experienced squad members saw them fail to click as a unit. The fitness of talisman Zico another question mark that hung over the squad that summer. Josimar, however, was named in the team of the tournament and looked to have the world at his feet.
He re-signed with Botafogo on his return home yet would only make a further 13 appearances for his country. A failed move to Spain with Seville soon saw him head back to Brazil where he signed for Flamengo before bouncing around the lower leagues for the next seven years. What happened to Josimar following that memorable summer in Mexico? “The blondes came, and the training went,” the man explained in his own words. “I wasted it all.”
The overnight celebrity left Josimar ill-equipped to all that his new-found fame had to offer. The trappings of a party lifestyle cost Josimar his career and his family, losing touch with his children over the intervening years. Former teammate Jorginho saw he had hit rock bottom during a Masters tournament and helped his old friend back to his feet by securing him a coaching role at a futsal school in Rio.
For Josimar, it is an all too familiar story of rags to riches and back again that has plagued South American football over the years, where players who come from relative poverty are incapable of adjusting to fame and all the pitfalls it provides.
By Matt Evans for the SOUTH AMERICA series