Evaristo: the goal machine who straddled El Clásico’s divide

Moving from Barcelona to Real Madrid: it is like leaving your partner for their school bully, isn’t it? Or, imagine leaving a job at Apple and strolling through the revolving door of Samsung’s swanky office – the reaction would be quite similar.

Today, anyone who would dare to move from Barça to play for their El Clásico rivals in Spain’s capital city would be looked down upon. Luís Figo’s move to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium from Catalonia in 2000 instigated the start of Florentino Pérez’s Galáctico era, and was the beginning of a difficult spell at the Camp Nou. When he returned wearing the white of Real, he was met by a rain of coins, glass, weapons and a pig’s head when he set foot close to the terraces full of Catalans staring down at him from high in the sky.

It seems unfathomable, then, that a player capable of making such a move between Spain’s two football heavyweights could be remembered so fondly – especially whilst Real fan and dictator Francisco Franco ruled the nation with unwavering vengeance and anger towards the people of Catalonia and their bid for independence. But, let that be the measure of striker Evaristo de Macedo Filho’s success in both blaugrana, and white during an impressive career.

Born in Rio de Janeiro in 1933, he played for Madureira and Flamengo – where he won three Rio State Championships – before moving to Barcelona in 1957 after being scouted by the club’s technical secretary and former Real and Barça player, Josep Samitier. By this point, he had already featured for Brazil. In the same year as his move to Spain, he became the first Seleção player to score five goals in one fixture, against Colombia.

He was partnered up front at the Camp Nou with Eulogio Martínez, a Paraguayan forward signed from Libertad a year previous. In the 1957/58 La Liga season, their first campaign as a pair, they scored 23 goals between them followed by 108 in the following four years. Under the management of Domingo Balanya and then Helenio Herrera, Barça won two league titles, two Fairs Cups and a solitary Copa del Rey with the South American duo together in attack.

In Madrid, though, Real were beginning to assert their dominance; they were crowned European champions five times in a row between 1956 and 1960 following the creation of the European Cup, and won the 1960 Intercontinental Cup after overcoming Uruguay’s Club Atlético Peñarol 5-1 on aggregate thanks to stellar displays from Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. Evaristo, though, was still recognised as one of the best finishers amongst the array of talent around the world at the time.

Comparisons can be made between him and Liverpool’s current Seleção star, Roberto Firmino. Like Jürgen Klopp’s prized striker, he was skillful, willing to dribble at his marker, comfortable using both feet to shoot and pass, surprisingly quick and underrated in the air. Barça forwards in the club’s glory years have always possessed the kind of courage and determination that he had in abundance.

In 1960, he wrote his name into the history books: he scored against Real to knock them out of the European Cup for the very first time. It is worth remembering that, despite the club’s dominance this century, Barça had only featured in one of the first five European Cup tournaments – they reached the semi-final stage in 1959, losing out to Los Blancos.

The two sides met in the first round of the 1960/61 edition of the competition, on November 9, 1960. The first leg, played at the Bernabéu, finished 2-2 after Spaniard Luis Suárez – years before his Uruguayan namesake was born – scored a late penalty for the visitors.

Two weeks later, they met again at the Camp Nou; Martín Vergés and Evaristo’s volley from the edge of the penalty area fired Barça into a two-goal lead. Canário scored for Real to set up a tense finish, but Ljubiša Broćić’s side held on to win 4-3 on aggregate.

Barça beat FC Hradec Králové of Czechoslovakia and Hamburger SV to reach the final at Bern’s Wankdorf Stadium, but they lost 3-2 to SL Benfica despite going 1-0 in front through Sándor Kocsis’ early goal. By this point, Evaristo was Barça’s regular striker, with Martínez struggling with his weight and fitness, alongside Suárez and Hungarians Zoltán Czibor, László Kubala and Kocsis.

Back then, rules about swapping between national teams were much, much more relaxed. Di Stéfano, who was born in Argentina, played for his country of birth, Colombia and then Spain. The Spanish football authorities tried to convince Evaristo, in 1962, to make a similar switch from Brazil, with minutes hard to come by ahead of Pelé’s obvious talents in attack.

However, he refused, deciding that he did not want to be nationalised as a Spanish citizen. Whilst La Liga rules state that each club can register only three non-European players at any one time, Spain were also keen to assemble their own dream team with Barça’s help; Kubala agreed to play for Spain and Catalonia.

Screen shot 2018-09-05 at 09.42.06
credit: FCBarcelona.com

Evaristo was deemed surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou as a result, but he had his suitors – he swiftly agreed to join Miguel Muñoz’s Real. It was a move that should have sent bigger political shockwaves than Figo’s world-record €62 million transfer nearly half a century later did, because Franco was at his wicked peak as Spain’s ruthless dictator at the time.

In 1939, at the end of the Spanish Civil War, after Valencia and Madrid fell to the Nationalists fighting against the Republican, government forces, Franco’s regime began when he triumphantly placed his sword on the altar of a church – his brutal reign as the Caudillo de España (Leader of Spain) lasted until his death in 1975.

Back then, most of the different regions in Spain, including Catalonia, had their own dialects, flags and other traditions – Franco was a monarchist and strived for centralisation, centering his ideas around the Castilian region, where the city of Madrid is situated. To this day some of Spain’s regions, like the Basque Country, strive to remain as independent as possible.

In Spain’s Francoist era, Catalonia suffered an annulment of the region’s democratic liberties, the persecution of parties and the banning of all leftist institutions because of the populus’ pro-independence beliefs. During the 1940s, the prisons in Catalonia were filled with political prisoners and thousands went into exile. Over 4,000 Catalans were executed during the first 15 years of Franco’s dictatorship, among them the former president of Catalonia, Lluís Companys.

Franco aimed to eliminate all evidence of the Catalan language and culture: he ruled that newborn children could not be given Catalonian names, that books and articles could not be published in Catalan and he made it forbidden that the language was even taught in favour of the Castilian dialect.

Evaristo moved to Madrid just as Catalonia was beginning to build an autarky, a self-sufficient economic system, at the same time as the rapid economic expansion known as the Spanish Miracle. The boom was because of agricultural modernisation and a huge growth in tourism to Spain, which saw masses of Spaniards migrate from rural areas to Barcelona as the city became one of Europe’s largest industrial metropolitan areas – this improvement in living standards brought about further opposition to Franco.

Many try to argue that sport must always distance itself from politics, but, in truth, that will never be possible. Franco’s regime as Spain’s leader fuelled the ongoing tension between Catalonia and the rest of the Spain that is still evident to this day, particularly after the region’s collapsed independence bid last year. The way that Evaristo moved seamlessly between Barça and Real, who are also, of course, huge rivals on the pitch, was remarkable and a testament to his ability and likeable personality.

He became the fourth Brazilian to play for Los Blancos, joining Di Stéfano and Puskás in attack during his two seasons in the Spanish capital. He was part of Muñoz’s team that was crowned La Liga champions at the end of the 1962/63 and 1963/64 campaigns, to add to the five major trophies he won at the Camp Nou. After 19 games and six goals, he returned to Brazil to play for Flamengo; in 1965, he won his fourth Rio Championship title.

He retired from playing a year later and entered the world of management, enjoying a turbulent, journeyman career as a coach. Between 1968 and 2007, he took 29 different jobs. He managed Qatar for six years, Brazil and then Iraq at the 1986 World Cup, and managed an array of South American teams including his former club, Flamengo, and Bahia six times. A popular, legendary figure, he was seen by most of his employers as a quick fix and a coach always able to come in and save the day.

But his time as a manager is not what he should be remembered for. The fact that, to this day, he is remembered fondly by both Barcelona and Real Madrid shows just how much of an impact he had on the pitch for both clubs, whilst staying true to his Brazilian identity the whole time whilst others bowed down and declared themselves as Spanish citizens. Figo, Luis Milla and Bernd Schuster could only dream of such a warm reception when returning to the Camp Nou when they moved from Barça to Madrid after Franco’s turbulent regime eventually came to an end, and the negativity surrounding Neymar’s proposed move to the Bernabéu this summer shows that the hatred between Spain’s two elite clubs will never die down. It seems, then, that Evaristo was the last of his kind.

By Ryan Plant for the SOUTH AMERICA series

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