Rogério Ceni: the magician of São Paulo

When people think of goalkeepers they usually turn their attention to dramatic late saves, heroic clean sheets or incredible feats in penalty shootouts. However, there is one element of football that goalkeepers often get no credit for whatsoever: goalscoring. There have been a handful of ‘keepers famous for their prolificacy: scorpion kick king Rene Higuita scored 41 in his career, Mexico’s Jorge Campos netted 46 and Paraguay’s José Luis Chilavert scored 68 and holds the record for most international goals from a goalkeeper and is the only keeper to have ever scored a hat-trick.

There is one name, however, that stands proud at the top of the list: São Paulo legend Rogério Ceni. Ceni spent 25 years at São Paulo, joining as a 17-year-old youth player and eventually retiring at the age of 42. In this time, Ceni played 1,237 times for the club in all competitions and 16 times for the Brazilian national team. Although Ceni was a strong and consistent shot-stopper, the Brazilian had a talent for dead-ball situations and served as both São Paulo’s free-kick and penalty kick taker during his time at the club.

In his 1,237 games, Ceni scored 131 times and is officially on the Brazilian club’s top scorers list. He is also the club’s leading man for total appearances and had a range of successes during his time with the team. Ceni helped the club lift the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup in a memorable 1-0 final against Liverpool, in which the keeper played fantastically and denied the Kop outfit on several occasions.

Before São Paulo, Ceni played for one other club. Having been born in the Parana state of Brazil, Ceni moved to the bordering state of Mato Grasso to join Sinop FC. He spent three years with Sinop before moving to São Paulo in 1990. Between 1990 and 1996, Ceni played just 48 times in all competitions and just ten times in the Brazilian Serie A. Ceni finally got his first real season in the first team in 1997 at the age of 24 – starring 71 times in all competitions and 25 times in Serie A. It was also in this season that Ceni not only earned his first cap for the Brazilian national team but also scored his first goal for São Paulo; his first of three for the season.

Ceni’s best goalscoring spell for São Paulo came in the 2005 and 2006 seasons, where the Brazilian scored 21 and 16 goals respectively, earning himself a recall to the national team after two years of absence. Whilst Ceni never scored for Brazil, he was part of the Brazil squad for the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea and Japan, which the team won after beating Germany in the final. Ceni didn’t play in the World Cup, with Palmeiras legend Marcos starting between the sticks for the duration of the tournament.

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A year after his departure from São Paulo as a player, Rogerio Ceni was brought in as the head coach of the team ahead of the 2017 season. Ceni had spent his year away from Brazil in Europe, studying the managerial and technical basics at clubs like Liverpool and Sevilla. However, after being knocked out of the Campeonato Paulista by rivals Corinthians, losing in the third round of the Copa do Brasil to Cruzeiro, and being eliminated in the first stage of the Copa Sudamerica by Argentine side Defensa y Justicia, Ceni had to salvage his job in the 2017 Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A.

In his first 11 games in charge of the club in the Brazilian Serie A, Ceni’s São Paulo won just three times; losing six and sitting in the relegation zone. Ceni was sacked on July 3rd 2017 and most recently took over Brazilian Serie B side Fortaleza earlier this year. Although the Brazilian’s managerial career pales in comparison to his playing career, at just 45 he still has time to learn the tricks to coaching.

São Paulo’s respect for Ceni cannot be undermined despite his sacking. The club retired the number one shirt after his retirement, as big a gesture a club can do for a goalkeeper as possible. Ceni dedicated his entire career to the Brazilian side and was rewarded justly; lifting various honours as a player and as a captain. Ceni won two Copa Libertadores with the club in 1993 and 2005, the 2012 Copa Sudamericana, three consecutive Brazilian Serie A titles from 2006 to 2008 and four Campeonato Paulista titles in 1992, 1998, 2000 and 2005.

Ceni won his fair share of individual awards too, receiving six times the Bola de Prata award (given out by magazine Placar) for the best goalkeeper in the Brazilian Serie A and the Bola de Ouro once for being the league’s best player. Ceni was named the best player at the 2005 Copa Libertadores and was awarded both the Golden Ball and MvP of the final awards at the 2005 Club World Cup. Finally, Ceni was twice named the Player of the Year in the Brazilian Serie A: in 2006 and 2007.

Ceni’s career was intriguing, exciting and something special as far as goalkeepers though. We all love to hear stories of the most impressive feats between the sticks but there is something both unusual and charming about Ceni’s story. A goalscoring goalkeeper is an oxymoron made to catch any football fan’s attention; thus why Ceni is well known both inside and outside of the country where he spent his entire career. Not often will global football fans know a goalkeeper who spent his career in solely Brazil and made just 16 caps for his national team. However, Ceni’s name sticks out and he can therefore be considered one of the most memorable goalkeepers of all time.

By Sam Wilson

Part of our Number Ones series

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