Carlos Alberto and the goal that shook the world

It came as a surprise when Carlos Alberto was not chosen for the Brazilian squad, which so catastrophically contested the 1966 World Cup in England. But in 1970, he was not only properly chosen, but given the captaincy.

Carlos Alberto, center, holds up the golden Jules Rimet Trophy, after his team defeated Italy in the FIFA World Cup soccer final, at Azteca Stadium, in Mexico City in 1970.   -  AP

Carlos Alberto, who has died at the age of 72, will always be remembered for the spectacular and dramatic goal he scored for Brazil in the 1970 World Cup Final against Italy in Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium. This is how he himself recalled it: “Clodoaldo (the young right half whose careless error had given Italy an equaliser in the first half) started the carnival in our half. He dribbled past four players. Then I started to run from right back. Slowly, not fast. When Jairzinho (the outside right) got the ball, I ran as fast as I could. I knew Pele would come into action. We had spoken about this kind of chance before the game. Before Pele stopped the ball, he saw I was coming. Then he stopped the ball and waited for the right time to give the ball to me. It was only that good because the ball bounced before I hit it and the stride was perfect. It was the most beautiful World Cup goal.”

And it crowned Brazil’s glittering display to give them a 4-1 victory. The shot was made from 21 yards out, its speed was 53.3 miles per hour, it came four minutes from the end of the match, the time elapsed between the shot and the goal itself was 0.84 seconds.

 

I was lucky enough to be at that final, whose result was not only well deserved by a coruscating Brazil, but which exalted attacking, adventurous football over the dour negativity of so much of the Italian play. How fitting it was that Carlos Alberto, Brazil’s captain, should himself receive the World Cup trophy. It was of course Pele’s World Cup rather than anybody else's. His second, having won the first in Sweden 12 years earlier as a mere 17-year-old.

His was the first remarkable Brazilian goal of that 1970 Final, leaping wondrously high — a mere five-foot eight inches above the big Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich to give Brazil an early lead.

Was Carlos Alberto, for all his power, pace and menace in attack, the complete right back? Arguably not. “Carlos Alberto,” I wrote in my History of the World Cup, “was a great force when he was coming forward but very much less impressive when he was against a winger who would take him on.” Italy, that day at the Azteca, deployed no such winger. Or rather, they did, but in their tactical obsession, they did not use him.

His name was Gigi Riva who, as an outside left, quick, strong and penetrative, had become the idol of Italian football, an almost Messianic figure on whose shoulders Italy’s fans placed their fondest hopes. The problem being that like other star wingers, such as George Best, Riva was unwilling to stay out on the wing. He wanted to work from the centre. In this Final, the consequence was that Carlos Alberto had no opponent to mark and could therefore attack at will. Italy were also betrayed by their obsession with man-to-man marking, enabling Brazil’s explosive right-winger, Jairzinho, to draw the towering Italian left back Giacinto Facchetti off the flank and into the middle. Giving Carlos Alberto, who already had no winger to mark, still more scope to attack.

Yet Clodoaldo’s abysmal back-heeled mistake, enabling Italy and Boninsegna to equalise, could well have turned the game. Pele, in Rome two years later, admitted as much. He had been astonished and relieved, he said, that the Azzurri had not pressed home their psychological advantage against a Brazilian team monumentally stunned. But those were the dim days in Italian football, when catenaccio was king, and even the libero was static.

Fifty-three times capped by Brazil, Carlos Alberto, like Pele, began his career with the Santos club. “Santos FC,” it declared, “regrets the death of the idol Carlos Alberto Torres, who was 72 years old. He played 445 matches and scored 40 goals between 1965 and 1975. The club has decreed official mourning for three days.”

Carlos Alberto would in fact move from Santos to Rio where he played successfully for Fluminense, winning the Brazilian championships with both clubs. He also played for another leading Rio club, Flamengo, whom he would manage. He would also manage other teams in Nigeria, Oman and the national team of Azerbaijan. His death would come from a heart attack.

Before he retired as a player, there was an episode with the heavily financial but ultimately ephemeral New York Cosmos, for whom Pele, swindled out of his fortune by a crooked agent, would briefly emerge from retirement to play. There, on one occasion remembered by the New York based English football writer Paul Gardner, the cloven hoof was once uneasily visible, when with no apparent provocation or motive, Carlos Alberto brutally hacked down a young opponent. When asked about it afterwards in the dressing room by Gardner, Carlos Alberto merely smiled.

It came as a surprise when Carlos Alberto was not chosen for the Brazilian squad, which so catastrophically contested the 1966 World Cup in England. But in 1970, he was not only properly chosen but given the captaincy.

When, in subsequent years, he was asked about his spectacular goal in that Final, he would reply with typical modesty, “My pride is in finishing the goal of all our team, for the football of Brazil. If people think it the greatest, I am happy for them.”