My Perfect 10: Zico

The new issue of FourFourTwo is a 'Playmakers Special'. With that in mind it's Playmakers Week here on FFT.com. Here, former FourFourTwo editor Hugh Sleight recalls one of Brazilian football's favourite sons...

Zico Sleight was nearly the name of my son. Nearly, not because I went for something more sensible/kind like Zinedine or Dragan, but because some higher power apparently showed sympathy for my poor prospective son and gave me a second daughter instead.

When I’d suggested naming our child after one of Brazil’s great playmakers, I’d never expected my wife to say yes. But then I’d never expected her to sense check the name with a 10-year-old girl.

“Zico’s quite cool,” piped up our niece. And that was that.

Whether I’d have gone through with it I’ll never know, but the funny thing is, I hardly ever saw Zico play. The olden days of the 1980s were like that: you’d have glamorous foreign heroes you only saw once every four years.

I reckon I watched Zico play live (that’s on TV, not in the flesh) maybe 10 times at most. I’ve seen Jack Wilshere and Jonjo Shelvey more than that. And yet the games I did catch – the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, plus a brilliant Intercontinental Cup final against Liverpool in 1981 – live long in the memory.

Because I never had the opportunity to see Zico disappoint, to analyse his weaknesses as well as his strengths, to check his consistency over five grueling seasons in the Premier League, my enduring memory is of a magician who was brilliant every time he stepped on the pitch.

It helped, of course, that he was a Brazilian playmaker in the days when Brazil still played like a team from a completely different universe.

The 1982 team were so committed in their quest for beautiful football that even Brazilians gasp at their memory.

And if the bearded Socrates was the spiritual, free-thinking leader of the gang, Zico was its footballing heart: the fantasista among the fantasists.

If anyone ever needs reminding of how just how insanely brilliant football can be, just look up ‘Brazil 1982’ on YouTube and watch the unforgettable goals flowing like cheap plonk as Eder, Socrates, Falcao and Zico effortlessly bang in volleys, scissor kicks, perfect chips and stunning free-kicks on the biggest stage of all.

A few years ago, FourFourTwo arranged an interview with Zico when I was still the editor and I was sorely tempted to pull rank and do the interview myself. Two things stopped me: my limited (to about three words) Portuguese; and the old idea that you should never meet your heroes.

It was a lucky escape. The journalist and photographer who did meet the great man weren’t impressed: “Grumpy sod.”

Ah well, I thought, rubbing my tired eyes, maybe he was just teething.

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The 'Playmakers Special' issue of FourFourTwo is in stories throughout September 2010.

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