FourFourTwo's 100 Greatest Footballers EVER: No.16, Zico
“In Brazilian soccer, Zico is taking up where Pele left off,” read the New York Times’ headline in July 1981. According to the newspaper, Brazil had regained its excellence on the field after a decade of decline. It’s safe to say, 30 years on, that the publication was accurate.
In 1982, the Flamengo star was in one of the most pleasing sides ever to watch at a World Cup. He became one of the most hailed footballers of the game, admired from Japan to his childhood suburb of Quintino in Rio de Janeiro, and dubbed the ‘White Pele’.
You don't get that for nothing.
King of the Maracana
He’s the greatest Brazilian to never win a World Cup. Pele once said: “The one player that came closest to me in playing style was Zico.” He scored 333 goals at the famous Maracana stadium alone and guided Flamengo to four league titles, one Copa Libertadores and another Club World Cup in the '80s.
The Brazilian club humiliated Liverpool with a 3-0 win in 1981, when Zico made Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen look ordinary in Japan. In the tournament he put in one of the best individual performances of all time.
While Brazil's memorable World Cup campaign in 1982 ended in disappointment, Zico scored four times in his five appearances and was named in the team of the tournament. He also played in the 1986 World Cup, but was far from fully fit as Brazil lost to France in the quarter-finals.
Despite this, Brazilian fans would wish each other Happy Christmas to celebrate his birthday every March 3. You definitely don't get that for nothing, either.
Zico is regarded as the first Brazilian ace to have moved to European football, when he signed for Udinese in 1983 despite offers from Roma and Milan. Italian authorities tried to block his transfer due to the high amount Udinese paid, sparking separatist protests in the streets which said: “O Zico o Austria" (“Either Zico or [we leave Italy for] Austria").