Artur Friedenreich – The ‘Pelé before Pelé’
In 1888, as the first football league season was born in England, Brazil passed the ‘Golden Law’ abolishing slavery in the last South American country where it had been acceptable for one person to own another one. Inevitably however, de facto trails de jure by a significant period, and it would be wrong to assume that all discrimination and abuse ended with that piece of legislation. It was therefore, into a land still burdened by history and bigotry that, on 18 July 1892 the son of Oscar Friedenreich, a German merchant, and Mathilde, a Brazilian laundress – a white father and a black mother – entered the world. Despite the troubled environment and the hurdles faced, Artur Friedenreich, described by Eduardo Galeano in ‘Soccer in the Sun and Shadow’ as the “green-eyed mulatto who founded the Brazilian way of playing” would grow up to be a sporting superstar.
As with so many other countries in the continent, football had burrowed deep into the soul of Brazilian culture. Overwhelmingly however, in the early years of the twentieth century, it remained the preserve of the white man. To succeed in such an environment, Friedenreich – born at the junction of streets named Vitoria (Vctory) and Triunfo (Triumph) and with skills developed on the streets of the city of São Paulo – would not only need to be an outstanding player, he’d also need to conquer power, privilege and prejudice. In doing so, this Robin Hood in football boots would steal the game away from the wealthy, advantaged and white, gifting it to the humble, the poor and the downtrodden. He would provide a way for those that emerged from the streets, from the depths of deprivation and despair to journey to the Seleção and deliver a brand of football the country would become synonymous with. As Galeano explained. “Friedenreich brought to the solemn stadium of the whites the irreverence of the brown boys who had fun playing with a ball of rags in the suburbs. Thus, was born a style, open to fantasy, that prefers pleasure to the result.” Without Artur Friedenreich, the Brazilian Jogo Bonito may never have entranced the world.
Despite the barriers blocking access to football for blacks and mulattos – those of mixed race such as Friedenreich – largely thanks to being raised in Europeanised family, football quickly became an important part of the young boy’s life, and his father’s eager support and encouragement carried him through periods of doubt when his nascent ability had yet to find its way out. It was therefore, hardly surprising that, the first club he played for was SC Germânia, a club set up in the city for the benefit of German immigrants. Despite his father’s national credentials though, there were still hurdles to cross. Before turning up at the ground to train or play, Friedenreich would have to spend time straightening his naturally curly hair to appear more European. Some reports even suggest that he would also smear his body with rice powder to hide the darkness of his skin
Still in his teenage years, Friedenreich’s hours of playing on the street, often with a bound ball of rags rather than a football, had honed his skills and dictated the way he played. Even in his prime, he stood well under six feet tall and his wiry physique would see him comfortably fit into the ‘Flyweight’ division of boxing. As such, he had the low centre of gravity that allowed him to weave quickly, dribbling past less adroit opponents, play quick passes, and the pace to dart into spaces, collecting the ball with unerring control. To many, his performances were as some lithe dancer, hypnotically guided by an unheard Samba beat. Add onto that list of qualities, the determination and case-hardened hunger for success etched into his soul, and the package was complete. The first ‘Black Pearl’ – the first Pelé – would set light to the blue touch-paper of Brazilian football. Fireworks would follow!
At 17, the blossoming talent was clear and other clubs sought his services. Although records are unclear and some evidence is doubted by many scholars as to his precise goalscoring records, it’s indisputable that he was a potent force. By the time he was 20 he was the top goalscorer in the São Paulo league, scoring 16 times. It’s an accolade he would claim numerous times over the following 17 years or so of his career.
By 1914, he was becoming a recognised star of the Brazilian game and when the Seleção played their first game as a recognised national team, the name of Artur Friedenreich, then playing for Clube Atlético Ypiranga, was inevitably included on the team sheet. The game itself was somewhat less celebrated than others that would follow. The opponents on that day were in fact, English club Exeter City who were returning to from a tour of Argentina at the time.
It took place on July 21st, 1914 at the Estádio das Laranjeiras, just weeks before the outbreak of World War One. Although debuts on the international stage are always memorable events, there was another reason why Friedenreich would recall his confrontation with the West Country’s Grecians, as he lost two teeth during a heavy tackle from one of the tourists, but completed the game after receiving hasty dental treatment. The game ended in a surprise 2-0 victory for the Brazilians – the game was still amateur then, and would remain so for years to come. Friedenreich didn’t score either of the goals, but some sources report that he had a hand in the second goal scored by Osman Medeiros.
Five years later though, now unquestionably South America’s first footballing superstar, he did score the winning goal in the final of the 1919 Copa America against Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro. The extra-time strike, added to his hat-trick against Chile in a group game made him the tournament’s top scorer. By now, the style of Brazilian football, driven by Friedenreich, had shed the traditional tactics of the early European pioneers of the game in the country. He was the flagbearer for the revolution to the style that would take Brazil to the summit of world football. After the triumph, a São Paulo newspaper would describe the new style of play “which dictates that the ball be brought by all the forwards right up to the oppositions goal, where shots were taken from any distance, and the collective whole of the forward line is not necessary, it’s enough for two or three players to break away with the ball, which by it’s devastating speed disorientates the defence.”
The 1919 victory was probably the zenith of Friedenreich’s career. Huge crowds thronged the city to acclaim the success and especially the exploits of Friedenreich. The boot with which the winning goal was struck would later be placed on display in the window of a jeweller’s shop, after being taken on a tour of the city, for all to marvel at and pay homage. It’s somewhat strange to say therefore, that just two years later, and then at the peak of his powers, and arguably the best player in the world, Artur Friedenreich would not be part of the Brazil team that travelled to Argentina for the 1921 Copa America competition.
Argentina was a predominantly white country and the authorities there announced that only white players would be allowed to represent the country and compete in the tournament. There were even cartoons in the Argentine newspapers championing the decision and pointing fingers towards Brazil, declaring that “The monkeys are coming.” In a shameful and cowardly decision, Brazilian president Epitacio Pessoa cravenly followed suit, apparently concerned that having black players may bring shame on his country. He need not have worried. His decision did that on its own. Friedenreich was excluded from the Seleção and the hosts won the trophy winning all three of their games. Brazil would win just once, defeating Paraguay 3-0, but defeats to Argentina and Uruguay were perhaps just reward for Pessoa’s craven collaboration.
Perhaps the sad reflection of the decision, the consequences of it or a combination of both and the inevitable awakening of a more open attitude, the whole scenario had a transforming effect on both Brazilian football in general and Friedenreich in particular, feeding the springing seeds that would flower into the ending of racial discrimination in Brazilian football. His career with the Seleção would span eleven years but, with games so sparse, inevitably compromised by the demands of travel in that time, would only comprise 23 games. A similar length of time in modern days would more usually mean many more. Neymar for example has played over 100 games for Brazil since his debut in 2010.
By 1925, Friedenreich’s international career was finished. Despite this, his fame showed little sign of diminishing. He was now playing for CA Paulistano and, for some time, the club had been invited invited to play a number of friendly games across the country so people could see the great Friedenreich in the flesh. In 1927 however, the call came for the club and their star, now 37, to travel to Europe for a series of games. For players of a much younger age than Freidenreich, the demands of travelling across the Atlantic by boat before arriving in a different continent and play eight games, with more travelling in between would be difficult enough, but Friedenreich would hardly let down the fans who came to watch not only the team with the strange footballing style, but also the star player whose reputation had crossed the ocean before him. In those eight games, he would score 11 goals, and richly entertain the spectators.
Despite his athletic prowess, and natural fitness, time and tide eventually takes its toll on all things, and age was something Friedenreich could only temporarily ward off. An inability to even walk out of the door of his house only added to the pressures he was under. Although living the life of a celebrity, he did so without the financial income to sustain it, earning a relatively meagre salary, especially given his international renown. Despite this, he still tried to live an extravagant lifestyle, with reports suggesting that he owned more than 100 suits, and developed a taste for particularly expensive beers.
The first World Cup tournament held in Uruguay in 1930 should have been the perfect stage for Freidenreich’s swansong, but it wasn’t to be. Despite being in his late thirties at the time, there was little doubt that he would have warranted a place in the squad that travelled to Montevideo for the first global celebration of the game. Due to some unexplained mix up however, only players from the states of Rio de Janeiro were selected, and Freidenreich, along with other stars from the São Paolo area missed out.
As the years rolled on, he began playing less and less, and when he did play, often it would be for far smaller clubs than in his heydays. Professionalism was gradually spreading through the football ranks in Brazil and by 1933, the game had dispensed with amateurism completely. Whether through a fit of pique for missing out on what could have been hugely financially rewarding times when playing his best years, or merely through idealistic grounds, Friedenreich raged against the changes, and in essence decided to walk away from the game. At 43 years of age, on 21 July 1935, he played his last game for Flamengo in a 2-2 draw against Fluminense.
Finished with football, he began working for liquor company until he retired. His latter years saw the once great hero of Brazilian football brought to his knees by Alzheimer’s disease. Treatment for the condition would drain his financial resources without ever coming close to arresting the deterioration of his mental faculties and memory. He died on 6 September 1969 aged 77, leaving behind a wife and son, whom he called Oscar after his father, penniless.
One of the tragedies of Freidenreich’s mental deterioration was that, towards the end of his life, he had little or no memory of his footballing achievements, or even his name at the end, and was totally unable to corroborate any records offered up by others, hence leaving clouds of doubt over his goalscoring abilities. Perhaps the least contentious account however comes from a former team-mate, Mário de Andrada. Friedenreich’s father began to keep a notebook record of his son’s goals from the day he first started playing, and in 1918, feeling he would no longer be able to maintain the record, he passed the task on to Mário de Andrada, who vowed to ensure the records were maintained for posterity.
In 1962, Andrada showed the records to Brazilian journalist, Adriano Neiva da Motta e Silva, more commonly known as De Vaney. It suggested that across his career spanning 1,329 games, Friedenreich had scored a staggering 1,239 goals. The figures become even more impressive when taking into account that many of those games were played well past the peak of Friedenreich’s powers, through his late thirties and into his forties. Originally, De Vaney added more fog to the uncertainty by inadvertently reversing the figures, before they were corrected. The error hardly aids legitimacy and confidence, especially as Andrada’s written records were lost when he died.
If there are doubts about his precise goalscoring records, there is little to diminish the role that Freidenreich played in both shaping the way that Brazil played football and helping to break down the malignant walls of discrimination. Eduardo Galeano wrote that, “From Friedenreich onward, Brazilian football that is truly Brazilian does not have right angles, like the mountains of Rio de Janeiro and the buildings of Oscar Niemeyer.” The lyrical description does great honour to the former star. To some he was the greatest Brazilian footballer of all time, but without television images to enhance the legend, that accolade often falls to the “’Pelé after Pelé’”
The great man was once asked if there would ever be another player to compete with his own achievements. After musing for a second, Pelé shook his head slowly. “My parents closed the factory,” he said with a smile. That may well be true, but if his parents did bring down the shutters on that factory, the keys to initially open it for black players to flourish in Brazilian football were crafted and used by Artur Friedenrich, the ‘Pelé before Pelé’.
(This article was originally produced for the ‘Footy Analyst’ website).
The Never, Never Land of The Netherlands at the World Cup.
There’s a poignant inevitability about the fate of the Dutch national team in the World Cups played out in 1974 and 1978. Scornful of victory, embracing the creation and innovation rather than the denouement. Movement, flow and fluidity marked their way. Two losing finals; contrasting in so many ways, and yet so very similar in that both ultimately ended in shattering defeats by the tournament hosts. On the road, but not arriving. Bridesmaids donned in orange.
Widely touted as potential winners in 1974, but falling at the final hurdle despite having taken the lead when, perhaps an inherent arrogance surpassed their intoxicatingly tantalising skills. West Germany took advantage of the hubris and lifted the trophy. The Dutch shuffled away, not licking their wounds, but contemplating what might have been; off-shade tangerine dreamers. Continue reading →
“Once upon a time in Argentina.” The story of Ally MacLeod and his Tartan Army.
In his book ‘A matter of Life and Death: A History of Football in 100 Quotations’ The Telegraph’s columnist Jim White quotes former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod as saying, “You can mark down 25 June 1978 as the day Scottish football conquers the world.” As was later to be harshly proven, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The tale of Scotland’s venture to South America for the World Cup Finals has gone down in infamy, and if the epithet of ‘pantomime’ that many have sought to label the Tartan Army’s travails in Argentina with is appropriate, many would also be keen to cast MacLeod in the role of the piece’s villain.
Is that too harsh a judgement though? Yes, there was massive hype, and yes, there was even bigger disappointment as the whole edifice came crumbling down, but is it right that the blame for the whole sorry episode should be laid at MacLeod’s door? Was he some buffoon-like character, full of bluster and blunder, or merely an innocent abroad, a patriot wrapped up in the hopes of a nation when Scottish football was at a high-water mark, promoted ahead of his ability, for who the fates turned their faces against at the moment of truth? Continue reading →
When God was Bulgarian!
Football folklore is replete with tales of unfancied teams fighting back in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity, recovering from an apparently inevitable defeat to down one of the giants of the game, when a last minute goal gets a team through a difficult match that seemed to be pointing to elimination, when the opposition fails to convert any of the first three penalties in a shoot-out or when a team comes back after losing an opening game to unexpectedly qualify from a group stage of the biggest tournament in the world. Other tales may speak of seemingly hopeless situations when unforeseen results conspire to offer a chance that had surely been extinguished, when last minute goals work wonders and unexpectedly transform successive matches, when winning goals are created and scored by players who really shoudn’t have been on the pitch or when a giant stumbles and lets the little guy through; when the most unexpected of events happen again, and again, and again. Some tales have such a feature, some have a two or three, but very few have all of them. The story of Bulgaria’s ‘American Dream’ at the 1994 World Cup and the strange combination of results and events off the park that conspired to get them there however, is one of them. Continue reading →
Francesco Totti – Emperor of Roma
Recently, 37 year-old Frank Lampard appeared to be leading the rebellion against Old Father Time when he netted four times in less than a week for Manchester City while serving out a loan period ahead of his move to America and New York City. One full game and two substitute appearances for the ex-Chelsea legend, including a goal against his old club, seemed to be striking a blow for the ‘more mature’ player. When AS Roma rocked up at the Etihad for a Champions League game in midweek however, a different member of the ‘older generation’ eclipsed Lampard with a commanding performance, neatly topped off with elegantly chipped goal to earn his team a draw against the Premier League Champions. With the goal, Francesco Totti became the oldest player ever to score in the competition.
Come in number 39. Your time is up?
Any film buffs among you will remember the closing scene of Hitchcock’s film ‘The 39 Steps.’ Based in 1914, the film centres around the murky world of espionage. At its denouement, the hero, Richard Hannay after surviving a series of escapades, is in a music hall. On stage is ‘Mr Memory’ an act who can recall myriad facts at the drop of a hat. Questions are fired at him, and he replies accurately. Hannay however knows that the man’s memory is being used by a secret organisation of spies – called The 39 Steps – to smuggle secret formulae out of the country. Hannay calls out a question. “What is The 39 Steps?” Aware that armed members of the gang are in the theatre, Mr Memory hesitates. Hannay asks again and again. Mr Memory eventually gives way to his professional pride and reveals the secret, at which he is gunned down by an unseen assailant. All very dramatic, I hear you say, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with football. Well, yes and no. And the reason why lies in a few numbers.
Continue reading… http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/blog/football-blog-game-39/
The morning after: ‘Schadenfreude’ isn’t a word the Germans recognise.
Indulge me for a moment. Let me paint you a scenario. England actually got through the group stages and ploughed on through the competition looking increasingly impressive until they came up against the hosts, Brazil, in the semi-final of the World Cup. Sure, Brazil would be without the talismanic Neymar, plus the suspended skipper and defensive rock, Thiago Silva, but this is Brazil – in Brazil. Nevertheless, England turn in one of the most complete performances in world Cup history to trounce Brazil 7-1. Yes, I know it’s stretching the imagination a little – a lot, in fact – but bear with me a moment longer. Now, just for a few seconds, imagine how the team, the fans and especially the media would be reacting. OK, stop now. Get down from the ceiling. Pull those flags back in from the windows. Calm down, it’s not real.
What is real however, is that Germany completed that that very journey described above. They went into Brazil’s backyard; a place where the Selecao have not lost a competitive game since 1975, and delivered the comprehensive beating of a former champion in the history of the World Cup. ‘Brazil 1 Germany 7’ may well never be beaten as the most outrageous, but fully-deserved result in the World Cup – ever. They turned up at the Copacabana and kicked over Brazil’s castle built on sand.
So what was the reaction of the German team and media? Was it for outlandish celebration? Would they be glorying in the victory? Are they contacting their agents to demand more money for sponsorship deals? Not so much as you’d notice. Continue reading →
The ‘beautiful game’ in the USA.
From pictures of Barack Obama watching in apparent rapt attention on Air Force One, to videos of him publicly telephoning the squad and telling them “You did us proud!” it seems like America has finally ‘got’ football – and got it bad! On the day after the American team was eliminated from the World Cup by Belgium, ‘USA Today’ reported that despite the defeat, “soccer in America…got nothing but a big win!”
Cossetted in his penthouse in Brazil, such comments must warm the cockles of Sepp Blatter’s heart. If the 78 year-old danced a little Swiss jig of joy that his sport has finally broken into the most lucrative market in the world however, he probably should temper his exaltation and read on a little. The article goes on the say that “Did everyone understand the rules? Most certainly not. Will a lot of the people who watched the game stop caring about soccer tomorrow morning? Absolutely.” Hmm, perhaps not so much on the big breakthrough then, eh Sepp? So, USA. All that ‘soccer’ thing. How’s that working out for you?
Penalties, Dutch courage and what might have been…
Yes, I know a lot of people will say things like ‘You say that now…’ but you’re going to have to either believe me or not, I guess. It is true however that Louis van Gaal’s goalkeeper substitution shenanigans in the World Cup quarter final over the weekend brought back memories of another penalty shoot-out some twenty-four years ago, and an outlandish suggestion I made at the time. Continue reading →
Neymar injury deflates Brazil
Although hardly an impolite nudge in the back, the contact didn’t seem all that serious when it happened. Yes, the player did seem to be in, but that’s hardly a novele feature in this tournament, with apparently stricken souls suddenly revitalised by the ministering hands of the physio. This time however it was serious. Continue reading →