Carlos Alberto and a night in London SW6

AS WE WALKED down the steps into Chelsea’s old West Stand lower tier, the uncomfortable bench seats that used to provide budget-priced  accommodation for fans that didn’t want to try their luck in the maelstrom that was the Shed, we attempted to play “I spy a World Cup legend.”

“Is that Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer?..Who’s that tall fellow…the Brazilian…it’s not Pele, is it? No, that must be Carlos Alberto, but Pele’s over there, I am sure…Wasn’t that Carlos Alberto Brazil’s captain?. Jesus Christ, these Yanks have got everyone. It’s an A to Z of star names.”

Chelsea, struggling in the first division in 1978-79, were playing host to New York Cosmos, the team from the “big apple” that included a bunch of veterans with totally impressive CVs.

Only Beckenbauer is still alive of the three World Cup skippers. Cruyff and Carlos Alberto both passed away in 2016.

As the decades have passed, this has been filed away in much the same way that my recollections of Marlene Dietrich – whom I saw when I was just 12 years old in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens- were consigned to memory. Time makes these occasions all the more important and relevant.

If such a combination of superstar footballers was put on the same field in 2016, the fanfare would be deafening, the hype unbearable, but in September 1978, with Chelsea heading for relegation, the realisation that all three of these legendary players were within touching distance, was still quite remarkable. That’s why almost 40,000 people turned up for a friendly between Chelsea and New York Cosmos – most expecting to see the NASL champions wipe the floor with Ken Shellito’s struggling team.

While I was in the stand watching the game, my brothers and sister were actually on the pitch, playing in the Thurrock Drum & Trumpet Corp., marching across Stamford Bridge and mingling with this incredible array of talent.

Sadly, very few of them cared about football, but they were moving among royalty. My sister, Anne Marie, now exiled in Scotland and a part-time St. Johnstone fan, was standing next to Cruyff (a guest player for the Cosmos) and Carlos Alberto, who was listed on the team sheet but never played. If it were me, I would still be talking about it today. They were really in the presence of greatness that night – and I don’t mean, Ray Wilkins, Kenny Swain and Garry Stanley.

Carlos Alberto was skipper of the greatest Brazil side ever to grace a World Cup. Today, it is unlikely that he would have been given that responsibility as more often than not, star players with huge egos are also given the role of captain – I would wager that if Pele and co. were playing in 2016-17,  Edson Arantes do Nascimento himself would have the armband.

But the fact that Carlos Alberto was the captain said a lot about the ability and stature of the man. It is ironic that in a World Cup of so many iconic moments, the image we remember most is the final goal of a one-sided contest, scored by a full back rather than a goal from Pele, Jairzinho, Gerson or Tostao. That fourth goal ensured the name Carlos Alberto would live on, a shot that was hammered low into the net, on the run, after the ultimate team-built prep work.

There were reasons why Carlos Alberto, nicknamed “capita”, was skipper of Brazil. His team-mates talk of his leadership skills and ability to unify a dressing room full of personalities. He also acted as something of a foreman, almost a shop steward negotiating with Brazilian football officials when it came to financial matters.

Brazil 1970

  Age in 1970 Team in 1970 Caps Int Career ended
Felix (d.2012) 32 Fluminense 39 1972
Brito 30 Flamengo 45 1972
Wilson Piazza 27 Cruzeiro 47 1975
Carlos Alberto (d. 2016) 25 Santos 53 1977
Everaldo (d.1974) 25 Gremio 24 1972
Gerson 29 Sao Paulo 70 1972
Clodoaldo 20 Santos 38 1974
Rivelino 24 Corinthians 92 1978
Pele 29 Santos 91 1970
Tostao 23 Cruzeiro 54 1972
Jairzinho 25 Botafogo 81 1974

When Brazil won the World Cup, Carlos Alberto was playing for Sao Paulo’s Santos. He was born in Rio de Janeiro, however, and spent three years with local club Fluminense. In 1966, he moved to Santos to team-up with Pele. Although he was a defender, a full back, he had the ball-playing skills of some of his more celebrated team-mates. At Santos, he played 445 times for the club, winning four state championships, the Paulista, between 1967 and 1973.

His international career dated back to 1964, but he missed out on the 1966 World Cup in England. Most of his 53 caps were won by 1970, in fact after that memorable World Cup, he played just five more times for his country, largely due to injury. The Italy triumph was his last World Cup finals game.

He left Santos in 1974 to return to Fluminense and then moved to the club’s big rival, Flamengo, before trying his luck in the US. He won four Soccer Bowls with the Cosmos at a time when the razzamatazz of the US game was attracting the footballing glitterati of Europe and Latin America.

We caught only a fleeting glimpse of Carlos Alberto that night in September 1978, but he will forever be known for that goal on Sunday June 21, 1970. “It made me very, very happy,” he said. And it continues to excite football fans the world over. It has become one of the defining moments of the beautiful game, played by a beautiful team.

Photo: PAImages


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