Carlos Alberto, Brazilian football legend, dies aged 72

Carlos Alberto, Brazilian football legend, dies aged 72
The player who led Brazil to a World Cup victory, and managed a host of clubs and nations including the Oman national side, suffered a heart attack on Tuesday.
5 min read
26 Oct, 2016
Carlos Alberto will be forever remembered for his 1970 World Cup goal [AFP]
In case you hadn’t noticed, football fans occasionally argue about things. Debate about this player’s worth, and that manager’s tactics is what makes things fun and keeps alive tried-and-tested rivalries.

It’s not hugely often, then, that an entire team transcends these divisions and meets with almost global admiration and approval from all who have seen them play. Step forward Brazil 1970.

Still regarded by so many as the greatest team of all time, their 4-1 win over Italy in the World Cup Final at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca set a standard for how to go about winning the biggest football match on Earth that every other nation would have to try to live up to.

Italy, who had come through a thrilling 4-3 semi-final with West Germany, were passengers for much of a spectacle that epitomised the idea of o jogo bonito – the beautiful game.

Brazil’s players moved the ball around with such extraordinary awareness of each other, and such fluidity of position (a fluidity born out of necessity, with so many similarly positioned players in the team, like Gerson, Jairzinho, Pelé, Rivelino and Tostao), that Italy spent an inordinate amount of time chasing nothing.

That Brazilian team, and perhaps the very spirit of Brazilian football at its best, is summed by the final goal in that 4-1 win, scored by Carlos Alberto. The captain and right-back for the seleção (national side) of the 1970 World Cup, Alberto had been working as a television pundit in Brazil up until his death on Tuesday.

His death comes just a month after that of his twin brother Carlos Roberto. Alberto’s voice had remained a hugely important one up until his last days, and he was never afraid to be critical when he perceived there to have been a decline in standards in the modern game.

To watch the goal, from the moment that Tostão seizes possession in the 86th minute from an Italian side tired from spending the game trying to get near the ball, is a challenge as it throws up many questions. What’s Pelé doing so deep in his own half? Why is Jairzinho, the right-winger, picking up the ball on the left flank?

But probably most famously of all, why doesn’t Pelé even lift his head up and look at Carlos Alberto before passing the ball? Perhaps because Alberto isn’t even there yet when Pelé releases the pass. The arriving Alberto slams the ball in to the opposing bottom corner of the net when the bobble it took just before his strike would have surely caused the majority of football’s right-backs to send it in the direction of the 107,000 fans in attendance that day.

It’s one of many reasons that one of his former clubs, Santos, marked news of his death by saying that Alberto is “considered the best right-back in the history of Praiano Alvinegro.”

The most frightening thing about Alberto’s goal, as has been confirmed in many interviews with members of the 1970 World Cup winning squad, is that it was largely pre-planned; that Carlos Alberto’s arrival at the split second that Pelé released the ball was something that manager Mauro Zagallo had talked through with them before the game.

Certainly, Alberto was no stranger to scoring goals from a defensive position, netting 45 in his spell with Santos and 8 for the seleção. He led the way in attack-minded full-backs, now a staple of the modern game.

For Carlos Alberto, lifting the World Cup as captain in 1970 was a prize made even greater by his absence from the 1966 competition in England – a World Cup that did not end well for Brazil – before Joao Saldanha appointed him captain in the lead up to the Mexico tournament.

Injury four years later prevented him from a second World Cup appearance, meaning that, remarkably, in his sole appearance in the competition he lifted the trophy as captain. 

Alberto’s club career was marked by spells at three of the biggest and most successful clubs in Brazil; Flamengo, Fluminense, and Santos (albeit just a year with Flamengo, in 1977). Among his playing honours were 7 state championships and the 1968 Recopa Sul-Americana.

Like many other Brazilians of his generation, including fellow 1970 teammate Pelé, Carlos Alberto chose to spend the final years of his career in the North American Soccer League at the New York Cosmos.

A career in management followed for the distinguished right-back, beginning with two seasons at Flamengo in 1983 (where his side won the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A) and becoming increasingly global throughout the later stages of his career.

It was in 2000 that Carlos Alberto had a brief spell as manager of Oman, at that point the highest-profile name to have ever taken charge of its national team. A World Cup winning player and captain, his managerial career was not destined to match his achievements on the pitch; however, the bar had been set high in that regard.

In 1970, Brazil became the first nation to win the World Cup for a third time and, in doing so, kept the Jules Rimet trophy. They did it with one of the finest team performances ever seen, finished off by a perfect goal.

Reflecting on the career of Carlos Alberto, the last goalscorer of the 1970 World Cup, and the last footballer to lift the Jules Rimet trophy, came this tweet from Santos FC: “Thanks for everything.”


Olly Hogben is a sports commentator, presenter and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @bennettcomms