Brazil has long been considered the land where legends of the beautiful game are born and raised. The country has produced arguably more of the sport’s greatest talents than any other country in the world and they are generally the envy of others with the way they ooze class, spark into spells of genius on a whim or how they use their super-stylish samba soccer skills to win games.
Nobody makes them quite like Brazil.
Whether it’s their awesome team at the 1970 World Cup, their extraordinarily talented stars like Pele or the general sense of excitement they spread when their fans roll into town for an international tournament with their party rhythms and exciting fanfare – they are the lifeblood of football and the game definitely wouldn’t be the same without them.
We could spend all day long listing all the phenomenal players who have represented their nation or spread the golden yellow gospel of dancing dribbling and stylish step-overs throughout the world, but there is also another side to their game.
Brazilian footballers, for the most part, are human after all. So, what about the ones who don’t quite maintain expectation and fall well below the bar?
The fans might try to pretend that they don’t exist, but there have been some notably awful players emerging from Brazil down through the years – and they have done their best (or rather, their worst) to sully the slick reputation of their fellow countrymen.
So, here at TheSportster, we have compiled a list of 10 of the greatest and, for balance, 10 of the worst, Brazilian footballers ever to kick a ball. Get ready to read on as we guide you through a potted history of the good, the bad and the Fumaca of Brazilian footballers.
Remember to have your say in the comments section if you think we’ve missed out on anyone important.
20 BEST: Rivaldo
A remarkable footballer who often doesn’t get the praise he deserves, Rivaldo was a creative midfield maestro at his peak. A typically silky and skillful, samba-footed player, he traversed the world, using his magnificently outrageous talent to eke out one of the most famous careers of a Brazilian footballer in recent memory. In short, he was rubbing shoulders with the best of the best when there were more than just two individual behemoths playing the game, and that says a great deal about just how good he was.
In all, he won 18 European honours as well as three Brazilian titles on club duty and he also picked up another five winners’ medals with the national team, including the crowning glory of them all – the 2002 World Cup. There was also the small matter of claiming the Ballon d'Or in 1999. He not only knew how to dazzle tacklers with exceptional dribbling skills, but he could also score remarkable goals, often from long range. A genuinely world-class player who is often looked to as an inspiration for the tide of promising starlets coming through the ranks today.
19 WORST: Roque Junior
It's not everyday that a UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup winner gets labelled a flop, but when one looks at the career of Roque Junior it's easy to see why so many commentators have chosen to foist that particularly ominous tag on the former player. That's because he was often much more rocky at the back than he was a solid rock, something his turbulent time at Leeds United in the English Premier League clearly attests to. He even has an entry in the notorious Urban Dictionary that reads, 'Like whoah, Roque is the worst player ever, Bagguley is infinitely better.' Not a great legacy to have left behind you.
In the seven games he did play for Leeds, the club conceded a whopping 24 goals - that's an average of 3.4 goals per game as they were relegated from the top tier and he was quickly ushered out the exit door. That he only saw success when surrounded by plenty of other great players suggests that he may well have piggybacked off the superior talent of much more refined footballers, and many have since questioned how he could have amassed 50 caps for the international team.
18 BEST: Tostao
Having began his professional career as a 15-year-old with America MG, it should have been clear even then that the Brazilian youngster was on the right track towards stardom and brilliance. Unfortunately, though, he doesn't always get the same credit that many of his peers have done - including the likes of Pele or Garrincha - and it would be nice to see some widespread, positive revisionism prop him up on the pedestal he deserves. Because the truth is that he ought to receive as much oozing compliments as those stars do. He was crucial to the success of that famous 1970 Brazil team, his terrific passing, world-class vision and slick movements all instrumental in linking up with the rest of those legends.
In many ways, he was a visionary. His ability to spot the perfect opportunity for a pass to set-up a fellow team-mate, slipping a through-ball or dinked chip through the narrowest of gaps in opposing teams' defences or the way he sensed danger coming his way from a gung-ho defensive midfielder before swiftly bopping the ball off with a swift kick of his boot helped make him an invaluable addition to the national team squad for years. Plus, his own offensive play wasn't bad either as he netted 32 times (three in the World Cup) in 54 international appearances, even becoming South American Footballer of the Year in 1971.
17 WORST: Jo
Most will remember Jo from his time as a flop with Manchester City where the prospect of his potential had many Citizens fans super excited. However, the reality of his arrival and subsequent performances was a far cry from anything spectacular, and the pressure of expectancy was put forth as a reason behind his uninspiring displays in the sky-blue shirt. Anyone who had followed Jo’s story from the beginning knew that his time in the spotlight wasn’t supposed to go so horribly wrong. After all, he had become the youngest-ever player to don a Corinthians shirt at just 16 years of age and was causing all sorts of shock-waves with very impressive early displays. Then, he moved to CSKA Moscow in Russia and enjoyed a decent goal-scoring spell, wining a few trophies as well.
Since then, though, it has been very much downhill, or at least whenever he has hit average form he hasn’t been capable of building momentum to fire himself to stratospheric levels once again.
16 BEST: Cafu
He has appeared in three World Cup final matches – more than even the much celebrated Pele. He might have only won two of those, but let's not focus too much on the negatives, because, well...there aren't that many of them anyway. One of the greatest defenders to have ever pulled on the golden yellow jersey, Cafu was one of the greatest full backs in his prime and knew how to tear up and down the flanks with pace, energy and enthusiasm - plus, he normally did it all while remembering to produce a pretty decent cross for the strikers to feed on, something that's usually pretty important when you want to win games. After all, that's usually the Brazilian spirit, and Cafu encapsulated it perfectly.
What's more, he is Brazil's all-time most capped player with 142 international appearances to his name, so it's fair to say he is something of an institution in himself. It would be impossible to list his entire roll of honours here, but even just the highlights are outstandingly impressive: two-time Serie A winner, UEFA Champions League victor, FIFA Club World Cup winner and so many more besides, he was the archetypal success-hungry defender who loved to attack and he won his fair share of plunder as a result. A true legend.
15 WORST: Kleberson
Signed by Manchester United as a replacement for Juan Sebastian Veron, spirits were understandably high in Red Devils support groups all across the globe when Kleberson was announced as a player alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. In total, the Brazilian midfielder cost the club £6 million which might not seem like a lot of money today with nine-figure sums that more closely resemble phone numbers than transfer fees being bandied about, but it turned out to be a total wasted of money as he flopped woefully.
Indeed, his terrible displays look all the more shocking considering how his fellow new start that day fared at the club as well as how remarkably successful the Portuguese international has gone on to become. It just wasn’t to be for Kleberson. Ultimately, he wound up being sent out to Besiktas before long, packing his bags for home for good. He has never fully recovered from the pitiful midfield displays he produced in front of the Stretford End that were nothing short of a parody of the great Brazilian powerhouses who characteristically dominate the middle of the park.
14 BEST: Kaka
An elegant footballer, Kaka garnished the game with a dash of exquisite genius at his very peak and despite the short amount of time he spent brewing his own brilliance, reflecting on the flavour of his legacy is as sweet as it was to watch him burst onto the scene in the first place. Arriving on Italian soil from Sao Paolo, there wasn’t as much hype surrounding the transfer of Kaka to Italian Serie A giants AC Milan as there normally is around the prospect of a samba sensation jetting into serve up some enchanting football, but it didn’t take time for the youngster to whip up a frenzy of his own. He quickly settled into life as a calcio star. Before long, he became a regular starter and it was thanks to his exceptional passing, strong running, aerial ability and long-range finishing.
With the Rossoneri, Kaka won the UEFA Champions League in 2007 as well as a top-flight title as he became a prince of European football when Milan were still an elite club. Possessing a tremendous amount of poise and balance, he knew how to drift between the lines as well as how to fend off tacklers with some deceptive strength considering his lithe and towering frame. His time in Europe saw him claim eight honours in all. Continuing to play in MLS with Orlando City he might have drifted away from the top levels that he once knew how to conquer so effectively but he still knows how to turn on the style.
13 WORST: Rafael Scheidt
In total, Rafael Scheidt made just four appearances for the Brazil national side which tells its own story about how good he was – although one of these came against club opposition in the shape of Barcelona – so he had a very short-lived international career. In all honesty, his performances were not notably outstanding for anything positive, they were in fact sublimely Scheidt. That is to say, well they were…mediocre.
His rare international outings in the famed yellow jersey have been pointed out by some as a clever way of attempting to boost his value on the transfer market before his sale from Gremio to Celtic in 1999. At Parkhead, however, he became a major laughing stock and a real waste of good money which could have been spent elsewhere. The defender was appallingly bad and wound up fleeing to play Chinese club football long before it ever became fashionable to do so, joining Beijing Renhe FC before hanging up his boots.
12 BEST: Neymar Jr.
Some will say that Neymar Jr. still has a long way to go before he’s considered an all-time great, but the numbers are very much on his side that he should be listed alongside the likes of Pele, Garrincha and Ronaldinho. Already Brazil’s all-time top scorer, having overtaken so many of his predecessors along the way, he is their unrivalled greatest marksman, without a shadow of doubt. Sure, he hasn’t won the FIFA World Cup yet, but he hasn’t had the luxury of a squad brimming with precocious, all-star talent around him to bolster his brilliance, like so many of the winners who came before him have had. What he has brought to the international set-up, aside from his obvious knack for rattling the back of the net, has been his passion. Always willing to make himself available to the Selecao he hasn’t enjoyed the success he has wanted, but he has given it his all, and he does have an Olympic gold medal to his name.
It is the club scene, though, which has been the arena of true glory for Neymar because that is where he has shone for Barcelona alongside Lionel Messi and and Luis Suarez in one of the most clinical tridents in the history of football. La Liga titles, European Cups, Club World Cups and Super Cups all adorn Neymar’s personal medal cabinet, but it is the memories of all his tremendous goals which tell the true story of just how otherworldly a talent he is – at just 25 years of age he has at least another 10 years of his career left and if he steers clear of injury there is every possibility he will go on and break the 1,000-goal mark, and legitimately so unlike some of his more boastful fellow countrymen.
11 WORST: Mirandinha
It might seem a little harsh to base his entire career on his time in the English Premier League, but as it has often been considered the benchmark in club football, it's pretty hard to totally ignore how awful Mirandinha was during his time with Newcastle United. Plus, he was the first Brazilian to ply his trade in England so he was always going to find the going tough acclimatizing to its subtle idiosyncrasies, expectant fans and terrible weather conditions, which were surely a far cry from the sunshine and beaches he might have been more used to in his homeland.
In total, he scored a miserable 19 goals in 54 appearances for the Toon Army which was a paltry return in comparison with what he bagged during his time in Brazil - the reported figures at the time of his £575,000 transfer was over 300 goals, so his tally with the Magpies was doubly disappointing as a result. Simply put, he didn't come up with enough goals to save the Geordies from relegation as they slumped down a division - then again, Paul Gascoigne couldn't save them either.
10 BEST: Romario
Much like Ronaldinho, Romario was something of a rock n’ roll footballer in his heyday. Arguably one of the greatest goal-scorers ever to emerge from Brazil, he shook the back of the net for fun at his peak – indeed, according to his own personal account of his clinical marksmanship, he collected over 1,000 goals throughout his remarkable career and although plenty of his detractors have disputed how he could have achieved that mark as well as questioning the legitimacy of lots of those strikes his bullishness about it all tells its own story about the type of character he was. To put it bluntly, he was a selfish forward, often exuding an air of superiority around the training ground and on the football field. However, it was a trait which clearly helped impose himself in the heat of live action, taking the initiative to demand the right through-ball, producing shots when others would have passed aside or insisting on penalty-kick duties being assigned to him.
On the international stage, the former Barcelona striker formed a formidable partnership with the original Ronaldo and between them they plundered a lot of goals – in fact, Romario himself finished his career with his country on 55 goals and although that has since been surpassed by a few stellar figures (including Neymar Jr.) Romario remains a beloved figure of the Brazilian populace. A controversial player, at times, he poured more than physical or temporal effort into his time as a world-class player and it was perhaps his psychological fortitude which gave him the edge over his opponents and, even, team-mates as he went on to establish himself as an all-time Selecao great.
9 WORST: Anderson
He was supposed to be the next best thing in world football when he signed for Manchester United back in the summer of 2007. Despite promising plenty of exceptional talent and having excited the media with his skill and flair with Porto, he never really took off at Old Trafford under Sir Alex Ferguson, despite staying there until 2015 - that’s seven-and-a-half years with one of the biggest clubs in the world. How he managed to bluff his way through that time we’ll never know, but he was ultimately shown the exit door when Louis Van Gaal arrived to take control as the new manager following David Moyes’ departure. An attacking midfielder, he had good balance, could shoot from long range and was technically rather good, but it never seemed to work out for him with a bad attitude and laziness pinpointed by many as the reasons behind his lack of any progress there.
Wes Brown, a former team-mate of his during that time of his career, once stated that he didn’t think Anderson had ever bothered to learn English which hints at the notion he perhaps didn’t want to settle in. Since leaving the Red Devils, Anderson has not had a great time of it, and a few years back he was spotted with an oxygen mask on, having been substituted after only 36 minutes of a cup tie with Brazilian club side Internacional. All in all, Anderson was a Premier League flop who now looks like he peaked during his brief time at Porto.
8 BEST: Ronaldo
Long before Cristiano Ronaldo, there was the original Ronaldo, taking control of the global game and in some people’s opinions the original really was the best as he radicalized the act of goal-scoring as a supremely talented no. 9. Nicknamed O Fenomeno, he really was a different breed of player who took Europe by storm in his various stints at Inter Milan, Real Madrid and towards the tail-end, AC Milan. One of the best dribblers on a football field, he had a way of gliding past defenders that made his skill seem effortless, as if he was skating on glassy ice, while his challengers fell over themselves, slipped up and generally looked lost in his presence. His finishing, too, was impeccable – whether passing the ball past a ‘keeper, rolling it between a custodian’s legs, rocketing it into the top corner or curling one in off the post, he was a master of the final touch in front of goal and is widely considered the greatest striker to ever play for the national team – his double in the 2002 World Cup final against Germany is still talked about to this day.
Sure, he faced criticism over his weight that tainted him in some people’s eyes, but he also had to contend with plenty of problems outside his control, such as a knee injury which plagued him at different stages of his career, even during his prime. All told, he missed nearly two years of action due to the knocks and surgeries but continued to come back strong, ultimately going on to cement his place among the beautiful game’s finest.
7 WORST: Fred
Singled out as the scapegoat for Brazil's awful 2014 World Cup campaign, a lot of Brazil fans still haven’t forgiven Fred for his role in the way the host nation bowed out so meekly, eventually being shown the exit door following a 7-1 demolition at the hands of Germany. Netting just one goal in six games, the former Fluminese striker was singled out for criticism as he failed to get among the goals, and while he was shouldered with all the responsibility of rattling the net seeing as Jo was injured and there was nobody else of note to call upon to play the no.9 role, it’s fair to say that Fred floundered spectacularly under the pressure.
In all, he bagged a paltry 18 international goals in 39 appearances and was nowhere near the sort of levels which have often expected by the fans from the strikers who lead the line. If Pele is often revered as a God, then Fred was most definitely the deluded choirboy who kept turning up to practice even though he couldn’t really sing. It might be unfair for the fans to pour all their vitriol on a single performer when so many were undeniably awful in the 2014 World Cup, but Fred was consistently below par and couldn’t ever redeem himself with the tide of public opinion battering against him.
6 BEST: Garrincha
To discuss Garrincha is to peel back the pages of football history to a much more romantic era. Often described as the greatest dribbler of all time, the wickedly wonderful winger always knew how to bamboozle the defender with some deceptive movements and shimmies. Such was the prowess of his side-line slaloming, he is regularly credited with having single-handedly won the 1962 World Cup tournament for Brazil – a full 24 years before the globe went nuts over a certain Diego Maradona’s completion of the same feat with Argentina. Long before the sensationalism of the game took effect, then, Garrincha was conquering all around him for the sheer fun of it and because, well, he was just too good for the defenders who tried to stop him. He also did it to give his countrymen in the stands plenty to cheer, which is why one of his nicknames quickly became ‘Joy of the People’.
Born with a spinal defect, his legs were also bent in unnatural positions which would have put lesser mentalities off the prospect of running around a pitch for 90 minutes week after week. Not Garrincha, he persisted and won the hearts of not just lovers of the Selecao, but the usually bipartisan crowd, too. In all, he won the biggest prize in international football twice and scored a few goals along the way, too. Most importantly, though, he broke the mould and, despite the tragic nature of his alcohol-fueled death, he inspired others through his football to battle back against difficult circumstances.
5 WORST: Digao
We're all aware of the guys who get hired because they know someone who knows someone, but Digao went a step further when he was signed by AC Milan with his brother Kaka already in the squad. Digao only played one league game for the Rossoneri, appearing in a Serie A match against Lazio 10 years ago back in 2007 and that in itself tells the story of just how terrible he was for them. Never called back to pull on the famous red and black shirt in the Italian top flight, he exited the San Siro without much of a future ahead of him and he hasn’t done much to revive a conked career since, despite the New York Red Bulls picking him up a few years ago, presumably in an effort to create some MLS media hype.
Digao can surely only bow down at the brilliance of his older brother who went on to reach pinnacles of the game that he could only admire from a long distance away. To rub salt in his wounds, not only is he remembered as Kaka’s awful football brother, but he’s also normally mentioned in the same breath as the fact he once netted an unfortunate own-goal brace for Italian lower-tier outfit Rimini. Oh, dear.
4 BEST: Ronaldinho
With his career currently in limbo, it’s probably only a matter of time before the Brazilian legend hangs up his boots. Moves to MLS clubs, Chinese Super League outfits and even Premier League teams have been mooted in the recent past, but the former Champions League winner hasn’t jumped at any of the reported transfer opportunities, opting instead to turn up at exhibition matches in India and mainland Europe to bring in some exorbitant amount of cash. He might be well past his best, and something of a risky gamble considering his penchant for the finer things in life which has hindered his commitment, but one can be sure there are plenty of fans of his eccentrically genius football style who would still love to see him make one last big splash.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest Brazilian footballers to ever take to the field of play, he is a former FIFA Ballon d’Or winner and following successful stints in his home country and in Ligue 1 with French giants Paris Saint-Germain, eventually made a household name of himself when he became a Barcelona player in the early noughties. For many, his brilliance sparked a football awakening as he redefined what so many youngsters thought was possible to achieve with a ball at one’s feet. At the Camp Nou, he produced mind-bending displays of audacity and awesome skill which saw him conquer Europe with the Spanish giants, as well as going on to win the FIFA World Cup. A genuine legend of the game, his legacy will be that of cheeky flicks, unbelievable goals, an incredible amount of deserved honours and a broad and infectious smile. Long live “Dinho”.
3 WORST: Carlos Kaiser
If Garrincha, was arguably the greatest Brazilian footballer of all time, then Carlos Henrique – the Kaiser – was the greatest conman in the nation’s football history. Plus, the two even have the name of the same club listed on their respective resumes: Botafogo. That was where Henrique earned his first shot as a youngster and, for a time, he managed to convince the coaches and scouts that he was decent. But, as laziness took hold, he began to come up with excuse after excuse to avoid playing, to escape training and to, ultimately, eke out a living as a professional footballer. Feigning injury was his go-to ploy and he would often go down in training clutching a muscle in agony to get time off.
His heart was never in it, but although he has often played up to the playboy image of someone who tricked others into guaranteeing him a 24-year career as a paid footballer, there was also probably a fear influencing his deception – if he had been honest, he may well have been found out as a terrible performer, because it took him being turned away by Puebla FC, a lowly Mexican First Division team to motivate him to con his way to money in the first place. Often dubbed a ‘farce footballer’ he managed to hide his lack of actual game time pretty well, and there is perhaps something admirable about the way he rigged the system in his favour. The romantic in every fan of the beautiful game cannot but be outraged at what he did for so many years.
2 BEST: Pele
What lavish praise can be dished out to Pele that hasn't been uttered before? To many, he is a living embodiment of the romance of football – a three-time World Cup winner who is to this day name-checked as one of the most iconic, and in many people’s eyes the best, footballers to ever play the game. Having made his international debut at the tender age of 16, he would go on to become a world champion less than a year later, scoring six goals along the way – including two in the 1958 final against Sweden as the Selecao ran out 5-2 winners. It didn’t get any less euphoric than that for the sensation as he went on to score 77 goals in 92 matches.
On the club scene, he played for Santos for 18 years before moving on to a glorious swan song with the New York Cosmos in the NASL, winning a plethora of honours along the way to solidify his place as a true great. Some still point to an absence of European club football on his resume as the only mark against him as it has often been considered a true test of brilliance, but Pele is unlikely to lose too much sleep over those detractors.
1 WORST: Fumaca
It’s possible that Fumaca has faded from many people’s memories. Sometimes that happens with mediocre footballers. Guys who don’t stand out for being good or bad – they come and they go with the blandest of performances, often getting a decent five or 10-year career out of their efforts. But if you don’t remember Fumaca, it’s not because he was so average. No, it’s probably because he was so bad that you’ve consciously wiped him from your memory – and that’s coming from someone who once scored an own-goal hat-trick in a five-a-side kick-about. Mmm-hmm.
Dubbed the first-ever ‘Brazilian non-footballer’ (an impressively unique title in itself) by Michael Hudson, Fumaca was a liability in possession with Newcastle United, Birmingham City, Derby County and Watford and has been likened to the equally rubbish Ali Dia in recent times, too. Suffice to say, Fumaca brought the prestige of Brazilian footballers down somewhat in many people’s estimations.
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