Physically Zico was not strong, and his history of determination and discipline began with a hard muscle and body development program conducted by the Physical Education teacher JosÃ© Roberto Francalacci. A combination of hard work and also a special diet sponsored by his team enabled him to develop a strong body and become an athlete. This later proved to be essential for his success.
In 1971, he had some appearances in the professional team but only one year later, after 116 matches and 81 goals in the youth team, Zico was promoted to Flamengo's professional squad.
While at Flamengo, Zico was a key player during the most glorious period of the team's history. Along with many other titles, in his first period at Flamengo he led the team to victory in the 1981 Copa Libertadores, the 1981 Intercontinental Cup, and four national titles (1980/82/83/87). On the field, Zico made goals in all imaginable ways, was also a great assister and team organizer, and was known for his excellent vision of the field. He was a two-footed player and an expert at free kicks.
In the 1978 World Cup against Sweden, Zico headed a corner kick into the goal in the final minute of the match, apparently breaking a 1-1 tie. However, in a call that became infamous, the Welsh referee Clive Thomas disallowed the goal, saying that he had blown the whistle to end the match while the ball was still in the air.
1982 World Cup would see Zico as part of a fantastic squad, side by side with FalcÃ£o, SÃ³crates, Cerezo and JÃºnior. In spite of his 4 goals and great skills by that squad, the team was defeated by Paolo Rossi and Italy in the second round.
After receiving offers from AS Roma and AC Milan, it seemed right to move to Italy, and in a multi-million dollar transaction he was hired to play for Udinese Calcio. Though leaving Flamengo fans in sadness, he caused a commotion in Udine by making fans to dream about better days for the city's club. In the 1983-84 Serie A, his first in Italy, his partnership with Franco Causio took Udinese to a higher level, gaining respect from giants Juventus and Roma. His personal top scorer dispute against Juventus's Michel Platini was exciting â€” Zico scored 19 goals, one less than top scorer Platini, having played 6 matches less than the French footballer. His following season would be punctuated by injuries, suspensions due to openly attacking referees, and a great match against Napoli's Diego Maradona -- his last one as a bianconero.
Ultimately Udinese failed to win any relevant competition and Zico returned to Brazil and Flamengo, sponsored by a group of companies.
Back to Brazil
On his return, he suffered a knee injury after a violent tackle from Bangu's defender Marcio Nunes, which interrupted his career for several months. He played in the 1986 FIFA World Cup while still injured, and missed a penalty during regular time in the quarter-final match against France. The match ended in a tie which led to a shootout. Zico then scored his goal but after penalties missed by SÃ³crates and JÃºlio CÃ©sar, Brazil were knocked out. Recovered from injuries, things improved for Zico in 1987 when he led Flamengo to their fourth national title.
In December 1989 Zico made his last official appearance for Flamengo in a Brazilian National Championship match against rivals Fluminense. Zico made the first goal and Flamengo won the match 5-0.
Two months later, he would play his last match as a Flamengo player facing a World Cup Masters team composed of names like Eric Gerets, Claudio Gentile, Franco Causio, Alberto Tarantini, Jorge Valdano, Mario Kempes, Paul Breitner, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and FalcÃ£o.
With 731 matches for Flamengo, Zico is the player with the 2nd most appearances for the club. His 508 goals make him the club's top scorer ever.
The achievements of the greatest idol in Flamengo's history inspired the Brazilian singer Jorge Benjor to write a song in his honour - Camisa 10 da GÃ¡vea - helping create the mystique of the club's number 10.
Zico also represented Brazil in the World Cup of Masters, scoring in the final of the 1990 and 1991 editions.
After Brazil's first presidential election in many years, the new president Fernando Collor de Mello appointed Zico as his Minister of Sports. Zico stayed at this political assignment for about a year and his most important contribution was a piece of legislation dealing with the business side of sport teams.
In 1991, Zico interrupted his political assignment when he accepted an offer to join the Sumitomo Metal Industries Soccer Club in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture, to help the club secure a place in Japan's first fully professional soccer league that was set to officially launch in 1993 â€” J. League. Zico played for Sumitomo in 1992, the last season before the old Japan Soccer League was disbanded, and finished as the league's top scorer. When the new league launched, the small town club, renamed Kashima Antlers, was not expected to compete with richer, more glamorous clubs like Yokohama Marinos and Verdy Kawasaki. Zico, however, helped the Antlers to win the J.League Suntory Series and a runners-up finish in its inaugural season, leading the club to cement its place among the league's elite.
His discipline, talent and professionalism meshed very well with Japanese culture, and his influence earned him the nickname, "God of Soccer" (サッカーの神様, sakkā no kamisama?) from Japanese soccer fans.
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