Heart Of Football

Farewell Carlos Alberto, scorer of the best goal in futebol history

Never say never while the likes of Lionel Messi are alive and kicking. But a man whose goal surpasses them all in World Cup history - Carlos Alberto Torres - has left us.

Football is being played this weekend in scores of Fifa's 211 member countries and territories. Men will compete for astounding fortunes in the Premier League, the Primera Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A - and in the Futebol Brasileiro where, but for his heart attack, Carlos Alberto would have been commentating for O Globo television.

He was no ordinary player. He left indelible memories on extraordinary team-mates. The testimonials from both Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, each described him as a best friend and a brother.

Fluminense, his first club, played with black armbands at the Maracana stadium on Friday night. Santos, where he moved to play in the same side as Pele, were in action late last night.

Brazil's national football federation announced three days of official mourning for the man remembered as "o eterno capitao", the eternal captain.

But Santos probably said it best, and simplest. "Obrigado por tudo, Carlos Alberto Torres!" they said on the team's official website shortly after the news was confirmed on Tuesday. "Thanks for everything."

"Eternal captain" Carlos Alberto Torres led Brazil's most talented football team to the 1970 World Cup title, scoring the final goal in the 4-1 thrashing of Italy in Mexico.
“Eternal captain” Carlos Alberto Torres led Brazil’s most talented football team to the 1970 World Cup title, scoring the final goal in the 4-1 thrashing of Italy in Mexico.

A selfless run without the ball from Tostao, the sweet flow of virtually all the rest, and then the generous layoff from Pele - no, we should not expect to see anything so beautiful or so co-ordinated again.

Why are we looking back when there is so much of the game to look forward to?

Let us try to encapsulate what Carlos Alberto stood for. He was first and foremost a man of futebol, with heavy emphasis on the word man.

Even the greatest line-up in living memory needed leadership. And when you see the names of the Brazil side of 1970, purveyors of the Beautiful Game, just look at who skippered them: Felix; Carlos Alberto (captain), Piazza, Brito, Everaldo; Clodoaldo, Gerson; Jairzinho, Tostao, Pele and Rivelino.

It was the first World Cup shown in technicolour. Brazil's gold shirts and golden movement were burned into the memory of anyone old enough to have seen it, in the flesh or on TV.

Brazil won that tournament with 19 goals in six games, scored by seven different players. All of those, and one more, contributed to the last goal of the final, a 4-1 decimation of the renowned Italian defensive machine.

Nostalgia is old hat. Nevertheless, that last goal is out there on many websites and on YouTube because it is an imperishable example of everything that is great in the game.

It started with Tostao, the centre-forward, chasing back to hunt for the ball. He won it in a tackle close to the left edge of his own goal area. Won it, gave it to a colleague, turned and sprinted right the way through the field into the Italian penalty box.

While Tostao ran, others did their thing.

Clodoaldo, the closest thing Brazil had in those days to a midfield "holding" player, tricked four - yes, four - Italians in a sinewy, elegant dribble still in his own half of the field.

Left, right, left again he meandered, dropping a shoulder to throw opponents off balance, never losing control of the ball or purpose.

When, eventually, Clodoaldo parted with the ball it passed quickly through the feet, and the brain, of Pele, then Gerson, then Rivelino up the left flank to Jairzinho.

We are talking great players here, every one of them. None dwelt on the ball, none paused for breath or for thought. They were gliding across the turf, going where instinct and teamwork and simplicity moved them.

Gerson was a playmaker and Jairzinho a direct, powerful winger. But in that move they were just players, passing and moving to colleagues with the freedom that many have claimed was the preserve of the Dutch "Total Football" invented later in the 1970s, or the 1950s' Magical Magyars of Hungary.

Nobody did it better than Brazil, and in this movement the coup de grace was still to come.

When Jairzinho passed the ball inside to Pele, Tostao was already ahead of them. With his back to the Italian goal, Tostao called out to tell the great Pele what to do with it.

Tostao saw o capitao Carlos Alberto making a run to the right. Pele saw him too. Pele stopped the ball dead with a touch of his foot. He waited a split second for his skipper to race into the box and then released it with a pass timed to perfection into the stride of Carlos Alberto.

The rest, Senhor Carlos Alberto has often said, was easy. The full-back hit it so hard he lifted both his feet off the ground. It flew arrow straight, low down, inside the far corner of the net.

There. If I have done half justice to it, is every reason to look back in this game.

As I began, with Messi's imaginative genius he could last night, or in the Champions League at Manchester City on Tuesday, lift us all with (another) wondrous strike.

But a team goal of that 1970 magic? A selfless run without the ball from Tostao, the sweet flow of virtually all the rest, and then the generous layoff from Pele - no, we should not expect to see anything so beautiful or so co-ordinated again.

I, like many, many people, have talked to Carlos Alberto about that goal. He puts it all down to the colleagues he played with. But he, then aged 25, was in his prime as a most athletic footballer.

He understood the game. He knew where to run and how to lead. He shared dressing rooms with the greats of his era, and pitted his skills against others.

Right to the eve of his untimely death, at the age of 72, he never lost the wonder of what futebol meant to him or to the millions who loved it.

With his gravelly voice, Carlos Alberto remained an analyst who, with humour and insight praised the good, and with withering scorn, even anger, seldom held back on the failings of the modern generation.

They outearned him, but most will never know the wealth of what he gave and received from the sport.

Rest in Peace, Carlos Alberto Torres.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 30, 2016, with the headline 'Farewell Carlos Alberto, scorer of the best goal in futebol history'. Print Edition | Subscribe