The Brazil team of 1982 was exceptional. A side heralded for it’s attacking verve, and for re-establishing the essence of joyful Brazilian football.
This incarnation of the Seleção are never far from the debate of the great World Cup sides. All this praise without having won the World Cup is testament to their brilliance, and the tragedy felt at their ultimate shortcoming.
The revered midfield of the side are held in the echelons of World Cup majesty. Socrates, the doctor, matched bravado with unparalleled technique. Zico is considered among the greatest to play in samba yellow. Then there was Paulo Roberto Falcão.
The Heart of 1982
That Falcão was called up to the squad in 1982 to cover the suspension of Toninho Cerezo only adds to the tale. Arriving late and needing to fill the void left by the defensive midfielder, he slipped into the rotating fluid system with consummate ease. Many of the team’s defining moments, such as the equalisng goal in their eventual defeat to Italy, feature Falcão.
In this incident, with Brazil 2-1 down, left back Junior ghosts inside past Italian tackles to find Falcão on the right of the penalty area. The most delicate of touches sets himself up and pulls away from the crowded penalty area. He then brings down his left foot to drive through the ball and send it roaring past Dino Zoff.
Falcão was by no means an attacking midfielder. He was often the deepest lying midfielder along with one of Toninho Cerezo or Dirceu throughout the tournament. However the attacking liberty afforded to individuals in this side meant that each had the opportunity to contribute in attack. And how.
The Roma midfielder would often pop up on the right, as is the case with his goal vs Italy. Brazil’s marauding full backs meant that spaces were opened up when the opposition were pulled wide by these runs. Similarly, Socrates, Zico and Eder were afforded the license to move freely by rotating to fill the gaps left by the others.
All four were effectively play-makers, and each deadly in their passing and ball carrying in attacking areas. Falcão’s most dangerous asset however was in his deep passing.
Few teams of the time exercised an organised press as seen by modern sides. This of course allowed a passer of Falcão’s ability and technique time to scythe balls to advancing strikers. The swinging arc of his leg is exquisite to watch. It can be argued that his skill set would thrive best out of this roster of brilliant Brazilians were they playing today.
Brazilian, but Roman
Falcão was therefore the ultimate central midfielder of the time. Able to penetrate defences with long raking passes to wipe out the defensive blocks. Able to break up attacks and spring the team into attack.Taking up advanced positions to make the final pass or shoot at goal.
An iconic Brazilian, his shock of blonde curly hair and long legs scream samba flair. Yet Falcão was equally revered and associated with the ancient city of Rome. So much so that he was named ‘The Eighth King of Rome’.
For such a name to be bestowed upon a player is rare. For that player to only spend five years at the club makes it unheard of. Falcão, having starred for Brazil at the 1982 World Cup, inspired the club to the Serie A title the following year. Since his arrival in 1980, Roma had yet to finish lower than third. His coronation was testament to this quality of performance. The 1983 title was their first for over forty years.
In Rome he was the lynchpin of his side. This resulted in a series of battles between he and Michel Platini; arguably the best player in Italy at the time. Juventus’ Frenchman was an attacking phenomenon blessed with superb dribbling and a thirst for goals. Falcão’s influence was more niched, dictating from deep and driving forward should the chance arise.
The two would lock horns frequently during the early 1980s. Roma and Juventus were at this time the strongest sides in Italy, and the encounters between the two would reflect this magnitude. They would share four consecutive Scudettos from 1980 to 1984, with both Platini and Falcão being the best players of these sides.
Falcão’s time in Rome was cut short in 1985. He strangely refused to take a penalty in the European Cup Final the previous year, with Roma losing the shootout to Liverpool. For such a talismanic player and personality to shirk his duty in this way was baffling. It damaged relations with the fans that had christened him a saviour, and would see him return to Brazil a year later.
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An Unceremonious Ending for Falcão
Falcão would retire all together a year later following the 1986 World Cup. Brazil had a disappointing tournament, exiting at the Quarter Finals. He and Socrates were long past their brilliant best, and unable to revive the spirit of the 1982 side.
After his return to Brazil, and leaving Rome in an underwhelming fashion, Falcão would play one season with Flamengo. However due to the nature of defeat at the 1986 World Cup and a serious knee injury sustained in Italy, he retired after the Mexico tournament.
For such an esteemed player to retire at thirty-three, with just thirty four international caps to his name is testament to Falcão’s genius. Unable to sustain the brilliance that had allowed the likes of Zico to purr, he bowed out to lttle ceremony.
Part of the legend of that generation of Brazilians is the individual characters within it. Socrates saw himself as more than an athlete, smoking and drinking to excess as well as holding a degree in medicine. Zico’s ability carried a weight of aura with it. Falcão is the lesser known of the three, but nonetheless had a lifestyle and persona to match even Socrates.
He is the eleventh inductee to Roma’s Hall of Fame, despite making less than two hundred appearances for the club (for context, Francesco Totti made over 750). He is the ‘Eighth King of Rome’. Yet few discuss Paulo Roberto Falcão in the discussion of the great Brazilians.
They should. If only just for his role in that 1982 side, but in truth it was his Roman conquest that should sit highest on his legacy. A midfielder of timeless elegance and unsung genius.