All-time Top 20: No. 16 Jairzinho
For the next two weeks, ESPN FC is counting down the 20 greatest World Cup players of all time, with two unveiled per day until the final five. The identity of the No. 1 player will be announced on April 18. Name: Jair Ventura Filho (Jairzinho) Nationality: Brazil Position: Winger/Striker Clubs: Botafogo (1959-74), Marseille (1974-75), Kaizer Chiefs (1975), Cruzeiro (1976), Portuguesa (1977), Noroeste (1978-79), Fast Club (1979) International career: 81 matches, 33 goals. World Cup participation: 1966, 1970, 1974 -- played 16, scored 9 Finest World Cup moment: Scored in each game as Brazil won 1970 title Roll of honour: Winner 1970, fourth place 1974 There is no more indelible mark of a player’s reputation than the World Cup. Starring on the grandest stage writes a name in legend, despite what else might happens in a player’s career. In turn, many a star player has shriveled under the glare of the greatest show on earth. In any country other than Brazil, Jairzinho would be a venerated legend. Only two players have ever scored in each match at a finals: Uruguay’s Alcides Ghiggia scored four in four in 1950, but Jairzinho scored six in six in 1970. Jairzinho, first a winger and later a striker, played at three finals tournaments. But Mexico '70, the first finals to be televised in colour, dominates his World Cup story. From Brazil's opening match against Czechoslovakia, to the final at the Azteca, where he struck his team’s third goal to stake Brazil to an unassailable 3-1 lead against Italy, his goals powered his nation’s third World Cup triumph. It was a perfect record in a tournament still recognised as the high point in World Cup history. Playing for what is often considered the finest team in the tournament’s history actually diminishes Jairzinho’s standing. He competes for the limelight with fabled teammates like Pele, Gerson, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto and Tostao, even if none of them matched his scoring feats.
“When people talk about the greatest forwards in history, they never remember him,” Tostao, the centre-forward who was Jairzinho’s teammate at the 1966 and 1970 World Cups, tells ESPN FC. “It seems that he was only a forward that had his moment under the sun just during the 1970 World Cup, but he was much more than that. “Jairzinho was a bit like Neymar, playing from the side to the centre and striking with precision. He had speed, strength and a lot of skill. When we played him a long ball, he was spectacular. He bumped, gained his space with his body, and still managed to shoot with skill.” His six goals in Mexico were delivered through a wide range of finishes, from the delicate chip in the 2-1 win against Romania that followed a surging run past three defenders, to a power drive that beat England goalkeeper Gordon Banks -- something Pele had failed to do with a header earlier. After playing as a 21-year-old at a 1966 finals where twice-consecutive winners Brazil disappointingly surrendered their crown, Jairzinho had replaced the great Garrincha on the right flank by 1970. The two were very different players: Whereas Garrincha weaved tricky magic on the touchline, Jairzinho was direct, always looking to be on the end of passing moves. He has nowhere near the cachet of Garrincha back home. “I think Brazilians just think Jairzinho was just totally in form,” Alex Bellos, author of "Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life," tells ESPN FC. “He stands out because he scored all those goals but is chiefly famous for what he did for that team.” “Jairzinho was not a crack,” confirms ESPN Brasil’s Paulo Vinicius Coelho, using the Latin American football term for star player. “But he was a powerful and rapid winger who was brilliant.” His goal in the 1970 final came at a vital juncture. Gerson had given Brazil a 2-1 lead, but a jittery defence was living in fear of Italy’s sharp attackers. When Pele flicked on in the 71st minute, Jairzinho appeared on the scene, running at a breathtaking pace beyond Italy’s defenders. At the last, his touch evaded him, but the ball still squeaked into the net. Jairzinho’s momentum had taken it there; he achieved his perfect goal-scoring record with an imperfect finish. Four years later in West Germany, Jairzinho was finally a leading light, but without Pele, Tostao and Gerson, Brazil were a faded force. They finished fourth after losing to Poland in the playoff, with Jairzinho scoring just twice. Back home, his reputation took a jolt for his performance, and he never again played a competitive match for the Selecao. Worldwide, though, he is recalled as the player who just could not stop scoring in Mexico’s golden summer of 1970.