Sunday, October 19, 2008
Profiles Of The Great and Good: Arthur Friedenreich: The Original "Black" Pearl
What do you get if you cross a German Footballer and a Brazilian Footballer? You get Arthur Friedenreich, the greatest goalscorer the world has ever seen. He scored more goals than Pele, furthered civil rights, had a 26 year career and got his teeth kicked in.
Arthur Friedenreich was born in 1892 on the corner of Vitoria (victory) and Triunfo (triumph) streets. After being born in such a symbolic place how could he fail? His father Oscar was a German businessman and his mother Mathilde an Afro-Brazillian.
His parentage was extremely important as 'blacks' were not allowed to play football in the early 1900's. Football was the dominion of the upper-class white establishment. Friedenreich was allowed to play because he had white features. As a mulatto he looked like he was tanned, he also had green eyes.
However, he had to straighten his hair before every match, often taking hours before kick-off to get the look right. This wasn't an uncommon practice in Brazil during these years. Some historians have Carlos Alberto of Fluminense whitening his face with flour or rice powder before matches.
Being raised in a European style family Arthur had contact with football from an early age. Most Brazillians were too poor to play the game as club membership was restricted. But Friedenreich first shows in our record books in 1909 playing aptly for Germania, a team made of German immigrants.
As a mere 17-year-old Friedenreich won many admirers with his skill, pace, power, dribbling skills and technique. And it wasn't long before suitors came looking for the young 'German' prodigy. Over the next four seasons he played for four different clubs, steadily progressing with each one until in 1912 he finished top scorer in the Sao Paulo League with 16 goals.
He would go on to be top scorer again in 1914, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1927 and 1929. Nobody has ever equaled this feat of being top scorer in the league over 17 years. Not even Pele.
But it wasn't just Friedenreich's awesome prowess in front of goal that marked him out as a special player. He was blessed with fabulous skill with tenacity to match. And although he stood at 5' 7" and weighed little more than eight stone he was nicknamed "El Tigre" by Uruguayan and Argentinian footballers because of his never say die attitude.
Early descriptions of him and his style of play have him as a "green eyed mulatto dancer" as his dribbling skills were so good he looked choreographed. He was also known as "Latin America's sweetheart" as he set many pulses racing and perhaps paved the way in more ways than one for another famous dribbler of the ball, Garrincha.
He made his debut for Brazil in 1914 against the mighty Exeter City! This match was historic for two reasons:
1. It was Friedenreich's first game for his country and more importantly...
2. This was Brazil's first ever International match, incidentally they won 2-0. One thing that would forever stay with Freidenreichwas losing his two front teeth in a heavy tackle with his marker but played on and finished the match.
Friedenreich was the first real superstar in Brazilian football, if not the world. And he was definitely the first to player to personify all that we expect when it comes to Brazilian football. In 1919, he scored the winning goal against Uruguay in the final of the Copa America, Brazil won 1-0. And after the match Sao Paulo football magazine Sports,
At this time Soccer had originated from Britain as Industrialist's spread through the world, with the game they also brought their tactics. Friedenreich was a pioneer of Joga Bonita and was pivotal in the change of tactics from British style football to Brazilian style football.
The article contrasted the British style "which dictates that the ball be brought by all the forwards right up to the oppositions goal" with Freidenreich's Brazilian approach "where shots were taken from any distance, and the collective whole of the forward line is not necessary, it's enough for two or three players to break away with the ball, which by it's devastating speed disorientates the defence".
This may seem like common sense nowadays but back in 1919 this was the equivalent of football on the moon. It also led to a move from traditional WM formations where five played up front (and where the long ball was king) to formations that utilised only one or two up front and where skill overcame physical size and strength.
If you look at this in another way, Brazil started to move away from the WM formation around 1920 while English football only moved from it after 1955. Putting Brazil 35 years ahead of England tactics wise.
This Copa America win in 1919 was probably the pinnacle of Friedenreich's career. After the final the streets of Rio were flooded with people as the celebrations began. And raised above them all was the boot that scored the winning goal on a flag pole and a huge banner proclaiming "The glorious foot of Friedenreich". The following week his boot did a tour of Rio as it was placed in jewellers windows for all to see.
His fame began to spread after this, and his club team Paulistano were invited to play friendlies all over South America as everybody wanted to see Friedenreich play. In 1927, 18 years after he made his debut Friedenreich wowed crowds in Europe as Paulistano became the first Brazilian side to tour Europe. And although he scored 11 goals in eight games and was heralded as "The King of Football" by the European media, the toll on his body from such a long career in the top flight had begun to tell.
By this stage in his career Friedenreich was so famous he couldn't leave his home without being mobbed and he was finding the pressures of being a celebrity too much. He was also 35 years of age and was beginning to find the strain on his body too much.
In 1921 Friedenreich was at the height of his powers and many believed he was the best player in the world. But the next Copa America was to be held in Argentina, a predominantly white country. And before the tournament commenced it was announced that only white players would be allowed participate.
Worried that black players would bring shame on his country President of Brazil Epitacio Pessoa decreed that only white players could represent their country in Argentina. Shamefully Friedenreich was left out of the squad.
This episode had a huge effect on Friedenreich and Brazillian football in general. And is widely regarded as the watershed incident that planted the seeds to end discrimination in the football community.
Apart from discrimination, Friedenreich had to contend with life as a celebrity, without any of the luxuries players take for granted now-a-days. Even though he was probably the most famous footballer on the planet he made a meagre existence. Brazilian Football was amateur until 1918. And players like Friedenreich made little or no money from official league matches so they played as many friendlies as possible to earn money.
He wasn't exactly saving for the great depression either. He was known to have owned over 120 suits. He drank expensive beer and imported French Brandy and was well known in the Rio nightclub scene. Just like his successor Garrincha.
He is reported to have scored 1329 goals in 1239 games. Although there is an argument from Pele fans saying he "only" scored 1239 in 1329 games. You will have noticed the same numbers used in the tallies. And in these lie one of football's great mysteries. No one really knows how many goals Friedenreich scored as records from the early 1900's are incomplete at best. Some historians believe the former figure and some the latter.
Only his father Oscar and his best friend and team mate Mario de Andrade really knew. They had together compiled Fridenreich's goal scoring record. But these records vanished mysteriously following Andrade's death in the mid-60's.
And by the time reporters realised they had a great story on their hands and had started to research Friedenreich's career he was an old man. As he was the only person alive who could verify his amazing feats, reporters sought him out. By the time they found him he couldn't answer any questions. He repeatedly rubbed his hands through his hair that had gone completely straight after years of using brilliantine. It was believed that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
By the time Friedenreich passed away in 1969, he had forgotten not only his name but his amazing feats as a footballer.