Zico Panini sticker from the World Cup 1982 in Spain.

There are some football players that have managed to rise above local rivalries and become loved by fans from all clubs, Zico is one of them. This a short text about one of the most loved football players from Rio de Janeiro, sometimes referred to as The White Pelé.

Humble Beginning

Arthur Antunes Coimbra was born 1953 in the suburb Quintino Bocaiuva in Rio’s Zona Norte, a very humble neighbourhood. Like so many other Brazilians he started out in a futsal team, when he was 14 his talent was noted and he started to play junior football for CR Flamengo, the biggest team in Rio de Janeiro; when he was 18 he made his debut for the senior team. The beginning of his career was not noteworthy, most likely due to his thin stature. After a few years of hard training and taking steroids (back then they were legal) he gained muscle, and soon he was a regular feature on the Flamengo midfield. In 1974 he gained the prestigious number 10 on his jersey and he was also elected the best player in Brazil by the prestigious Placar football magazine.

The Golden Years of Zico

Most experts agree that 1978 marked the beginning of Zico’s peak as a player, this is also when he picked the habit of regularly scoring from free kicks. He was in the side that went to the World Cup held in Argentina, Brazil ended up in third place. With him at the helm Flamengo managed most notably to win three national championships, one Copa Libertadores and one Intercontinental Cup during just 5 years. During the World Cup in Spain in 1982 Zico made part of arguable the most exciting national team of all time (yours truly can sign on that), together with players like Falcão and Sócrates they showed the world a football they had never seen before; it was the jogo bonito (the beautiful game) Brazilians covet so much. When Brazil lost against a young and counter attacking Italy and therefor was knocked out, it was a great upset since the team had looked invincible until then.

To Italy and Back

When he was sold to Italian Udinese in 1983 the Flamengo fans were devastated. The transfer fee was 4 million USD, at the time an enormous sum and it received a lot of international attention, the contract would make Zico a dollar millionaire. Falcão was already in Italy playing for Roma, from this moment Brazilians had to get used to see how their league was bled on their best players to wealthy clubs in Europe. His career in Italy was short, after two years he went back to Flamengo. He had scored 57 goals in just just 79 games; When considering he had been fighting leg injuries and his position as a midfielder, very impressive indeed. The reasons for leaving were several, he had been forced to play injured and had other disagreement with the owners of the club; alongside some quite severe tax problems. The fans of Udinese remember him with love until today.

Retirement and After

Although he won more Brazilian championship with Flamengo after his return, the next 4 years he spent in the club were dominated by dealing bad knee and ankle injuries; he had sustained them in a nasty challenge already in 1985. His participation in the 1986 World Cup would be tainted by a missed penalty against that could have taken Brazil to the quarter finals, many people would argue that his lack of match training prejudicated his performance in this tournament. In 1988 he stopped playing for Flamengo never to play a competitive game for a Brazilian professional team again, the injuries were too bad for the then 35-year old Zico to continue on this level. In 1991 he went to play for a couple of years in Japan for Kashima Antlers, he remained as a player until 1994 when he finally retired. He returned to The Antlers as a coach in 1999. In 2002 he was appointed National Coach of Japan, Zico would take the team to the World Cup in Germany 2006 where they failed to qualify from the group. He left the assignment shortly after, since then he has coached clubs in Turkey, Russia, Uzbekistan, Greece and Quatar. For a brief spell he was the head coach of Iraq.


With his 539 goals he is Flamengo’s top scoring player of all time, he is still a legend in the club from Rio de Janeiro who still celebrate the 1981 Intercontinental Cup win against Liverpool with great pride. He will always be remembered for his great play making skills and his sportsmanship. The fact he never won them a gold has never stopped Brazilians from loving him.


He has received various nicknames in his career. “Zico” was given as a loving diminutive of Arthur. “Galinho de Quintino” (means something like the Chicken from Quintino) was given him by a famous sports commentator called Waldir Amaral who though the young player was long haired and was running a lot (perhaps his two skinny legs also was a reason?). The name “O Pelé Branco”, The White Pelé, needs no explanation. As a coach he has been nick named “God of Football” in Japan and “King Arthur” in Turkey.

Sources and for further reading:
A torcida diz adeus ao craque maior – Article in Veja 1983
Biografia do Galinho – Article from the site Campos de futebol
Zico 60: o surgimento do Galinho de Quintino e a trajetória até o estrelato – Article in O Globo
– Ulbrich, P “Simplesmente Zico“ (2014)
– Wikipedia

  • Rio’s Waterholes – The Boteco and the Botequim

    Bar GetúlioThe botecos or botequins of Rio are traditional places Brazilians frequent to enjoy beer, snack food and good company. The history of the existence of these type of establishments can be traced back to the 19th century. What is a… Read more…

  • Football Players From Rio – Romário

    romarioIn 2014 the former footballer Romário was elected senator of Rio de Janeiro, in this article I will present you with the story of this charismatic Carioca. With more official goals (772) scored than Pelé (767) he is not only… Read more…