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In-Depth Player Profile: Cafú
30.12 || Seamus

If you saw the name Marcos Evangelista de Moraes you’d probably either shrug your shoulders or sprain your tongue: after all, who is he? You’d probably cast your mind back and come up blank, and so you should. After all, the word Cafú bears no resemblance to Marcos Evangelista de Moraes – despite being one and the same person: a champion of the footballing world.

The nickname, and the myriad successes earned with those four letters on the back of a jersey, hide a story of perseverance as rare as it is fascinating. After all; who would put up with being laughed off no less than twelve times when trying to convince clubs to give him a chance? And who would guess that the same ‘reject’ would conquer everything in his path – and with a smile?

To understand this particular saga we have to rewind back to a place called Jardim Irene; nominally ‘Irene’s garden’, but really one of the city of São Paulo’s many sprawling favelas (shanty towns). Marcos was one of those boys people outside of Brazil usually see on documentaries; one of six children growing up so near, yet so far, from the gaudy wealth of the ‘zona sul’ (south side).

Despite the presence of five other children in a cramped three-room house, Cafú remains proud of his parents for accomplishing a difficult feat – he never starved or lacked clothes. It may sound a simple fact, and the truth is that we are talking about the basics, but given the appalling poverty and temptation to fall into despair it was a triumph that he will never forget.

Predictably enough he never excelled in the academic subjects on offer at the Escola Estadual de Primeiro Grau Ronaldo Garibaldi Pereti, preferring the physical contact with a ball and a group of friends to a book and a silent room. He began to make a name for himself on the local dirt pitches of his home neighbourhood, becoming well-known for his speed and stamina.

The logical step for young Marcos was to see if a future really existed in the world of football, and it was to be a gruelling process that may well have seen less determined individuals throw the towel in. He was turned away from clubs on a frequent basis, sometimes without even a chance to demonstrate his worth on the field, many times being told to pack his dreams in because he wasn’t professional material.

Cafú was rejected no less than four times in the São Paulo FC ‘peneiras’ (trials that sieve out the promises from the lies in the groups of eager youngsters). He continued a not-so-Grand Slam of Paulista clubs by being turned down by Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos and Portuguesa – as well as Atlético Mineiro, just to name the main clubs.

In the middle of the eighties, Cafú enrolled himself into a footballing academy run by the ex-footballer Pedro Rocha. This led to a word-of-mouth recommendation to play with Nacional, but Cafú, despite actually being accepted, didn’t last long and was let go. From there he aped his low performances at Portuguesa, going down several rungs to play at Itaquaquecetuba.

The countryside club allowed Marcos to finally begin to flourish, paralleling his ‘baptism’ with a nickname that would echo round the world: Cafú. Due to his lightning incursions up the right wing, Marcos was compared to the Fluminense and Atlético Mineiro speed merchant Cafuringa. The name stuck when it was abbreviated to the catchier Cafú.

By 1988 Cafú’s performances had risen to the level that spotters from the youth divisions of São Paulo FC ended up signing the re-baptised Cafú for service at Morumbi. As soon as he’d arrived he slipped into the squad vying for the ‘Copa São Paulo’. This prestigious youth tournament was the stage for Cafú to shine, conquering the trophy and definitively worming his way into the Coaching staff’s memory. The next step would be professional, and it would happen faster than he thought.

São Paulo had built themselves up to the status of most successful Paulista team of the eighties, but as the decade wound to a close they were losing steam. The surprise loss of the 1988 Paulistão (São Paulo State Cup) put a dent in the hitherto roaring career of Coach Cilinho, and parallel to the loss of focus in direction, many of the team stars had been sold off.

The young Cafú was to be part of a new harvest; nurtured into a fine vintage by a man who would become synonymous with modern São Paulo FC: Telê Santana – the Coach of the 1982 Seleção. 1989 saw Cafú as a second-choice bench warmer as SPFC hoisted the 1989 Paulistão, still under the aegis of Cilinho, and the next year saw him edge his way into the team by playing in midfield.

Cafú had the best physical performance of the Tricolor squad, his stamina impressing even cynical veterans like Physio Turíbio Leite de Barros. "I’d already worked with over 800 professional footballers and had never seen anything similar. Cafú was perfectly capable of being a top sprinter or a top marathon runner.”

Barros was not alone in seeing something special in Cafú: Paulo Roberto Falcão, seleção Coach at the time, called the player up to face Spain in his first international. Telê Santana arrived in October 1990 and Cafú’s meteoric rise started in full swing. Telê saw the 20 year-old wasted in a midfield position, and wanted to exploit his qualities out on the flank where he could do more damage.

The Coach explained his idea to Cafú, and the player accepted despite never having played as a wing-back before. Overtaking and crossing now formed a large part of his training schedule as Cafú built up the basics of a good wing-back. Even Telê himself was impressed at the speed of Cafú’s transition from midfield 4x4 to surgical wing-back.

His adaptation was wildly successful, and Cafú was a bulwark of the squad that hauled in two Paulistas, two Libertadores, two Intercontinental Cups, two Cup-Winners’ Cups and a ‘Supercup’ (Libertadores Champions Challenge). Telê had discovered one of the best right wing-backs in Brazilian history in the same boy who’d been turned away 12 times and told he didn’t have it.

Given his background, making it to the first eleven of São Paulo FC was a success story in itself, but Cafú wanted more. He was a keystone in a SPFC team that counted on Raí, Leonardo and Muller. Now he made his switch to challenge for a spot in the seleção. The 1994 World Cup saw him benched in favour of Jorginho, but after the US the number 2 shirt became his – and has been for the past twenty years.

In fact you could say that Cafú was born into the World Cup. On the morning of the 7th of June 1970, Cleusa de Moraes was in the São Paulo Municipal Hospital. While Cleusa went into labour, Brazil took the field against reigning WC Champions England. The hospital staff divided their attentions between the magic of Pelé, Gérson and Tostão and the birth of Cafú. As Brazil won one nil, thanks to a Jairzinho goal, 3.6kgs of future Brazilian Captain saw the light.

After their impressive trophy haul, the great SPFC team began to wane, and Palmeiras – bulked up by a wealthy partnership with Italian food giant Parmalat – started to steal fire from a Tricolor that had succumbed to Velez Sarsfield and lost a Libertadores final right in Morumbi. Cafú sensed the time was right, and decided to jump ship and move to the Verdão.

The Alviverde club had just won their second Brasileirão in a row, and wanted to strengthen their squad for an assault on the 1995 Libertadores Cup. Although the CTs (Training Centres) of both clubs are only separated by a cinder-block wall in Barra Funda, Cafú would have to make a stopover in Spain in order to swap the red-white-and-black for the green of Palmeiras.

São Paulo needed the money from a Cafú sale to make up for some rather hare-brained spending, but couldn’t sell the idolised player to their arch-rivals, so plumped for Real Zaragoza of Spain. In the contract there did exist a written clause that the player couldn’t be lent of sold to another Brazilian team. Five days after the sale, Zaragoza announced that Parmalat were the real buyers.

Cafú played out a forgettable season at the Aragonese Club, and on the 2nd of July signed for a Parmalat Club – southerners Juventude, rather than the more expected Paulistas Palmeiras. He played the second part of the Brazilian season for the Caxias do Sul team, and in January 1996 made the final move back to the Paulista Capital; albeit this time in a green jersey.

After a bureaucratic stint at Zaragoza, Spain, Cafú returned to the big smog of São Paulo and was presented as a Palmeiras player in January 1996. Together with Djalminha, Rivaldo, Luizão and Muller, Cafú formed a central part of an impressive team that scored over 100 goals that year, and they started with a near-impeccable Paulista conquest.

The year in Brazil traditionally starts with the regional State tournaments, and in São Paulo it’s the turn of the ‘Campeonato Paulista’ (Paulista – i.e. São Paulo State – Championship, a.k.a Paulistão – Big Paulista). Traditionally dominated by the so-called ‘Paulista Big 4’ (Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos, São Paulo), the competition is hotly competed and was won by Palmeiras thereby breaking a two-year trophy drought.

The Brazilian league would finally be won by Mario (‘Super Mario’) Jardel’s Grêmio that year, the Palmeiras team was a sign of things to come and Luis Felipe Scolari (a.k.a. Felipão) would capitalise on both the 1996 basis and the partnership with Italian food giant Parmalat to take things to another level.

Although Djalminha stayed for an extra year, Rivaldo went off to Deportivo La Coruña, Muller returned to São Paulo and Cafú was soon bound for the Italian Capital as AS Roma snapped the player up. His time there was diametrically opposed to his experience in Spain as he became the lord and master of the right-back position and the most popular Brazilian to don the Roma jersey since Paulo Roberto Falcão.

His way was smoothed by the presence of fellow Brazilian Aldair. There was a good feeling in the squad, and title hopes were high despite the fact that Roma hadn’t had much success in the Calcio since the 1982-1983 season which, funnily enough, counted on a certain Falcão as the midfield dynamo. Fábio Capello arrived to helm an ambitious title onslaught after having landed the title four times as Coach of AC Milan and having led the Merengues to the Liga title the year before.

The 2000/2001 season was to be Roma’s year as they beat Juventus and arch-rivals Lazio to lift the much-longed-for scudetto. Apart from Cafú, four other Brazilians helped the Italian team to re-conquer the domestic title: centre-backs Aldair (a Brazilian held in even higher esteem than Cafú by Roma fans), Antônio Carlos and midfield chief Emerson.

2002 was to be the year that Cafú had been waiting for ever since 1994: a chance to play a World Cup Final and win it, although little did he know that he’d also be lifting the golden statue as Captain of the seleção. In the USA edition, Jorginho was still the owner of the number 2 shirt (although Cafú played part of the final against Italy) and 1998 was tainted by the bitter loss against Zidane’s France – despite Cafú playing six of the seven games and being voted bested wing-back of the tournament.

Cafú had endured a difficult progression in the Brazilian squad, coming in for heavy criticism when Paulo Roberto Falcão called him up for a friendly against Spain. The Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) press were particularly harsh on the player, seen as a mediocre midfielder on the coast. Luckily his transformation into a speedy wing-back by São Paulo Coach Telê Santana helped him overcome the original thumbs-down.

Despite searches for a suitable contender, Cafú was the best available when Jorginho threw in the towel on his international career with the Canarinha. 1998 saw him making a cracking debut against Scotland, and the tournament raised opinions of him in Brazil as a highly competent wing-back – even if the FIFA prize rewarding his performance didn’t completely shut his critics’ mouths.

Following 98 Wanderley Luxemburgo was the Brazilian boss and handed over the Captaincy immediately to Cafú after Dunga announced his retirement. He continued in the post up until 2000, only handing the armband over temporarily in 1999 when in dry dock after surgery on his right knee. The crunch came in a WCQ game against Paraguay: Brazil lost 2-1 and Cafú was sent off.

Luxemburgo didn’t like Cafú’s performance, sending off or post-match reaction and stripped the player of the Captain’s armband. Soon after that Wanderley was sacked after the 2000 Olympic Games fiasco, and Emerson Leão stepped into his shoes briefly before being turfed out in favour of Luiz Felipe Scolari – Felipão.

Right from the start he picked Emerson as his voice on the pitch, but one day before the WC 2002 debut Emerson sustained a dislocated shoulder in training and was cut. Cafú was Captain once more and played a consistent tournament, leading Brazil to conquer their ‘penta’ – fifth World Cup and himself to the very top of the podium to dedicate the win to his wife, Regina; his sweetheart since 12 and the person that had told him never to give up on his dream.

Back in Club competition, AS Roma was coming to the end of an era. Cafú had already helped his team to a bittersweet runners-up position behind Juventus before Japan and Korea, and he wanted a change of scenery – not to mention a better contract – after six years in Rome. The answer was AC Milan, and he moved up north for the 2003-4 season at 33 years of age. The season would end, ironically, with Milan winning the Scudetto over his ex-Club.

So now Cafú prepares himself for his fourth World Cup in a row – his previous three already stand as a record – with 36 years under his belt. Fittingly enough for one of only five Brazilians to have lifted a World Cup trophy, Cafú will celebrate his birthday two days before Brazil make their debut in the World Cup. With Parreira promising the most offensive Brazil since the first Mexico Cup, the Captain of that team was born during that same 1970 World Cup. Will Cafú stop there?

Fact File

Name: Marcos Evangelista de Moraes
Nickname: Cafú
Birth Date: 07/06/1970
Birth Place: Jardim Irene, São Paulo
Height: 1.74m
Weight: 73kg
Clubs: São Paulo (1988-1995), Real Zaragoza (1995), Juventude (1995), Palmeiras (1996-1997), Roma (1997-2003), Milan (2003-)


Two World Cups (1994 and 2002) – Brazil
Two ‘Copa América’ (1997 and 1999) – São Paulo FC
Confederations Cup (1997) – Brazil
Two Toyota World Club Cup Challenges (1992 and 1993) – São Paulo FC
Two Libertadores Cups (1992 and 1993) – São Paulo FC
Two South American Cup Winners Cups (1992 and 1993) – São Paulo FC
One Libertadores Super Cup (1993) – São Paulo FC
One Brasileirão [Brazilian League] (1991) – São Paulo FC
Four Paulistas [São Paulo State Cups] (1989, 1991, 1992 – São Paulo FC and 1996 – Palmeiras)
One Copa São Paulo (1988) – São Paulo FC
One European Cup Winners Cup (1995) – Real Zaragoza
One Scudetto [Italian League] (2000/2001) – AC Milan

Aaron Marcus

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