By Paul Gardner
I find Jose Mourinho an irritant. Nothing more. His constant presence, his non-stop efforts to create headlines for himself, his not particularly
interesting comments on world soccer -- always, it seems to me, carefully measured to make sure that he comes over as more important than Messi or Ronaldo or Suarez, to ensure that his name gets the
spotlight. Mourinho says this. Mourinho denies that. Mourinho. Mourinho. Mourinho.
The name grates. Not that long ago -- a mere 40 years -- the name enchanted me. It was spelled
differently. Marinho. The young blond Brazilian defender, the one with the tremendous smile, who brought the 1974 World Cup to life every time he got on the ball.
I had almost forgotten.
Now I read the news that Marinho is dead at age 62. I sense the sun setting. Well, a sun, anyway. One that livened up the sport. Marinho did that, he did it in a tournament that was widely praised at
the time, and is still remembered, as the one that gave us total soccer.
That was a good thing. I certainly thought so. A new emphasis on attack, that went down well with me. The Dutch
and the Germans dominated. But Marinho was the player who caught my eye -- more than Cruyff, more than Beckenbauer.
Probably I sensed an overdose of intellectuality in the Dutch and the
German play, the influence of the chess board in the tactical explanations that were now being erected to explain total soccer. Really, only Cruyff escaped that accusation.
Marinho, I was
told later, was a child at heart, reckless, a boy who found it difficult to follow instructions. An improviser who played soccer as though he was inventing the game anew every time he got on the ball.
Which, in a sense, he was. You never knew -- and, surely he never knew, what he was going to do next.
Bad news, I was told, you can’t play a team
game like that. Not with
that streak of crazy independence. You can’t? Yet there he was, on the Brazilian team, starting all six games, flying down the wing, beating opponents with speed and trickery, never subdued. And
scoring marvelous goals.
That last bit sounds the warning. I checked. Marinho didn’t score any goals for Brazil in 1974. I think I know how I fell into that error. In 1979 Marinho
signed for the Cosmos. Just the sort of spectacular player the team would welcome. And he did score some goals for the Cosmos.
But his Cosmos life didn’t last long. He was signed by
the owners, the Ertegun brothers. Coach Eddie Firmani didn’t want him, found every reason not to play him. The Erteguns ran out of patience and instructed
Firmani that Marinho was to
play. For the first Cosmos home game, against Fort Lauderdale, he was in the lineup and he got off to the worst possible start by scoring a spectacular hat trick.
Those must be the goals
that I recall -- goals that made Marinho even less popular with Firmani. Half way through the season, Firmani was out, replaced by Ray Klivecka, basically a college coach. Marinho disappeared from the
lineup, demoted to the reserves.
I became friendly with Marinho -- I could speak with him in Spanish, listening to his complaints about the way he was being treated by the Cosmos. I asked
Klivecka how Marinho was doing in the reserves: “OK. He’s adapting well.” Adapting? To what?
One midweek afternoon I set out to watch Marinho “adapting” in a
reserve team game. “They’re playing in Garfield,” I was told. “Where’s that?” I asked. “That’s New Jersey.” OK -- but where was the field?
“It’s Boilermaker Field,” and no, no one knew how to get there. Eventually I did find the field. Too late. A deserted, primitive soccer field. In just five years Marinho -- he was
still only 27 -- had gone from being a World Cup star to playing on this forlorn Boilermaker Field in Garfield N.J.
Truth was, Marinho didn’t help his own case. Off the field, his
sexual life was out of control. A playboy. The word was right, it told of both sides of his life. He played soccer like a boy, with the wonderful exuberance and happy spontaneity of a boy. And off the
field he behaved with a playboy looseness that ended his Cosmos career after just one season.
It was also unfortunate for Marinho that his playboy antics meant that the Cosmos press corps
-- already more devoted to celebrity doings than the mysteries of soccer -- never took him seriously as a player. The myth was fostered that Marinho never passed the ball, that he simply blasted it
toward goal, always looking to add goals to his name. Some of his wilder shots sailed high over the goal, earning him the nickname mezzaninho. A good joke -- but a slur on a very good player.
I met up with Marinho two more times, years later, once in Dallas, once in Brazil. The sleek athletic body had gone -- it has always reminded me of the description of the werewolf boy in
Saki’s brilliant short story “Gabriel-Ernest” -- the face was heavier, pudgier. But the smile was as powerful as ever. As was the memory of the smiling, truly beautiful and exciting
soccer that this man, this Marinho, had once set before us. This Marinho, along with the lingering Cheshire cat smile, this is the Marinho, not this new too-clever-by-half Mourinho, who is lodged
happily and rewardingly in my soccer memory.