Cafu: The fullback modern football is missing

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In the modern game, full-backs are expected to do more than just mark their winger, cover for the centre back and call the line – now they have responsibilities in the attacking third of the pitch. Nowadays it has become a regular routine for the full-backs to go up and help the team in building the attack but things weren’t exact the same in the 60’s. The ‘full back’ as we’d understand it today was not seen as a position that could, or even should, offer any kind of attacking threat. During this era, it would even be rare for a defensive midfielder to start too far north of the halfway line.

Nilton Santos and Djalma Santos (no relation) played as left and right full backs respectively for Brazil and it was Nilton Santos, in particular, who set the precedent for what a full back could be both defensively and as an offensive outlet.

Giacinto Facchetti is an another example of such full-backs who shaped the role of the modern full-backs. He was a truly great attacking full-back and we can get an idea about his legacy by the fact that he was placed second in the Ballon d’Or in 1965. There are many other full-backs such as Branco, Edinho etc. who modified their positions according to their will. Opposition teams found this incredibly perplexing and often seemed almost offended by the fancy notions of these defenders running past the halfway line with not an ounce of shame.

Cafu was the man who bought the hardworks of the above mentioned legend into limelight. He forced the coaches to re-think about their strategies and give the full-backs a more wider and attacking role to play. He along with his compatriot Roberto Carlos, started the trend in world football of marauding full-backs, who contributed to the team equally in attack, as in defence.

Cafu was born on 7th June 1970. Regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time, Cafu is the most capped male player in the history of Brazilian national team, with 142 caps to his name. He played in four World Cups ( 1994 – 2006 ) for the Selecaos and is the only player to starr in three consecutive World Cup finales between 1994 and 2002, emerging victorious in 2 occasions – in 1994 and 2002.

He started his career as a seven-year-old at a local football academy in Sao Paolo and soon moved up to the junior sides of Nacional-SP, Portuguesa and Itaquaquecetuba. He was rejected by many professional teams in Brazil including Corinthians and Santos. It was not until 1988 that he made the youth squad of hometown club São Paulo.

São Paulo’s youth coach Telê Santana became Cafu’s mentor and asked him to move from wing back to midfield, a position in which Cafu registered his name as a starter. He was one of the key players in São Paulo’s back-to-back Copa Libertadores and World Championships victories in 1992 and 1993.

His hardwork soon started paying off as he was named the South American Footballer of the Year in 1994, at a mere age of 24. He was also named in Carlos Alberto Parreira’s World Cup squad for the tournament in the USA. Cafu was used as a substitute in the WC. He played just 3 matches in the 1994 edition of the FIFA WC but his most notable appearance came in the finale against Italy after Jorginho was injured after 22 minutes. Brazil won that match in penalty shootouts and lifted their 4th World Cup.

After winning almost everything that South America had to offer, he chose to move to Real Zaragoza in Spain. He only made 16 appearances but helped the Spanish side win the 1995 Cup Winner’s Cup.

He returned to Brazil in 1996 for a season with Palmerias and in 1997 he decided to join Roma, a team that hadn’t enjoyed great success in previous years and the signing of Cafu meant that Roma were ready to do everything to win the Scudetto. Roma finished fourth in Cafu’s first season but Cafu had quickly find a place in the heart of the Romans and was nicknamed Il Pendolino ( The Express Train ).

Cafu had established himself as a starter in the Brazilian National team by then and thus his inclusion in the 1998 WC squad was a must. Brazil were the heavy favorites to defend their title in France and they didn’t upset anyone as they thrashed Scotland, Chile and Denmark to move to semifinals with ease. They edged past the Dutch in the penalty shootouts of the semifinals to book a place into the finale. However, the Selecaos never got going in the finale and two headed goals from Zidane ensured France of their first World Cup.

Capello took charge of Roma in 1999 and he was quick to realise that the Romans needed a lethal finisher to improve their chances of winning a scudetto.

He improved his squad by adding players such as Vincenzo Montella and Gabriel Batistuta in his squad.

Roma’s efforts finally paid off as they finally managed to lay their hands on the 2000-01 Serie A title. Roma were forced to wait until their last match against Parma to lay their hands on Italy’s most coveted prize. Juve and Lazio had a chance to win the title but goals from Totti, Montella and Batistuta sealed the Scudetto for Roma.

During Brazil’s qualifiers for the ’02 World Cup Cafu came under heavy criticism from coach Wanderley Luxemburgo, who stripped him of the team captaincy after he was sent off in a qualifier for the ’02 WC against Paraguay. Luxemburgo was shortly replaced by Luiz Felipe Scolari and he made Cafu’s Roma team mate Emerson his new captain.

Cafu was handed the captain’s armband during the finals as Emerson dislocated his shoulder during training sessions. Brazil had an easy route to the finale as their toughest fixture en route to the finale was against the Englishmen, which the Selecaos managed to win by 2-1.
Brazil defeated Germany 2–0 in the finale to lift their fifth World Cup.

The 2002-03 season turned out to be Cafu’s last season with Roma. His final appearance in a Roma Jersey came in the Coppa Italia final where they were beaten by AC Milan by 4-2.

He moved to Milan after turning down a move to Japan with Yokohama F. Marinos. He quickly cemented his place in Carlo Ancelotti’s squad and he played a major role in the Rossoneris 17th Serie A triumph. It turned out to be Cafu’s only league title in Milan.

Cafu was a part of many historically memorable matches of his generation and that includes the ’05 Champions League finale too. AC Milan quickly put in 3 past Liverpool to make the scoreline 3-0 but the English side scored 3 goals in 15 minutes to ensure the spectators of a nerve-wracking ending to an equally nerve-wracking match. It all went down to the penalties and Liverpool rode their luck to complete one of the greatest comeback of all time in this game’s history.

After playing three consecutive finals, hopes of an another great tournament were held high from the Selecaos but they fell short of high expectations placed on the squad in 2006, as Brazil meekly exited in the quarter-finals after a 1–0 defeat by France.

The Brazilian team underwent through huge criticism from the Brazilian fans and media. Coach Carlos Alberto Parreira was criticized for including fading veterans in the starting XI in lieu of younger players.

Despite his success with Milan, he continued to hold fond memories of his Roma years, and it was for that reason that on 4 March 2007 – the day after Milan eliminated Celtic in the first knockout round of the 2006–07 UEFA Champions League – he candidly revealed in a UEFA.com chat that he did not want Milan to be drawn against the Giallorossi in the quarter-final round. He got his wish, as Milan were drawn against Bayern Munich. Milan stormed into the finals and the stage was set for a 2005 UCL final rematch. However there wasn’t any “Istanbul Miracle” in Liverpool’s kitty as AC Milan kept their focus entact to lift their 7th UCL and the party started in Athens.

In May 2007 Cafu signed a contract extension with the Rossoneri that kept him with Milan until the end of the 2007–08 season. During this period of time he won the European Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. In his last ever professional game Cafu scored in Milan’s 4-1 victory over Udinese.

Cafu won all there is to win in Europe and South America, played in some of the most memorable games of all time and played alongside some the best players of his generation. However it will be Cafu’s barnstorming runs from defence which will be what this true football great will be remembered fondly for.

He was aan exceptional leader on and off the field. He is regarded as one of the greatest players to have graced the football pitch. He was not only a great footballer, he was a great family person too. Who can forget that epic scene from the ’02 WC finale when Cafu stood on the victory podium during the postmatch celebration and, as he raised the trophy, shouted to his wife, “Regina, eu te amo!” (“Regina, I love you!”). All these factors make him a perfect role-model to follow and we will always remember him for his darting runs, breathtaking cuts, for providing beautiful balls inside the box for his teammates and breathtaking defensive displays.