Roberto Dinamite : Could he have added the firepower Brazil missed in 1982?

roberto dinamite

It’s a common view that if Brazil had a decent striker in 1982 they would’ve won the World Cup. The number nine they fielded, Serginho looked lost.

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Boney M would not have been a four-piece without the bloke. Wham! would not have been a duo without Andrew Ridgeley. Liverpool would’ve been without a left-back without Djimi Traore in the 2005 Champions League Final. Other than that, you can’t really imagine why else they were there.

Serginho fitted a similar bill. As if he’d won a prize in a phone-in competition, he appeared almost like Bambi on ice at times. If we’d known then this was ever going to be a thing, we might’ve thought Graeme Souness had received a phone call suggesting he was George Weah’s cousin.

The squad Tele Santana had at his disposal for the 1982 World Cup in Spain was one of the finest ever assembled. Many believe they rival the Dutch 1974 side and the Hungarian 1954 side as the best to never win a World Cup.

Was Serginho really the best Brazil had to offer at that time?

It seems inconceivable for a nation that produced so many stunning strikers down the years, he was the best they could find. They had a generation of talent to rival any ever witnessed, surely those talent genes had spread to a striker?

Well, they had one. What’s more, he was the same age as Serginho.

His name? Roberto Dinamite

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Many people point to Careca’s injury just prior to the tournament, as a major factor in Serginho’s selection. But he’d only made his international debut in March 1982. He played in Brazil’s final international before the tournament when they beat Republic Ireland 7-0. He didn’t score. In fact, he hadn’t scored in any of his four appearances thus far. But Serginho did. He netted twice. This took his tally to six for the national team in 15 appearances. So perhaps it’s little surprise he was the first choice in Spain.

What is particularly surprising is the snub of Roberto Dinamite.

Carlos Roberto de Oliveira had just turned 28 by the time the team touched down in Seville. He was back at Vasco da Gama, having spent a season at Barcelona. His ‘local’ knowledge would surely have proved invaluable?

His time in Spain wasn’t a memorable one. After 11 matches and just three goals in three months, he was back at Vasco. He scored five on his return.

Nicknamed Dinamite by a journalist after a rather spectacular goal when he was a young lad against Internacional at the Maracanã, he went on to become Vasco’s record goalscorer. Not only that, but he is the record goalscorer in the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A with 190 goals. Serginho’s record is 125.

Serginho, himself is still São Paulo FC’s record goalscorer, so he was no dud.

By the time he made his debut in the Brazil team in 1975, Roberto had been four years at Vasco. His first spell at the club lasted eight years, seeing him score 92 goals in 161 matches. His final outing in a Brazil shirt pre-Spain ’82 was against Czechoslovakia at the beginning of March. He had a record of 17 goals in 29 games. This record looked to make him the best they had to offer.

He already had tournament experience being part of the Olympic squad in Munich in 1972, but only got on the pitch for their last match, a 0-1 defeat to Iran. His first cap for the full team was earned at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte in a 1-3 defeat to Peru. Peru were a decent side back then, containing the likes of Teofilo Cubillas, Juan Carlos Oblitas and Hector Chumpitaz.

His first goal came in a friendly against England in May 1976. The two teams had been invited to a tournament that formed part of the Bicentennial celebrations in the US.

In the Los Angeles Coliseum, he scored the only goal of the game in a side which included Zico, Rivellino, Gil and Falcão.

He was on target again a week later when they beat Italy, 4-1 in the same tournament. Fabio Capello put the Italians in front before Gil (2) and Zico had Brazil cruising. Roberto scored the fourth and they were out of sight.

These caps came during the two-year tenure of coach Osvaldo Brandão. By the time the 1978 World Cup in Argentina came around, Claudio Coutinho had replaced him.

To begin with, Roberto featured in Coutinho’s first seven teams, including when England toured in early June 1977. By the end of the month Reinaldo (Atlético Mineiro) was being preferred as partner to Botafogo striker, Gil.

Then Milan toured the country in October 1977 and Serginho made his debut. He scored in a 3-0 win. Brazil’s next game wasn’t till the following March, but by then Serginho had made himself unavailable. In February 1978 he was found guilty of assaulting a linesman and received a 14-month ban. Gone were his hopes of the World Cup squad.

The incident occurred in a game between Serginho’s São Paulo and Botafogo. Serginho had scored a last-minute equaliser which the referee ruled out. He was one of several players who chased the linesman to protest, and when the official received a kick to the shins, the striker was accused. He denied it, claiming an object thrown from the crowd was what injured the lino. His story was not believed and the judgment was laid down. In the end, he served 11 months of his suspension.

Back in 2015, he admitted in a TV interview he did kick the official.

With Serginho out of contention, Coutinho chose five strikers in his squad for Argentina ‘78. Roberto, Gil, and Reinaldo were in but so were the uncapped Jorge Mendonca and Ze Sergio, who’d only been selected twice before.

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In their first match in Argentina, a team containing Rivelino, Zico, Toninho Cerezo, and Edinho were rather impotent as they struggled to gain a point against Sweden. Reinaldo equalised Thomas Sjöberg’s opener. They were incredibly unlucky when referee Clive Thomas wanted his own name in the headlines by disallowing Zico’s perfectly good winner, claiming he’d blown his final whistle as the ball was in the air from the corner kick Zico headed in.

Gil and Reinaldo were the strike partners, but for the next game against Spain, only Reinaldo remained as Coutinho wanted Zico and Dirceu to push forward from midfield. The team drew a blank.

For the vital game against group leaders Austria, Coutinho went the other way and sent three up front, Gil, Roberto and Jorge Mendonca. Roberto scored the only goal of the game and Brazil were through to the next round.

The three were retained for the three further group matches in the Second Round with Roberto scoring twice against Poland. It might’ve been enough to see them to the Final had Peru not done a deal with Argentina.

Coutinho kept his job despite the considered failure. They were well behind the curve in 1974, their first post-Pelé World Cup. The match immediately following the World Cup was significant. Debuts for Socrates, Júnior and Eder. Nobody was to know it at the time but a line-up of Edinho, Cerezo, Falcão, Zico, Socrates, Eder and Júnior would serve the country very well three years later.

Failure to reach the Copa America Final in 1979 finally did for Coutinho. Step in Tele Santana. His first two internationals were unofficial. The second one was against a Minas Gerais State XI, and in came Serginho who duly scored again.

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A month later Mexico arrived at the Maracana for Santana’s first official international. Serginho scored again. This was two years before the World Cup.

At the beginning of 1981, Brazil were involved in the ‘Mundialito’ (Little World Cup). This was a six-team international competition held in Uruguay to celebrate 50 years since the first World Cup, which was also held in Uruguay. Italy, Netherlands, West Germany and Argentina joined Brazil and Uruguay.

Serginho was in the squad, but Roberto wasn’t. Serginho scored in a 4-1 win over West Germany and came on as a sub in the Final defeat to the hosts.

During his time away with the rest of the squad, Serginho received public praise from his coach regarding his behaviour and commitment to training.

Serginho was selected for the World Cup qualifying matches, along with Ze Sergio and Reinaldo. But then he had another forced spell out of the team.

This was the result of another incident incurring the wrath of the administrators. His São Paulo team was again in the Campeonato Brasileiro Final, this time against Grêmio. In the first leg, he put them in front, but later in the game he kicked Grêmio keeper, Emerson Leão in the face. Leão was the first choice keeper in Brazil’s 1974 and 1978 World Cup sides, and so this sort of behaviour didn’t go down well. Serginho received a straight red card, Grêmio eventually won 2-1 and without their striker, his side also lost the second leg. The country wasn’t happy either.

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It should be noted Leão was no angel himself. In the 1978 Brasiliero Final, he elbowed Careca and was sent off, taking a full seven minutes to leave the pitch.

Roberto returned to the team in October against Bulgaria and duly opened the scoring.

Paulo Isidoro (Grêmio), who scored both goals to win the first leg of the championship final was getting plenty of chances in the national side. Then in March 1982, Careca arrived.

As mentioned earlier, Careca made four appearances for the national side prior to Spain, without finding the net. It was clear Serginho would be Santana’s first choice striker, but many were excited about the prospect of what Careca might be able to do. Three days before the tournament kicked off he picked up a thigh injury during a training session. FIFA gave permission for them to call up a replacement. Santana called Roberto.

His squad had a plethora of midfield talent all with goals in them. Serginho and Roberto were the only out-and-out-strikers. Paulo Isidoro and Renato offered an additional attacking threat from midfield, along with the obvious magic from Socrates, Zico, Falcão, Eder and Cerezo.

Ze Sergio may well have been Santana’s preferred option, but he picked up a bad knee injury in 1981 and was never really an option. He also failed a drug test in 1981, although was later cleared. Some in Brazil say his absence from the 1982 side was a greater loss than Careca’s.

Speculation throughout the country was rife in the two years build-up to the tournament as to who was going to be Brazil’s number nine. Socrates had been used up front, but Santana was beginning to prefer him attacking from deep. Serginho was the most aggressive option, and interestingly he has since commented he felt the 1978 side would’ve suited his style far better than the 1982 version.

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In Spain, just five subs were named on the bench for each game. Roberto never even made it that far. Serginho struggled and blundered his way through each game. He was only on the pitch at the final whistle for the first game against the Soviet Union, then Argentina in the Second Phase. He only found the net twice during the tournament. But other than that he was subbed every time, usually by Paulo Isidoro.

Just after Falcão equalised in the famous game against Italy, Isidoro replaced him. Five minutes later Rossi completed his hat trick and the Brazil dream was over for another four years.

Santana stepped down after Spain and in walked Carlos Alberto Parreira. A fit again Careca was in the starting line-up for the first official friendly after the World Cup. He scored in a 3-2 win at home to Chile.

He scored twice in the next game against Portugal in the Maracanã. He then scored in three of the four games on their European tour in the summer of 1983. Five in nine was a wonderful start and clearly, the best any striker had managed possibly since Tostao.

Roberto returned for the Copa America in 1983. He scored in the opening game victory over Ecuador, and twice in the return match too. Brazil made it to the knockout stages despite failing to beat Argentina in their group. Argentina were held to a draw in both meetings with Ecuador and that’s what finally did for them.

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After getting past holders Paraguay, on the drawing of lots, Brazil faced Uruguay in the Final over two legs. Roberto played both games, being subbed by Careca in the second, as Uruguay lifted the trophy.

For Serginho, post-Spain ’82 became a personal success on the domestic front when he could quite easily have suffered under the criticism thrown his way. He moved to Santos and was the league’s top scorer. When he trotted off the pitch to be replaced by Paulo Isidoro in the Sarriå, it was the last time he was ever seen in a Brazil shirt.

Roberto went on to become one of Vasco’s most famous players. In all, he scored 698 goals in official and friendly matches. He is the club’s record goalscorer and record.

His international career saw him earn 47 caps, scoring 25 goals. Serginho’s international record ended with 20 caps and eight goals.

When his career was over Roberto went into politics. He was elected to the State Assembly of Rio, then re-elected twice. He’d been elected as Rio de Janeiro state deputy five times in a row. In 2008 he was elected president of Vasco.

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Whether Careca would have made the difference is very much up for debate. He was their main striker in the next two World Cups, but then he was 25 by 1986 so a much more mature player. To me, Roberto Dinamite could easily have made more of an impression than Serginho did. Maybe Santana had a problem with him. He finished his playing career at Vasco da Gama, but then also one of his first managerial positions was at São Paulo, so not sure whether favouritism played any part.

Of course, other observers have pointed to the defensive errors Brazil made against Italy as the reason they lost that game. You can’t always just go through matches believing you’ll score more goals than your opponents.

Maybe the final words should come from Serginho as he reflected on the tournament

” collectively it was a disgrace, individually it was spectacular..behind the scenes the environment in the camp was a big was not a cool and calm dressing room. The reserves were not happy and wanting to play. There was talk of players being selected because of the state they were from. I myself was under pressure to play in another style. Those who were playing were fine but there was a bad atmosphere..”

There have been other claims some players were not keen on Santana’s strict discipline and other factors of his approach. This can be traced back to when he was in charge of Grêmio and unmarried players were not allowed to go out and socialise. He was also accused of being stubborn when it came to selection. Serginho also claimed there were tensions between Atlético and Flamengo players. It seems some players loved Santana whereas others didn’t.

Nearly every team coming back from a World Cup unsuccessful points to a number of factors responsible for their failure. It affected Brazil greatly as they had to change their style to lift another World Cup. But for four glorious weeks in 1982, neutrals basked in watching one of the greatest sides to ever take the field.