When Samba came to Tyneside: Mirandinha’s whirlwind romance with Newcastle

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The modern-day Premier League is now ubiquitous with Brazilian footballers, with many lighting it up on a weekly basis. 33 Brazilian players play in the Premier League this season and they are an as common sight as any other foreign footballer. They are part of what makes the League.

As ever, for 33 players to be plying their trade in the league today, it needed a first. And that first was Mirandinha.

Mirandinha joined Newcastle United in August 1987 from Palmeiras, for a not so insignificant £575,000. It was a move that in many ways came from nowhere. Mirandinha was a complete unknown in England, as he’d spent all his career in Brazil. Like most South American players, he’d never ventured much further than the South American continent, and when it came to moving to Europe, a post-industrial hinterland like Newcastle, wasn’t the most obvious destination.

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Newcastle had different ideas, however, as they were looking for a replacement for the recently departed Peter Beardsley, who had joined Everton. Wanting a spark, a key to unlock the defences was not easy, especially for a team which was struggling in the bottom half of the First Division. But Mirandinha’s journey to the North East was one that many would think was laced with fate.

Mirandinha, who was in the middle of a successful spell at Palmeiras, had been selected for the Brazilian national team for their games in Europe and specifically the Stanley Rous Cup. He scored a goal in a draw against England at Wembley and against Scotland, where he was man of the match. From almost nowhere, Newcastle had found their man.

In front of a huge mass of fans, Mirandinha was paraded in front of the crowd, and a week later, he was making his debut. Toon fans descended to St James’ Park, with a misguided attempt at welcoming him to Tyneside by donning sombrero hats, to see their new Brazilian maverick in action. Mirandinha however, was marshalled well in the game by future Magpies boss Steve Bruce and Newcastle drew, 1-1 against Norwich. But their enthusiasm for their new man hadn’t dimmed, and for a city which loved its idols, Mirandinha looked ready made for their adulation.

It wasn’t long before Mirandinha found his stride. Culturally different in style, Mirandinha was direct, fleet-footed and as you would expect, skilful. It was 11 days after his debut when he scored his first goal. After going down to Wimbledon in a mid-week game, Newcastle travelled to an improving Manchester United in an effort to try and gains some momentum after a patchy start.

Mirandinha was a handful that night, difficult to pin down, and he showed exactly why Newcastle had put so much faith in him. He scored a brace in a 2-2 draw. For the first, Mirandinha lurked in and around the 18-yard box, drawing a foul in a typical centre-forward fashion. His strike partner Paul Goddard stood over the ball, weighing it up. But it was Mirandinha, who took command of the situation and rifled a low shot through the wall and under the arms of Gary Walsh. It was a joyful moment for the Brazilian, who sprinted to celebrate with the away fans. His final goal that night, an equaliser, was the by-product of a jinxing run by the man from Brasília which pivoted into a direct run to the box, sidestepping the defender and drawing a save from Walsh. The corner from this spark of magic gave Mirandinha a simple header in the 6-yard box. But that afternoon saw the fans take him straight to their hearts, and a cult hero was born.

Mirandinha began forming a useful partnership with another cult hero on the stands of Gallowgate, Paul Gascoigne. Against Southampton, a few weeks after the Man Utd draw, Gascoigne and Mirandinha were consistently trouble for the Southampton defence. Gascoigne’s youthful fearlessness and a natural eye for a pass and Mirandinha’s vision were coming to the fore. The Brazilian twice hit the post, while the Geordie chipped a beautiful pass through for his strike partners’ goal. through the mire that Newcastle found themselves in, Mirandinha and Gascoigne were the little bit of light.

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But Newcastle was not exactly a stable environment for Mirandinha to display his obvious talents. The manager at the time, Willie McFaul, was constantly on the precipice. A legend in his playing days, he was struggling to keep the team away from the relegation zone and looked a little out of his depth. An unpopular board and a sense they were drifting nowhere meant the expectant fans were restless.

But whilst Mirandinha was a cult favourite, he was not quite what Newcastle needed. Beardsley had been a hard worker and a constant thorn in teams’ sides, but Mirandinha could drift, in and out of games. Whilst Beardsley was a team player, Mirandinha had a selfish streak, which many times was detrimental to his side. For a team in a relegation battle where every metre ran, every perfect pass and player marked, mattered, the Brazilian couldn’t always be relied upon to give that week in and week out.

As the 87/88 season rolled on, Newcastle went through patches of good and bad form, but Mirandinha was still scoring goals and his flair was on occasion shining through. A beautiful bullet header against Everton and a crucial winner against Charlton were some of the highlights during a frustrating season.  The Magpies finished 8th though, which was respectable given the issues upstairs.

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Mirandinha’s final season on Tyneside was a little tougher and wasn’t entirely of his making. His creative partner in crime Gascoigne had been sold and Paul Goddard, a useful counterpoint to Mirandinha’s creativity had also moved to pastures new. Whilst Newcastle had invested, they had invested badly.

Mirandinha did show some sparks of magic in that season though, namely scoring against Liverpool which ended Newcastle’s 38 year wait for a win at Anfield. His little jump for joy after scoring, famously captured on camera and overall energetic performance cemented his place in the hearts of the Geordies. His reputation for turning up to the big games was enhanced even further when he bagged a brace against Middlesbrough in the Tyne-Tees derby. However, those brief moments were outweighed by the faults in the Newcastle team. McFaul had been sacked before the end of the season which saw Mirandinha a little on the periphery and eventually Newcastle were relegated.

As quickly as he landed, Mirandinha was off, sold back to Palmeiras, something which he remarked years later as “the biggest mistake of his life”. But he had made his mark, introducing the English leagues to samba and sunshine football and paving the way for plenty more Brazilians to call England home.