I wanted to be…Francisco Marinho: The Life and times of an innovative full back

Francisco Marinho

This Throwback Tuesday article was originally featured on Tale of Two Halves back in May 2018.

A new hero

There are two things that many football fans can relate to. The first one, as a child, the dream to be a professional footballer, maybe score the winning goal in the FA Cup final (even though these days the FA Cup has had its magic somewhat stolen) or score for your country, in my case England. The second one is that moment when you realise that the above is never going to happen. In my case it was sometime in my mid 30’s and having spoken to many fellow football fans about the same subject, I’m not alone in having that feeling so ridiculously late in life. Of course, looking back, I should have recognised that the realisation I wasn’t going to be that successful footballer should have been prior to my Cup final dream, still…

As someone who loved watching and playing football all my life, I did have the foresight to realise I wasn’t the most natural of strikers as a child. Maybe it was my lack of pace, heading ability and instinct for a goal that was the problem. Of course, I was happy to settle further and further back from the front line and eventually settled at left back. Although footballing heroes come from all areas of the pitch, I now have a special affinity for the left back and it’s all down to one man. Francisco das Chagas Marinho or as he’s better known, Francisco Marinho, who came to prominence in the 1974 World Cup.

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One of the downsides of being a left back was that it was not a very exciting and glamorous position, especially in those days. This is why Francisco Marinho changed this perception and made such an impact on me. I wasn’t around to experience Brazil’s greatest fullback, Nilton Santos, a hero of the World Cup-winning sides of 1958 and 1962 and too young to fully appreciate Carlos Alberto in 1970. With his long, curly blonde hair, good looks, attacking mindset and a powerful shot, Marinho’s time had come.

1974 World Cup breakthrough

The Brazil team of 1974 is considered an ‘average side’ by most with comparisons to 1970 inevitable, Yet they still finished 4th, an achievement many nations can only dream about, conceding only 4 goals in 7 matches. Their stand out player was Marinho, who was the only Brazilian nominated in the ‘all player tournament team’. He was a rarity for Brazilian footballers as he had no nickname.

Born in Natal in 1952 he made his name with Botafogo FR of Rio de Janeiro, who he joined in 1972. He never stayed at one club for too long and later had spells in the USA and Germany. He was a right-footed, attacking left back, with flair, imagination and a powerful shot, good in the air and physical when he needed to be. He was particularly good on free kicks and is considered a pioneer in Brazil, evolving the position into what it is today.

The Brazil side of 1974 was a more physical and less attractive team that had gone before, they drew the first two matches 0-0 against Yugoslavia and Scotland before qualifying from their group with a 3-0 win over Zaire. Marinho had already shown himself to be a quality player with his surging runs, and although Brazil were a more defensive unit at that World cup. His surging runs and willingness to take a shot from outside the box endeared himself, not just to neutrals, but to an impressionable 12-year-old, living on the outskirts of Liverpool. I have vivid memories of watching Franciso play for Brazil, then the next possible chance I would get, re-enact his runs down the left-hand side. I would cut in 30 yards from the goal and unleash a shot Marinho style… only to see it just about reach the penalty area before it would bounce and long hop towards a keeper who only had to pick it up as it trickled towards him. Ahh, the memories!

The World Cup of 1974 had changed its format with the eight qualifying teams from the group stages being split into two further groups, the final being contested by the two group winners. Brazil defeated East Germany 1-0 followed by a 2-1 victory over Argentina. Brazil had started to come alive despite their more defensive style. This set up what was essentially a semi-final against a Johan Cruyff-inspired Holland. A largely bad-tempered game went Holland’s way 2-0 with goals from Neeskens and Cruyff. With only a 3rd place play-off left, a 1-0 defeat to Poland, Marinho’s only World Cup was over. Despite having a good game, which included one of his trademark free kicks, reports suggest that he had a bust-up with Brazil keeper Leao. The keeper allegedly punched Marinho, having blamed him for Poland’s winner, having given the ball away yards from the Poland penalty area.

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His performances in that tournament were lauded, particularly in Brazil. He was voted 2nd (Silver award) in The South America Player of the Year for 1974 and at 22 years of age, he was set for a long and distinguished international career.

Towards Argentina 1978

Following the tournament, as happens after all World Cups, offers came in for his services, especially from Europe. Marinho decided to stay at Botafogo until in 1977 he moved to Fluminense FC. His international career appeared to flourish and he played a prominent role in the early stages of Brazil’s qualifying for the 1978 World Cup scoring two goals in a defeat of Colombia, one a blistering 30-yard free kick. He was dropped soon after. That he didn’t play in Argentina is down to speculation but the French football magazine ‘Onze’ reported that Marinho had been openly critical of the Brazilian coach’s attitude towards the presence of WAG’s when away at tournaments. Marinho did not take too kindly to being kept in a male-only environment for so long as it is alleged he needed his regular dose of sex. This was just one example of his rebellious and playboy lifestyle that typified him. Brazil went on to finish third in the competition. Argentina won after qualifying for the final in somewhat controversial circumstances beating Holland 3-1.

USA beckons

In 1979 Marinho moved to New York Cosmos, after a delegation led by Julio Mazzei who had previously been significant in luring Pele to the same club. Mazzei had commented:

“Here in America, Marinho’s attitude will be perfect. He likes long hair, bright coloured shirts, high heel shoes and goes to nightclubs. He is not any worse than Shep and Bobby”

The Shep and Bobby reference referring to Shep Messing, their outspoken keeper and Bobby Smith, the Cosmos defender. Carlos Alberto was an obvious attraction having enjoyed their playing days together with the Brazil national team. Marinho joined what could be deemed a ‘super team’, which included amongst others, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Georgio Chinaglia and Johann Neeskens. He was considered young to be playing in the North American Soccer League (NASL) being only 27 years old but his first season was considered a success as he scored 8 goals in 24 matches. A highlight being a 3-2 win over George Best’s Fort Lauderdale Strikers, scoring a hat-trick. The following year he moved to Fort Lauderdale Strikers to join up with German legend Gerd Muller and scored 3 goals in 19 games.

Return to Brazil

In 1981 he returned to Brazil joining Sao Paulo winning the state championship, which turned out to be the only senior championship win of his career. He was chosen as Brazil’s best left back for the third time. Despite this, he couldn’t regain his place in the national side. A decline in performances led to him leaving Sao Paulo after two years. The next few years saw him play for a number of minor teams, ending his career with a team from the lowest German amateur division, BC Harlekin of Augsburg before retiring in 1987.


A varied retirement included him standing in Natal as a Liberal Party candidate for the city council but was defeated. He attempted a career as a singer with the release of the single Eu Sou Assim (“That’s the way I am”) but sadly, that too failed. The 1991/92 season saw him coach the El Paso Patriot (Texas), an amateur team competing in the Sunbelt Independent Soccer League.

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He only got 28 caps for Brazil scoring 4 goals with his most prolific period being during his spells with Botafogo and Fluminense when in 102 games he scored 20 goals. He is highly regarded amongst his peers with Jairzinho, his teammate at Botafogo rating him as Brazil’s best left back behind the great Nilton Santos, who himself rated Marinho very highly. It has also been suggested that Marinho has never got the praise his performances deserved and he has been largely forgotten due to the more recent high profile of another left back, Roberto Carlos.

Considering the praise heaped on him, he was underused by the national team and went to the NASL at the very early age of 27. He has been described as having natural charm, with a rebellious attitude to the football establishment and lived a playboy lifestyle. This flamboyant lifestyle probably hampered his international career. It has even been rumoured that he was found in bed with a nurse at the same hospital at the time his wife was expecting their child. He is a father of three children, two boys and a daughter and grandfather to three others. During an interview in 2013, he was asked whether he might have other children given his wild ways? Marinho replied that none had so far come forward to claim him as their father.

Later years…

Marinho was an occasional pundit in his later years and wasn’t afraid of criticising his national team. He has been openly critical of Brazil’s performances in the early 2,000’s, particularly those of Roberto Carlos (well, he would wouldn’t he?) and his performances in the World Cup. In an interview in 2014, he suggested his team’s defence in 1974 was Brazil’s greatest ever defence. In fact, he went further saying his greatest ‘dream team’ would be his own 1974 defence, the Brazil midfield of 1982 and the Pele-led attack of 1970.

In his later years, he battled alcoholism and was seeking treatment for various alcohol-related conditions. He was working as a pundit for a station in Natal when he died of a digestive Haemorrhage on May 31st, 2014, robbing him of his wish to see a World Cup on Brazilian soil which commenced less than two weeks later.

These days Francisco Marinho would be a target for top European clubs, particularly following a World Cup. For the summer of 1974, however, he was one of the best and most exciting defenders in the world. For a few weeks, I was him, tearing up the wing and launching those 30-yard thunderbolts!