Whilst South America was already well aware of Zico's talents in the 1970s (he'd been named runner-up in the South American Footballer of the Year in 1976, and then won it in 1977), it was the 1980s when the Brazilian's phenomenal talents really came to prominence to the rest of the world.
A product of Flamengo's youth-system, Zico had success throughout the 1970s in the Campeonato Carioca (the Rio de Janeiro State Championship), but it was in the early 1980s when he helped propel the cub to the best period in its history, winning three Campeonato Brasileiro Série A titles, the Copa Libertadores and then famously demolishing Liverpool to win the 1981 Intercontinental Cup.
It was with Brazil though, for which Zico became best known to a whole generation of football fanatics, and his part in that fabulous 1982 World Cup team. Going into the tournament we all knew of him (once you'd heard his cool name how were you going to forget him?), we'd seen him in the aforementioned victory over Liverpool and in a number of friendlies for Brazil in Europe. But no one was really expecting the life-changing football revolution that Zico, Sócrates, Éder et al were about to show us. Brazil may not have won the tournament but they captured the hearts of a generation of football fans with the way they played, and no player more than Zico. In those three weeks Zico showcased his entire array of playmaking talents. Deadly free-kicks, pinpoint long-range passing, defence-splitting through balls, incredible dribbling, combination play, inventive flicks and dummies. It was so creative, so imaginative, so beautiful that you were desperate to get outside and try it yourself. And there can be no greater compliment to pay to a footballer than youngsters desperately wanting to imitate them.
After Zico's performances at the World Cup finals, both Milan and Roma attempted to lure him to Serie A but Flamengo managed to resist their bids. However, fast-foward a year and the club did accept a big-money offer from Italy, although the destination club was a huge surprise, provincial club Udinese smashing their transfer record to bring Zico to the far north-east of Italy. Zico would have a fine first season, his incredible free-kicks helping him finish second in the goal-scoring charts, just one behind Platini. Unfortunately, the second season was much more muted, Udinese sold a couple of key players whilst Zico's game time was limited to just 16 matches due to injuries. He would leave Udinese at the end of the 1984-85 season and return to Flamengo for the remainder of the 1980s.
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