Legend of Calcio: Paulo Roberto Falcao
Roma have never been short of a Brazilian or two in their side. From striker Dino da Costa in the early 1960’s to winger Amarildo ten years later and the legendary Aldair and Cafu in the 1990’s to the more recent crop of players such as Rodrigo Taddei, Juan and Cicinho. Many have plied their trade for the Giallorossi with sometimes mixed results.
Aldair, of course, is part of Roma history and is the only player to have his shirt number (6) retired by the club. A hero to Romanista the world over for his superb service to the club for fourteen years and over 400 appearances.
Another Brazilian who made his footprints in the hearts of Roma tifosi was Paulo Roberto Falcao. Once the world’s highest earning footballer on a reported £10,000 a week. That’s Serie B wages these days but back in the early 1980’s it would get you one of the best players on the planet.
After beginning his career in his native Brazil with Internacional, making his debut for them aged 19, he moved to Roma in the summer of 1980. He won three Brazilian championships during his eight years at the club also reached the final of the Copa Libertadores in the year he left.
It was here that he honed his midfield skills and became an established player for the excellent Brazil sides of the 70s and 80s. However, somewhat surprisingly for many Brazilians and football experts, he was left out of the 1978 World Cup squad in Argentina.
Roma brought him to Italy for £650,000 and rarely has that amount of money been better spent. To his credit, and thanks largely to bringing over members of his family, he settled into Italian culture and Calcio quickly.
It took him no time to learn the language and even less time to make his impact on the pitch. In his debut season he played 25 games, scoring three goals, but statistics rarely tell the whole story. He became an influential and dominating figure in the centre of midfield and linked brilliantly with his midfield partners like Bruno Conti and Agostino Di Bartolomei.
That year Roma finished runner-up in the Scudetto race to Juventus, but silverware was not missing from his debut season as the club lifted the Coppa Italia, beating FC Torino on penalties, with Falcao scoring the decisive spot-kick.
The following season was less impressive for the club, but a better overall season for Falcao as he notched six goals in 24 league games and forcing his way into the 1982 Brazilian World Cup squad with a string of outstanding individual displays.
Following a good, but ultimately unsuccessful World Cup campaign with Brazil, he returned to Roma and set about inspiring the Giallorossi to their first Scudetto triumph in 40 years. Serie A recognised Falcao as the Player of the Year that season beating such luminaries as Michel Platini.
He scored seven goals in 27 games and was responsible for creating dozens more. His performances also helped Roma to a UEFA Cup quarter-final. These achievements earned him the nickname “The Eighth King of Rome”.
Roma finished second the following season, after defending their title up to the last day of the season, and again Falcao impressed with five goals in 27 games. By now he had become a talisman in the side and a player to whom the rest of the team looked up to.
If failing to retain the Scudetto was disappointing for the Giallorossi tifosi then reaching the European Cup Final in the their stadium against European giants Liverpool somewhat made up for it.
Roma were dominant in Europe that season as they fended off challenges from IFK Gothenburg, CSKA Sofia to reach the semi-final for the first time in their history.
Falcao was an ever-present during this European adventure until the semi-final first leg, due to an injury picked up in the previous Serie A game. Roma lost in Scotland to Dundee United 2-0 and the fans were begging for the return of their hero. Falcao duly obliged and regained some semblance of fitness in time to star in a 3-0 victory that sent Roma into a European Cup Final.
Although he was not 100% fit for the Final he took his place in the staring line-up but had, by his high standards, a poor and ineffective game. Liverpool ended up winning the trophy on penalties, thanks mainly to the ‘wobbly legs’ antics of goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, which certainly put off Francesco Graziani as he ballooned his shot over the bar to give Liverpool their fourth European Cup.
It was towards the end of this encounter that relations between Falcao and the Roma management became difficult, which eventually lead to his departure. Falcao refused to take a spot-kick in the shootout and this clearly annoyed the powers that be.
There was some joy for Roma as they one again won the Coppa Italia but after coming so close to retaining their Scudetto and lifting their first European trophy it felt very much like third best.
His final season in the Eternal City was marred by injury and off the field antics which saw him play only four games and score a solitary goal. It was at this time that he was making the front pages of newspapers rather than the back as his playboy lifestyle was becoming a hotter topic of conversation than his football.
The end came when Falcao went over to New York to get an operation on his injured knee. The operation was not authorised by the club and as such he was charged with gross misconduct by Roma and his contract terminated.
It was a very sad way for their relatively brief, but very successful, relationship to end. Roma suffered a poor season in that year and ended up in eighth position.
Falcao returned to Brazil and signed for Sao Paulo and played for them for two seasons before announcing his retirement following the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
After hanging up his boots he had a brief spell as coach of the Brazilian national team in 1990-91. Unfortunately for him his skills with the ball did not translate into skills without it and he lasted only a year after Brazil under performed at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
He had short spells at América and his old club Internacional but without success. This didn’t stop him from managing the Japanese National Side in 1994. Again he achieved little and subsequently went off the coaching radar until last year when he replaced Celso Roth for another stint at Internacional. This, however, would be the shortest of his three stays at the club and he was sacked after suffering three defeats in a row.
He is currently the coach of Brazilian side Bahia. Aside from his coaching career he has also been a well-known commentator and pundit on Brazilian TV for Rede Globo.