Legend of Calcio: Careca
The story of Careca, a phenomenal goalscorer, who together with Diego Maradona, led Napoli to the top of the Serie A
Antonio de Oliveira Filho, better known as Careca, was the Brazilian forward of his generation. Appearing in the age before better known strikers such as Romario and Ronaldo, Careca was pacey and prolific with a knack of being in the right place at the right time.
He graced the football pitches in Serie A for six years between 1987 and 1993 and endeared himself to Napoli fans in a way that no Brazilian has ever been able to.
At the Stadio San Paolo he won one Scudetto and a Supercoppa Italiana and helped the Azzurri win its first, and to date only European trophy, the UEFA Cup.
Careca was born in Araquara, a town of roughly 200,000 people in the state of Sao Paulo. His nickname, which is Portuguese for ‘bald’ is attributed to his love for the famous Brazilian clown Carequinha, who like him had a thick head of hair.
The Brazilian started his career at local club Guarani in 1978, where he instantly gained success winning the Brazilian Championship in his first season. Straightaway he showed potential to be one of the best scoring 13 goals in 28 games in his debut season. He also won the Brazilian Second Division in 1981.
Careca’s goals-to-game ratio was absolutely astounding. Including the Campeonato Paulista, the Brazilian State Championship for the state of Sao Paulo, his goal tally reached 109 goals in just five years at the club, which also made him the second highest scorer in the club’s history.
Such outstanding performances did not go unnoticed. In 1983, Careca moved to San Paolo where he would stay for three years. In his first season, he scored 17 goals, as many as Zico, and only Serginho Chulapa scored more. The second season was less successful. Careca did not play a single match in the Brazilian Serie A but he managed to grab 12 goals in 17 matches in the following season.
This set him up nicely going into the 1986 season, where he would score goals by the bucket load. Careca helped Sao Paulo win Serie A and the Brazilian Cup being top scorer in both of the competitions as well. His performances earned him the Bola de Ouro, the Brazilian version of the Ballon d’Or.
In the meantime he also established himself as the main man in the Brazilian national team attack. Unfortunately Brazil were enduring a difficult time internationally having failed to win the World Cup in 1982.
Careca, himself, had been ruled of the tournament through injury.
As a consequence, there was huge pressure for the ageing 1982 squad going into the 1986 World Cup in Spain. For Careca, it was a chance to display his amazing goal-scoring prowess to the world and he did not disappoint. The forward scored three goals in the group stage as Brazil eased through into the Round of 16. Then they swatted Poland away 4-0 with another goal from Careca.
People were starting to believe that perhaps the Selecao could win its first World Cup since 1970. In the quarter-final they met France in an absolute classic display of Total Football. Careca put Brazil in the lead before Platini came on in the second half. Zico came on in the second half and had the chance to win it for Brazil but he missed his penalty. The match went to extra time and then onto penalties. Careca didn’t take one and the Selecao lost 4-3.
Nevertheless, Careca proved himself to be a ‘complete’ forward being good at everything. He scored five goals in the World Cup, one less than top scorer Gary Lineker. After the summer, it was finally time for the big move to Europe from Sao Paulo to the Stadio San Paolo for Careca.
Napoli had just been crowned Serie A champions for the first time ever in their history by a slim margin of three points over Juventus.
The Partenopei shelled out 4 million lire to acquire Careca. There was much expectation amidst the fervent Napoli fans and he did not take long to start delighting them.
The fans took to Careca instantly and he would form the MaGiCa partnership alongside Bruno Giordano and Diego Maradona. His complicity with the Argentine would be especially magical. Together they were a fantastically talented partnership. Maradona provided the brains to spot the killer pass, whilst Careca would be on hand to coolly slot the ball into the net.
In his first season, Careca scored 13 goals as the Azzurri finished second in the Serie A only three points behind Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan. In all competitions he scored 18 goals, which is remarkable considering that it was his debut season in tactically and defensively the hardest league in the world.
Unfortunately the club exited the European Cup at the First Round losing 3-1 against Real Madrid on aggregate.
The 1988-89 season promised well. Careca scored 19 goals (only three less than Capocannoniere Aldo Serena) as Napoli once again finished in second place, albeit a very distant second place 11 points behind Inter. In Europe Napoli won the UEFA Cup, the first European trophy in their history, with Careca being top scorer in the competition with six goals.
Not only was he able to score a vast quantity of goals, he also scored them at crucial times such as the 87th minute winner against Stuttgart in the first leg of the UEFA Cup final in a fiery San Paolo atmosphere set up by Maradona, of course.
Careca ‘only’ scored 10 goals the following season in the league but these were sufficient to help the Partenopei win their second Scudetto by a margin of two points over Milan.
At a time when all of Italy seemed against Naples, Maradona and Careca provided a shining light for Southern Italy.
They were virtually unstoppable. The Argentine scored 17 goals in the title-winning season and came into the World Cup in Italy, totally fired up. Unfortunately, he got booed everywhere he went by Italian fans except in Naples where Argentina played Italy in the semi-final and won on penalties.
Careca, on the other hand, had a much quieter World Cup. In four games he scored two goals, a brace in the opening group match against Sweden, as Brazil lost their attacking flare of previous years and limped out at the Round of 16 stage against Argentina
The summer of 1990 brought Careca his last trophy at Napoli, a thumping 5-1 win in the Supercoppa Italiana against Juventus. From then on the club began a slow and ultimately terminal decline.
As title holders, Napoli finished the following season in a lowly 8th place. Their season was severely compromised by the ever-growing worries surrounding Maradona’s private life including his drug use and a suspected friendship with the Neapolitan mafia the Camorra. On 17th March 1991, Maradona failed an anti-doping test following a game against Bari as he tested positive for cocaine.
Despite this, the team was able to regroup for the 1991-92 season and with Careca as their spearhead managed to obtain fourth place in Serie A with the rise of new stars such as Gianfranco Zola. Careca bagged 15 goals in the season to further confirm himself as one of the lethal goalscorers of Serie A of that time.
The 1992-93 season would be his last in an Azzurri shirt. The Brazilian notched up seven goals in the league as Napoli finished in 11th place.
To date Careca is the sixth highest all time goalscorer for Napoli with 95 goals in 225 appearances.
At the same time his international career was winding down. Collectively he only played three games for the national side in 1991 and 1992. At the age of 33 and with younger, fresher Brazilian stars ready to take his place, Careca played his last game on the 1st August 1993, against Venezuela. He rounded off an 11-year international career with 29 goals in 60 games.
He sought a new challenge in Japan, playing for four years at Kashiwa Reysol and managing a very respectable 40 goals. Then he returned to his homeland playing at Santos, Campinas and Sao Jose before retiring.
Careca remains to be one of the most technically gifted forwards of his time. His many different abilities allowed him to adapt accordingly in games thus making him into a goal-scoring machine, whilst also striking deadly partnerships with his attacking teammates.
Whilst other great Brazilian forwards such as Ronaldo and Romario went on to achieve international success with their country, Careca never managed it. He simply was in his prime at a time when the national team was in the doldrums and as a consequence obtained less international recognition than he ought to have.
Nevertheless for Calcio purists and admirers, he will always be recognised as a true out and out goalscorer capable of popping up at any time to score vital goals even in the best the league in the world.
And of course he is held in the highest regards in Naples by the Napoli fans as a fantastic player and pivotal cog in what would be the club’s golden age.