The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: J - Josimar

Josimar's two goals in his first two international games at the 1986 World Cup looked to have put him on the path to stardom, but his career quickly went off the rails

The A-Z of forgotten football heroes: J - Josimar
Josimar in action for Brazil at the 1986 World Cup where he made his name | Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

Starring at a World Cup finals tournament can do wonders for a player's career. Just ask James Rodríguez

One day you're a decent up-and-coming player, a hot prospect with something to prove, or a consistent character yet to really have that 'wow' performance. Then your life changes.

For Brazil right-back Josimar, though, his rise to the top of world football was unexpected, steep, and doomed to failure. 

Arriving at the Mexico 1986 tournament largely to make up the numbers after a late withdrawal from the squad, the Botafogo man was probably content to watch from the sidelines.

He was a decent full-back at a mid-table club, uncapped for his country, and had a front-row seat to the greatest sporting tournament on Earth (sorry, athletics fans).

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An unexpected name on the teamsheet

But, two games into the tournament - two Brazil wins, naturally - Corinthians right-back Édson dropped to the turf with a twisted knee. Josimar was to get his chance after all.

In fact, for the remainder of the match in which Édson was injured, Brazil boss Telê Santana actually opted to play midfielder Falcão at right-back rather than introduce the untested Josimar. Brazil beat Algeria 1-0 thanks to a second-half Careca goal, and qualified from the group stage with a game to spare.

With this buffer of comfort going into the final game, Santana was persuaded to give Josimar his big break. Against Northern Ireland, he was under little pressure; a solid enough performance, and he would probably keep his place.

Brazilian full-backs don't really do 'solid enough', though.

So, with half-time approaching and Brazil leading through another goal from Careca - he finished second in the Golden Boot race with five - he figured that he might as well test his luck from range. Pat Jennings stood between him and glory.

He didn't stand a chance. Picking the ball up on the right hand side, Josimar unleashed an exocet which screamed across the keeper into the far top corner.

The celebration was just as joyous as the goal. Nothing special, nothing pre-rehearsed; just a man on top of the world, sprinting nowhere in particular with his arms thrust wide in elation and disbelief. A once-in-a-lifetime moment, milked for all it was worth.

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Two games, two stunning goals

His name now firmly stamped onto the teamsheet for the first knockout match against Poland, Josimar had all the confidence in the world shuttling through his veins.

By now, though he would only score three goals in six years at Botafogo, he had the taste for the sublime. The stage was set similarly to his debut - Brazil one-nil up, this time thanks to a Sócrates penalty, but needing another goal to really feel comfortable.

Zico free-kick cannoned straight into the wall but found its way out to Josimar on the right. He still had plenty to do, and at one stage seemed to have done too much. 

Shimmying between two defenders at the edge of the box, he broke into the area but a heavy touch took him wide, along the line of the six-yard box but close to the edge of the area.

He did what any self-respecting Brazilian does from a tight angle and attempted to score a stunning goal while teammates were better placed in the centre. Luckily for him, he pulled it off superbly, belting a dipping shot past the keeper and inside the far post.

The goal was different, the celebration the same, and the outcome more positive as Brazil went on to add two more and canter into the quarter-finals with a 4-0 win.

They went out on penalties after a one-all draw with France, but a star had been born. Josimar, not even supposed to be in the squad, made the tournament's best eleven and was later named in the South America Team of the Year.

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A career on a downward curve

Rather than the start of a long and successful career, though, this taste of adulation proved too much for Josimar to handle. 

He moved to Sevilla in 1988 but never managed to nail down a place in the first-team, and moved back to Brazil with Flamengo.

His head turned by off-the-pitch distractions, his career faltered and he never scored another goal. He won the Copa America in 1989, but his international career didn't make it into the nineties. Eight years and eight clubs later, he had retired, depressed and frustrated with the turn he had allowed his career to take.

To his credit, he has been frank about his career in more recent interviews.

"The blondes came and the training went," he told FourFourTwo. "I just lost it. I was poor one day but a celebrity the next and everyone knew me.

"FIFA named me the best right-back in the world but distractions away from the game started to affect my stamina and my concentration.

"I was supposed to be at the peak of my career, but I wasted all the money, lost all credibility and worst of all, I lost contact with my kids."

Finding his feet with a friend

After hitting rock-bottom, in his own words, at a masters tournament, he bore his frustrations to friend and teammate Jorginho, who handed him a role at his academy outside Rio. It was the boost Josimar needed, helping him to fall back in love with the game and rediscover himself after years of waywardness.

Now back in contact with his children, his son Josimar Júnior is also a right-back and has represented Botafogo, Cruzeiro, and Vasco da Gama.

"My son will be better than I ever was," Josimar asserted in the same interview. "I told him young players like him need to avoid making the mistakes I made. They need to realise that they’re not as good-looking, rich or as interesting as they think they are!"

Josimar is not the first Brazilian sensation to lose his way in the game, and he probably won't be the last. But if those words of wisdom are of use to just one young player, his career will come down to more than just those two goals, scored thirty years ago.


This article is part of a weekly series, 'The A-Z of Forgotten Football Heroes'. Check out last week's entry on I, Junichi Inamoto, here.