The crazy story of Edmundo at Fiorentina: ‘Crystalline class’ & carnage

Edmundo Alves de Souza Neto was an animal.

Or more specifically he was ‘The Animal’, a nickname bestowed upon the striker by Brazilian commentator Osmar Santos and one he more than lived up to.

Quick, strong, skilful and intelligent, Edmundo’s immense talent was only matched by his volatile temper. He slapped opponents, fought with team-mates and was once detained in an Ecuadorian hotel for four days after smashing a television camera following a penalty miss in the Copa Libertadores.

But there was a darker side to Edmundo’s wild man antics too. In December 1995, the Brazilian’s Jeep Cherokee collided with a Fiat travelling home from Rio Carnival.

Three people died, including the striker’s female passenger. Edmundo required 10 stitches to a head wound but was otherwise unscathed, thanks to the Jeep’s airbag.

Four eyewitnesses later testified that he was speeding before the crash. Others reported seeing Edmundo consuming large quantities of alcohol at a nightclub earlier that same evening.

Despite a looming legal case and possible prison sentence, Edmundo continued to not only play but enjoy arguably the two best years of his entire career.

29 goals and seven reds

A loan spell with Corinthians in 1996 saw him rack up 32 goals before a training ground bust-up with defender Cris prompted a hasty exit.

He re-emerged at Vasco Da Gama, the club where his career began, breaking the Brazilian championship scoring record with 29 goals in 28 games. A feat made all the more impressive by the fact he received seven red cards that season.

• • • •

READ: Edmundo & Romario: The brilliant strike partners who hated each other

• • • •

Vasco went on to win only the Campeonato Brasileiro, with Edmundo claiming the Golden Ball as the league’s top scorer, earning a call-up to the Brazil squad for the 1997 Copa America, where he scored twice, including the opener in the final.

He also punched an opponent but, fortunately for him, the match officials missed the incident.

The Animal was more than living up to his billing and soon began to attract interest from abroad, eventually negotiating a move to Fiorentina.

On the face of it, the £6million La Viola shelled out on Edmundo in May 1997 looked an absolute bargain given that Inter Milan paid £25million for Ronaldo.

Fiorentina president Vittorio Cecchi Gori certainly appeared convinced, describing him as “a player of crystalline class and a lion-like temper.”

‘I prefer to stay in Brazil’

That “lion-like temper” was on full display within a few months when, after growing frustrated at a lack of playing time under Alberto Malesani, Edmundo threw a massive strop, packing his bags and heading back to Brazil.

In Malesani’s defence, he was already trying to juggle a squad including the likes of Manuel Rui Costa, Luis Oliveira and Gabriel Batistuta as well as emerging youngster Domenico Morfeo in its ranks. Edmundo, however, was having none of it.

• • • •

READ: Manuel Rui Costa, ‘The Maestro’ who made Fiorentina, Milan & Portugal tick

• • • •

“I’m not thinking about returning to Italy,” he told reporters. “I prefer to stay in Brazil.”

When he did eventually return, a few weeks later, he accepted he had been wrong to leave, though claimed he had been sorting legal issues resulting from the 1995 crash. It was just a coincidence that Rio Carnival was in full swing at the time.

Not that it mattered. Within a few weeks he was up and running, scoring in a 4-0 over Napoli with a low, precise finish from a tight angle.

Ever the humble star, he told reporters after the game: “I’m dedicating my goal to myself. After all I’ve been through in recent times, I think I deserve it.”

Three more goals followed, including a brilliantly improvised finish against Lazio. By the end of the campaign, he had done enough to earn a call up to Brazil’s squad for the 1998 World Cup.

It didn’t go well. The Animal made only two appearances, both from the bench. He failed to score and annoyed team-mates with incessant complaints about being behind Ronaldo in the pecking order.

The lion tamer

By the time he returned to the Stadio Artemio Franchi, Malesani had moved on to Parma and was replaced by Giovanni Trappatoni. While Trap’s arrival gave Edmundo the opportunity of a fresh start, the Italian’s strict disciplinarian ways were at odds with the Brazilian’s freewheeling nature.

Such concerns initially appeared unfounded when Trappatoni hit upon a 3-4-3 formation that allowed him to play Batistuta as centre-forward with Edmundo and Oliveira either side of him and Rui Costa pulling the strings from the midfield.

Fiorentina made a flying start to the campaign, winning each of their first four league games.

It was run that included Edmundo’s finest hour in a Fiorentina shirt with a stoppage-time winner in a 1-0 victory over Udinese. Playing a one-two with Rui Costa, the Brazilian showed superb composure to fire the ball past Luigi Turci for a goal that prompted a standing ovation from the chairman.

A week later, Edmundo was at it again, firing in a brace against Salernitana. Trappatoni was quickly heralded as the manager that tamed The Animal. It didn’t last.

The first in a series of rows between player and coach erupted during a mid-October clash with Roma. With Fiorentina leading the Giallorossi 1-0 late in the game, Trap made the ill-fated decision to take Edmundo off and bring on a defender.

The Brazilian, who had been playing well, reacted angrily to being subbed off. Words and a few expletives were exchanged, with Edmundo storming down the tunnel. Worse still, Fiorentina went on to lose 2-1.

Despite the frosty relations, Edmundo continued to play regularly and make valuable contributions, including a fine strike from distance in a comeback win over Cagliari.

‘The most selfish act I have seen in 40 years’

By February, La Viola were top and beginning to dream of a first Scudetto in 30 years. Then Batistuta suffered a serious knee injury against AC Milan and everything fell apart.

In the aftermath of the game, Trappatoni turned to Edmundo to lead the line for Fiorentina in Batigol’s absence. Edmundo had other ideas: he was heading to Rio Carnival, exercising an apparent clause in his contract that allowed him to travel home for the festivities.

It was an extraordinary turn of events, with Edmundo departing for Rio on the same night as the Milan game, telling reporters: “I’m going to Rio and I don’t know if I’m coming back.

“No-one asked me to stay and, even if someone did, I still would’ve gone.”

The decision sent shockwaves through the Italian game with journalist Giorgio Tosatti describing it as “the most selfish act I have seen in 40 years”. Edmundo, however, couldn’t have cared less.

“If they let me stay in Brazil, they’ll be doing me a favour.”

While the Brazilian posed for pictures at a pro-celebrity foot-volleyball match at Ipanema beach in Rio, Fiorentina slumped to a 1-0 defeat against Udinese – the team Edmundo scored the winner against earlier that season. He returned a week later to face Trapattoni, who read him the riot act.

“It’s time to stop messing around,” the coach reportedly told him. “It’s time you grew up and became responsible, because without a head on your shoulders, you won’t get anywhere, despite your talent.”

This pep talk had little effect. With little option other than to recall Edmundo, Trap watched on as the striker underwhelmed against Roma and Salernitana, with Fiorentina dropping more points in the process.

Was he lacking motivation or still recovering from his Rio exploits? It was hard to tell.

Monkey business

While Edmundo did eventually rediscover his form, by then the club’s title hopes had evaporated, with a half-fit Batistuta eventually recalled to rescue a Champions League spot.

At the end of the season, it was decided that it would be best for all parties that The Animal be let loose back in his native Brazil. Edmundo attributed his lack of focus to homesickness, but that didn’t stop him returning to Serie A for an ill-fated spell with Napoli just 18 months later.

By then he had found a new way to live up to his nickname in Brazil, drawing criticism after getting a chimpanzee drunk on whiskey and beer at his son’s birthday party.

There would be no caging The Animal. Despite being convicted of involuntary manslaughter over the 1995 car crash, multiple appeals ensured Edmundo spent just one day of his four-and-a-half-year prison sentence behind bars.

The rest was served out in a semi-open prison so Edmundo could keep playing.

And play on he did, for no fewer than 11 clubs in eight years. Though he enjoyed one final starring role on the world stage for Vasco against Manchester United in the 2000 Club World Championship, Edmundo never returned to the fold for Brazil.

Now working as a pundit on Brazilian TV, Edmundo has lost none of the madness that made him The Animal – he still, to this day, claims he was better than Ronaldo.

Better? No. Crazier? Undoubtedly.

By Jack Beresford

More from Planet Football

Edmundo & Romario: The brilliant strike partners who hated each other

Manuel Rui Costa, ‘The Maestro’ who made Fiorentina, Milan & Portugal tick

Ronaldo & Batigol were the best strike partnership in history… for 45 mins

Can you name the top scorer for every Serie A season since 1990?