Edmundo and Romario were both brilliant Brazilian strikers. Both are Vasco da Gama legends. And in 2000 they combined to humiliate Manchester United in the Club World Cup. They also hated each other’s guts…
At the turn of the millennium, Vasco da Gama, one of the great powers of South American football, were living through the most glorious period in their history.
In 1997, the Rio side had won the Brazilian championship with an attack led by hometown-hero Edmundo, subsequently sold to Fiorentina for a substantial fee, and in 1998 they went on to win the much-coveted Copa Libertadores for the first time.
In the middle of the 1999 season, Edmundo returned, exiled from Italy after exercising the famous ‘carnival clause’ in his contract and going back to Rio for the annual knees-up mid-season even though Fiorentina had no other fit strikers. He subsequently led Vasco to a third-place finish in the league, raising high hopes for the following year.
The first week of 2000 would see Vasco competing in FIFA’s shiny new Club World Cup, with the final to be held in the Cidade Maravilha’s very own Maracanã.
It is difficult to underestimate how much the old Intercontinental Cup and the current World Club Cup mean to Brazilian sides, and this tournament, especially on home turf, was Vasco’s burning priority.
So much so that Eurico Miranda, the club’s president, decided that Edmundo alone would not be enough firepower to take on the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Romário, another homegrown Vasco terrace idol, had just been sacked by local rivals Flamengo for going to a nightclub in the hours after a defeat to minnows Juventude that had dumped them out of the national championship.
Eurico pounced and, in December 1999, convinced Romário to return to the club he had left in 1988, on his way first to PSV and then Barcelona.
O baixinho had lost none of the magical scoring touch that had earned him the move to Europe, netting 88 in 106 games for Flamengo in ’98 and ’99, but the signing was still a huge risk.
Romário and Edmundo, the vaunted strike partnership that would lead the club into the new century, hated each other’s guts.
Following his omission from the 1998 World Cup squad (Edmundo went in his place) Romário opened a football-themed bar in Rio named Café do Gol. On the door of one of the gents’ toilet he placed a huge caricature of Edmundo sat on a deflated ball.
Romário insisted it was a harmless joke, but Edmundo was not pleased. “I called him to ask for an explanation,” Edmundo recounted to the press. “He didn’t convince me. For this reason, I decided to finish my friendship with him.”
The media could not get enough. Here were two hugely egotistical, exceptionally talented Brazil stars at each other’s throats. At every possible opportunity, journalists and reporters threw petrol upon the flames, intensifying and exacerbating the enmity between the two.
“We never fought face-to-face,” Edmundo told Desimpedidos this year, “we fought through the press. A time came that we were disputing a place in the seleção, disputing championship titles, fighting for top-scorer awards, and even women in the nightclub.
“We arrived at the club and there was me in one corner and him in the other; I was prettier, I had the chat. So, we started to clash.”
Their relationship, however, had not always been so fractious. In fact, when Edmundo was a Vasco youth player and Romário was the team’s star, the two were inseparable.
“He was like a big brother to me,” Edmundo later said. Romário’s recollection is similar, and recently he called Edmundo “the only friend I ever had in football”.
It seemed a natural alliance. Both enjoyed days on Rio’s beaches playing foot-volleyball, nights spent partying and endless womanising far more than training. Romário once said: “When I sleep too much I don’t score. That’s the reason I like to go out a lot.”
Reputedly, they both had it stipulated in their contracts that they could hit Rio’s discotheques every night of the week, if they so pleased.
When Romário went to Flamengo (for the first time) in 1995, he even begged the club hierarchy to bring in Edmundo to partner him up top in a frontline referred to in Brazil as “the attack of dreams”.
That same year the pair released a song together, entitled ‘Rap dos Bad Boys’, in which they requested “peace for the nation; stop the violence and don’t cause trouble”.
Which was ironic given that they had just incited one of the biggest on-pitch brawls in South American football history during Flamengo’s Supercopa Libertadores game against Vélez Sársfield of Argentina.
By the time they were reunited at Vasco, though, the attack of dreams had turned into the stuff of nightmares. The two were not even on speaking terms. Publicly, Edmundo welcomed Romário’s arrival, but behind closed doors it was a different story.
Edmundo, known in Brazil as o animal, went to the president’s office and demanded to be sold, saying he would not play alongside his former friend. Eurico, however, assured him that Romário would only be there for the duration of the Club World Cup.
During the second game of that tournament, a magnificent 3-1 win against European champions United, it appeared, momentarily, that their feud would attenuate. In the 24th minute Edmundo pounced on a horribly short back-pass from Gary Neville and squared it to Romário for a tap-in. The duo ran arm in arm towards the rapturous Vasco fans to celebrate.
Later in the first half another Neville mistake led to another Romário goal, before Edmundo sealed the victory with a stunning effort. He received the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the area, flicking it round one side of Mikael Silvestre with the outside of his right boot before spinning around the other and stabbing a shot beyond a helpless Mark Bosnich.
They would also overcome South Melbourne and Necaxa to advance to a final against sworn enemy Corinthians. The tie went to penalties and Edmundo stepped up for the fifth and final kick, needing to score to keep Vasco in it. He sent it flying wide and now recalls it as “the worst moment of my career”.
Romário, despite the president’s word, was not let go after the competition. Even worse, he signed a longer-term contract on the condition that the captain’s armband would be taken from Edmundo and given to him.
As this was announced in the dressing room, before a game against Edmundo’s former club Palmeiras, o animal stormed from the stadium and refused to return to the club, saying: “It’s as if I were a journalist who, after three days of sick leave, returned to the firm as an office boy.”
Eurico, despite his broken promise, was furious. Edmundo recalled that the club president came to him and said: “I won’t give you away, I won’t sell you and I won’t exchange you. As long as you refuse to play in Vasco’s colours, there will be no deal.”
Edmundo’s hands were tied, and he was forced back onto the pitch alongside his rival.
Then came the apex of the attrition. In a game against Bangu in the Rio state championship, with the score at 0-0, Vasco won a penalty. Edmundo was the designated taker, but Romário, as captain, pulled rank and wrenched the ball from his hands before proceeding to smash the spot-kick into the crossbar.
As Edmundo strode towards the tunnel at half-time, a look of fury writ across his face, a pitch-side reporter shoved a microphone towards him: “Do you think you should have taken the penalty?”
“No,” Edmundo replied ironically. “I was training to take them, but it’s the king’s little prince who decides,” referring to Miranda and Romário, respectively.
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Three days later Romário scored a brace to take the lead in the Rio state championship scoring charts from Edmundo and, walking from the field, he took advantage of the opportunity to get one back. “Now the whole court is happy: the king, the prince and the fool.”
Edmundo’s time at Vasco was up, and from there his career never truly recovered. He was loaned first to Santos and then to Napoli, where he was relegated from the Italian Serie A and voted the worst foreign player of the season.
Eurico Miranda’s decision to favour Romário was vindicated as Vasco went on to win that year’s Brazilian championship, defeating São Caetano in the final, with two goals from o baixinho over the two legs.
The two would be reunited twice more in their careers, first at Vasco’s Rio rivals Fluminense in 2004 and then again back at Vasco in 2008, only now with Romario in a short and unsuccessful stint as manager.
By this time, they were older and marginally wiser and could put their previous conflict to one side in the name of professionalism.
Unfortunately, though, the latter spell ended in disaster, with the struggling Vasco being relegated for the first time in their history in Edmundo’s last game for the club.
These days o animal finds himself passing comment on Brazilian TV as a pundit for Fox Sports while Romário is a Federal Senator for the centre-left Podemos party, fronting campaigns for rights for people with disabilities and greater transparency in football.
Last week o baixinho announced he will run for the presidency of the CBF, Brazil’s FA, after Marco Polo Del Nero was suspended from the job by FIFA’s Ethics Committee. The election will take place in the second half of the year.
Perhaps he could take Edmundo as his vice. It would at least be lively.
By Joshua Law
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