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Thursday, December 15, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: December 20, 2:25 PM UK
Edmundo: Party animal

Robin Hackett

Though hugely talented, Brazilian forward Edmundo's capacity to cause trouble surfaced with such alarming regularity that he changed clubs 17 times in an 18-year career. Even so, he would become a legendary figure at Vasco da Gama during five separate spells there, and won 39 caps for Brazil despite numerous fall-outs with coaches and team-mates. Born in April 1971 in Rio de Janeiro, Edmundo began his professional career with Vasco and swiftly became recognised as a player of real quality. He made his debut in January 1992, and by August had won his first cap for Brazil when appearing against Mexico in the Copa da Amizade. Having won the Campeonato Carioca and Copa Rio in his first year with Vasco, he earned a move to Palmeiras in 1993. It was to be a hugely successful period for Edmundo and, in his first year, he helped the team to win the Campeonato Paulista, the Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo and Campeonato Brasileiro, as well as being named in Placar magazine's team of the year. He also featured for Brazil in the Copa America as they reached the quarter-final stage. However, disciplinary problems were always evident, and he had received five red cards for his club by the end of the year, and reacted to one by shoving his hand in the referee's face. In 1994, a couple of months before the World Cup, Palmeiras suspended him when - having wasted several chances by shooting instead of passing during a Copa Libertadores game against Sao Paulo - he reacted angrily to being substituted, gesturing angrily at coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo. Carlos Alberto Parreira, mindful of his combustible nature, left him out of the USA '94 squad despite public appeals from the likes of Romario and Roberto Rivelino to include him. He was regularly receiving red cards and, when he fought with two opponents in a derby with Sao Paulo in October 1994 and sparked six red cards, a complaint was made to the police and he was later given a 40-day ban. Even when Palmeiras clinched the Campeonato Brasileiro in December he was causing trouble. In the first leg of the final against Corinthians, he scored his side's third goal in a 3-1 win; in the second leg, which ended as a 1-1 draw, Edmundo was attacked by three Corinthians players after he dribbled past forward Viola and then gestured to him to come back for more. It got worse. In March 1995, Edmundo - by this stage known as O Animal - missed a penalty in a 1-0 Copa Libertadores defeat to El Nacional in Ecuador, and kicked and smashed a television camera during a post-match interview. He spent almost four days under hotel arrest in Ecuador before agreeing to pay a $10,000 fine. "This chapter in the life of Edmundo has ended and it will be as if there's a new player in the Palmeiras team," he told reporters in Guayaquil, and the following month he was pictured on the front cover of Placar magazine cuddling a teddy bear under the headline "O Animal precisa de carinho" ("The Animal needs care"). Predictably, though, the new Edmundo was soon back to his old ways, and he fell out with the coach, several team-mates and even the directors: he was given a 15-day suspension in May when he criticised the board, who had been fervently defending him over his 40-day ban, for allowing the grass at the stadium to get too long. As a result, there was to be no extension to his contract and he moved on to Flamengo, where he would form an attack with Romario and Savio. He had impressed for Brazil in the summer of 1995 at the Umbro Cup in England and then helped his country to second place at the Copa America, but was soon embroiled in controversy for his new club. At the start of October, at the end of a 3-0 Supercopa Libertadores victory at home to Argentina's Velez Sarsfield, Edmundo was elbowed by full-back Flavio Zandona and responded by slapping him; Zandona subsequently punched Edmundo to the ground, sparking a mass brawl that included players and coaches from both sides. That same month, when playing against his beloved Vasco, Edmundo was pictured pointing to his genitals in response to insults from his former fans. "My conscience is clear," he said. "I always put my hand on my groin when I'm warming up. I was just stretching." The Brazilian football authorities disagreed and suspended him. In December, while suspended, he was involved in the darkest moment of his life. Having drunk alcohol - the amount is subject to dispute - he was involved in a car crash that killed three people when he sped through a plush area of Rio. Edmundo suffered only cuts and bruising, but he has spoken of the trauma it caused him, later saying: "I will never recover from the accident." In 1996, he moved on to Corinthians, where he scored 32 goals in the first half of the year, but he left after a training ground bust-up with centre-back Cris and returned to Vasco, and helped steer his favourite club clear of relegation. He was to enjoy a hugely successful 1997. With Brazil, he scored in the Copa America as Mario Zagallo's men won the tournament. The second of those goals was the opener in the 3-1 victory over Bolivia in the final, but he still managed to upset Zagallo when he punched an opponent, even though the referee missed it. With Vasco, Edmundo scored a record 29 goals in 28 games as they claimed the Campeonato Brasileiro for the third time in their history. "This is the most important title of my life," Edmundo said and, although he was sent off seven times in 1997, he was named Placar magazine's player of the year. Before the year was out, Edmundo was claiming he was owed back-pay at Vasco and expressing doubts over the direction of the club, so negotiated a move to Europe with Fiorentina. He would play alongside Gabriel Batistuta and Rui Costa for the Viola, but the competition for places brought out the worst in him. After reacting badly to being left on the bench - and having insisted on a clause in his contract that would allow him to return to Brazil during the time of the Rio Carnival - he flew home to Brazil in February 1998. "I'm not thinking about returning to Italy," he said. "I prefer to stay in Brazil." He eventually agreed to return, accepting he was in the wrong but claiming his trip was down to the ongoing legal problems relating to his 1995 car crash, and set about, as he put it, "regaining the confidence of the fans". In March, he opened his account in a 4-0 win over Napoli, and said: "I'm dedicating my goal to myself. After all I've been through in recent times, I think I deserve it." That summer, he was included in the Brazil squad for the 1998 World Cup in France, even though it was clear that Zagallo had serious reservations over his character. He did little to ease those fears. When Romario suffered an injury, Zagallo said Bebeto would come in for him, so Edmundo went on the radio to say he was in better form than Bebeto and should play instead. When Edmundo was left on the bench for a warm-up game with Andorra at the start of June, his wife told O Jogo: "Against Andorra, both Bebeto and Ronaldo missed sitters. I'm not saying he would have scored the goals but at least he would have tried." In the second game of the tournament, a 3-0 win over Morocco, a banner from the stands read: "France wants to see Edmundo." He was duly introduced in the 72nd minute, but the quality of his performance seemed to suggest France was being sarcastic. He did not appear again until the final, when he was dramatically pencilled in to start in place of Ronaldo only to be placed back on the bench, much to his chagrin. He did make an appearance against France that day, but only as a late substitute and when the game was palpably beyond Brazil, and it was to be his last appearance for the seleção for almost two years. The Animal went back to Fiorentina to lick his wounds, and at the start of the season talk abounded that coach Giovanni Trapattoni had managed to tame him. However, he had a public argument with Trapattoni in mid-October and fell out with his team-mates. In February, with Fiorentina top of the table, he again insisted on a trip back to Brazil despite Batistuta suffering an injury. Journalist Giorgio Tosatti described it as "the most selfish act I have seen in 40 years", but Edmundo was unconcerned. "If they let me stay in Brazil, they'll be doing me a favour," he said when confronted as he prepared to fly out from Malpensa airport in Milan. Declining the fans' pleas to speak to him about their concerns, he played in the pro-celebrity foot-volleyball match on Ipanema beach, taking part alongside fellow players and soap opera actors. Fiorentina, meanwhile, drew three and lost one of their four league games in February and dropped to third, where they would finish the campaign. In March that year, Edmundo was finally sentenced for his car crash: four and a half years in an open prison, leaving him free to work during the day but obligated to spend his nights behind bars. However, he was temporarily freed when he appealed the sentence, and Vasco were sufficiently unworried to offer him the chance to return to his homeland in a $15 million deal. Upon completing the deal, they also handed him the captaincy, and he excelled, but he was still to miss out on his country's 1999 Copa America success: Brazil boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo left Edmundo out of his squad following a string of rows. In October, the legal problems resurfaced. Three judges rejected the appeal against his conviction and, when he disappeared, a warrant was issued for his arrest. He then handed himself in and spent a night behind bars, but another appeal restored his freedom. That month, in an attempt to show he had turned over a new leaf, Edmundo invited the press to a party for his one-year old son. He hired a circus and, to impress photographers, posed for pictures while giving a chimpanzee beer. The incident prompted a global outcry, and a fine from the Government's environmental agency. "I've done a lot of stupid things, but I'm trying to get better," he said. In December, Romario rejoined Vasco, and by that stage his relationship with Edmundo was in tatters - Romario's bar in Rio featured a toilet door decorated with a cartoon of Edmundo sitting on a deflated ball next to his ex-girlfriend, and Romario refused to remove it despite Edmundo's pleas. Romario had been signed to bolster Vasco's chances for the 2000 Club World Championship in January, which took place in Sao Paulo and Rio, but Edmundo was refusing to speak to him, even on the field. Edmundo also exercised a clause in his contract that prevented Vasco interfering with his private life as he persistently visited nightclubs. Even so, Vasco kept faith with him, and the duo helped fire Vasco to the final - with a 3-1 win over Manchester United along the way - only for Edmundo to miss the last penalty in the shootout defeat to Corinthians in the final. He later described it as the worst moment of his career. In February, he was stripped of the captaincy just before the start of the new season and replaced with Romario, so walked out in protest. The incident would contribute to Edmundo being named the most hated player in Brazil in Placar magazine. The dismissal of the pro-Romario coach Antonio Lopes offered hope, and Edmundo was restored to the team - even returning to the Brazilian national side in June - but he ultimately lost his power struggle with his strike rival. In August, Edmundo was sent to Santos on loan, and Romario afterwards said: "They say his dream is to play alongside me in the national team. My dream is to never play with him again." Edmundo made his final ever appearance for Brazil in November, and the spell at Santos ended soon afterwards because they could not afford his wages. In January 2001, he returned to Italy after agreeing a six-month deal with relegation-threatened Napoli, but it was a disaster: Napoli were relegated and Edmundo voted the worst player of the season. He was back in Brazil that summer with Cruzeiro but, ahead of a game against his beloved Vasco in October, had managed to upset his employers. "Hopefully I won't score," he said. "If it happens, it will be purely down to professionalism, and I won't celebrate." He missed a penalty in a 3-0 defeat and his contract was duly terminated, with club president Zeze Perrella describing him as "crazy, troubled and unbalanced". Edmundo went off to Japan for spells with Tokyo Verdy and then Urawa Red Diamonds, but his contract with the latter was cancelled after three months because he missed his family in Brazil. In June 2003, Brazil's Supreme Court upheld his prison sentence, but again he appealed and escaped incarceration. He signed up with Vasco again, but in August sparked a dressing-room split when refusing to join in the traditional pre-match prayers. Before long the familiar complaints over unpaid wages and the quality of his team-mates resurfaced, and he departed in acrimonious circumstances in December. So it was that, in January 2004, he made the surprising move to Vasco's local rivals Fluminense, where he would resume his partnership with Romario. "We're all a bit older, especially me," Romario said. "We're not going to allow any vanity to unsettle the squad." Injuries, though, were to scupper his chances of success this time around, and he left the club in December. After six months out, he joined lowly Nova Iguacu but played just two games before returning to the top-flight with Figueirense. There, he rediscovered his very best form, netting 15 goals as he led a successful one-man fight against relegation, and he earned a return to Palmeiras in December. His time there was up and down and, when his contract expired at the end of 2007, he was allowed to leave for a variety of reasons: he had fallen out with team-mates, was on high wages, and Vanderlei Luxemburgo had agreed to take over as coach. In January 2008, at the age of 36, Edmundo agreed an emotional finale with Vasco following the appointment of Romario as player-coach. "I've never stopped missing this club," he told a press conference after agreeing a one-year deal. "I was told that Romario was the one who suggested that I be called back to the club and that gave me enormous satisfaction. There has always been real affection between us, no matter what problems we have had." The swansong was to prove disastrous: Romario walked out at the start of February, Edmundo could not find his form and, in his final game as a professional, Vasco were relegated for the first time in their 110-year history. Now working as a commentator, Edmundo continues to generate headlines, and as recently as June 2011 he was arrested as a fugitive in relation to the 1995 crash and again briefly held in custody. Owing to complex changes in the law, it appears that particular affair can now be consigned to the past, but even now the feeling remains: O Animal will never be far from controversy.

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