South American Cult Heroes: Part 1 - Edmundo

In the first of a new series, Jack Lang looks back at the career of the man they called ‘The Animal’...


Pass notes 

Wild-eyed, loose-lipped street-fighting man of a striker whose explosiveness with the ball at his feet was matched only by... well, the explosiveness of pretty much every other aspect of his life. The kind of footballer you'd definitely, definitely hate unless he played for your team, in which case you'd probably get his face tattooed onto your chest. And your back. And, just maybe, after a few drinks with your favourite primate, your face.


Career in five steps

1. Edmundo burst onto the scene with Vasco da Gama in 1992 but it wasn't long before he was snapped up by Palmeiras. Newly minted thanks to a lucrative partnership with Italian food group Parmalat, the Verdão got a swift return on their $2million dollar investment, the forward helping them to back-to-back Brazilian titles. "He put a fire into that team," former Brazil star Tostão later mused.

2. Goals were Edmundo's main currency but even at a young age he also traded in controversy. Whether kicking TV cameras, scrapping with defenders or making obscene gestures to opposition fans, he was a walking headline generator – and the Palmeiras supporters loved him for it. Well, until they didn't: after a series off fallouts with his own team-mates, he left the club under a cloud.

3. Soon, he was back at Vasco, doing the business again: he saved the Rio side from relegation in 1996 and netted 29 goals – including a historic hat-trick against bitter rivals Flamengo (video below) – as they won the title the following year. It was, by general consensus, the best season of his career.

4. Those were also salad days for Edmundo in a Brazil shirt. So often a nearly-man in the yellow jersey, he was a starter in the successful 1997 Copa América campaign, even scoring (albeit scrappily) in the final against Bolivia. 

5. The years that followed brought varied adventures, including further spells at Vasco and Palmeiras, plus a couple of years in Japan. But the most memorable season was probably the one he spent at Fiorentina, where he formed a fine partnership with Gabriel Batistuta. It wasn't destined to last – Edmundo fell out with Giovanni Trapattoni on the touchline and annoyed fans by going back to Brazil for Carnaval – but is fondly remembered in Florence nonetheless.


The best of times

He had better games, but for global impact, it has to be taking Manchester United to the cleaners at the Club World Cup. Edmundo had a love-hate (mainly hate) relationship with Romário, yet the pair were unplayable on that famous afternoon at the Maracanã. Gary Neville is probably still having nightmares about them.


The worst of times

In 1999, Edmundo was sentenced to four years in prison for his part in a fatal car crash in December 1995. The Jeep Cherokee that he was driving collided with a Fiat in the Lagoa area of Rio de Janeiro, killing three people – two of them in the Fiat, the other Edmundo's passenger. 

After a series of legal wrangles, he controversially managed to escape long-term jail time, but says the accident – and the fallout – had a big effect on him. "It changed my life radically," he told Istoé magazine in 2011. "I became a better person, with different values."

He was, however, arrested for drink-driving in Rio last year, which undermines that position somewhat.


Nickname rating

It was legendary Brazilian commentator Osmar Santos who first dubbed Edmundo 'The Animal', during a 1993 state championship game between Palmeiras and Guarani. It hinted at the striker's appetite for the primal, to be sure, but it's worth noting that 'animal' is often used as a complimentary adjective in Brazil – something akin to 'awesome'. 

That dual meaning was not lost on the player himself. "Of course, it has positive and negative connotations," he once said. "Compared to other nicknames like 'The Phenomenon' or 'The Emperor', it could be less dubious. But mine is unique. To be honest, it never bothered me."

Good thing, too, because it's perfect for him. 8/10


Extra-curricular activities

Where to start? Realistically, I suppose, with the monkey photo. In 1999, to celebrate the birthday of his son Júnior, Edmundo paid for a whole circus – complete with performing animals – to come to his house and perform. After the show, he took a particular like to a chimpanzee called Pedrinho, giving it (him?) a sip of his beer. 

A savvy photographer captured the moment and the picture went whatever the 1999 version of viral was, sparking justifiable outrage from animal rights groups and even talk of a prosecution. He later claimed that the glass contained not beer but rather the catastrophically sugary Brazilian soft drink Guaraná, in which case I hope the monkey dentists were on hand to stop Pedrinho's teeth from dissolving into sweet nothingness.

Next up: only a mid-90s hip-hop song recorded with his best friend/mortal enemy Romário. I won't patronise you by translating the title.

In fact, Edmundo was your archetypal triple threat: footballer, singer, actor. In 1994, he had a brief cameo in a São Paulo theatre production titled To Let: A Boyfriend – no footage available, sadly – in which his sole line was the immortal: "Hi, how's it going?" 

Frustratingly, he only really got to show off his acting chops years later, when he starred in this choppy, MTV-era advert for Cherry Coke. Still, what a performance.

 Key quotes

On playing Vasco for Cruzeiro: "I hope I don't score a goal. If that happens, it will be pure professionalism. But there will be no celebration; I'm a Vasco supporter and I don't celebrate defeats."

On his two favourite clubs: "I love Vasco like a mother; I was born there. Palmeiras is like my wife. I can't say that I love my mum or my wife more."

On his reunion with Romário at Vasco: "I thought he had changed, but he's still the same selfish guy who only thinks about himself."

On money:

"I always say that I earn more than I need and less than I deserve."


Last seen

Commentating. Edmundo spent six years at Rede Bandeirantes before moving to Fox Sports after the terrestrial channel failed to meet his pay demands last year. There have been occasional controversies – he issued an on-air apology to former Palmeiras coach Marcelo Oliveira after one rant – but he's no Chris Sutton.

Did you know?

Once, in 1997, he paid Juninho Pernambucano's wages out of his own pocket to smooth over a rift between the free-kick maestro and madcap Vasco president Eurico Miranda. 

"He had been called up to the Brazil side and he wasn't playing well for Vasco," Edmundo told Fox Sports last year. "To punish him, Eurico didn't pay his salary. He paid everyone else but not him. He was pissed off. We had a tough game on the Sunday, so I took him aside on the Friday and gave him my cheque."

No word on whether the interest rate was competitive, but we must assume that the mere thought of Edmundo acting as his own bondsman was sufficient to guarantee swift repayment.