One of the more noteworthy winter transfer deals during the 2012-13 season was Paris St.Germain’s signing of the Brazilian winger Lucas Moura. It’s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of referring to an emergent player as a ‘new’ version of a great player from the past, but Lucas Moura did appear to have much in common with his earlier compatriots Paulo Cesar and Jairzinho, Brazilian wing-wizards of the 60s and 70s.
Physically PSG’s new player had the squat and powerful physique uncannily similar to Jairzinho in his prime. Paulo Cesar was powerful too, albeit taller and rangier. Then there’s the same direct running style, ball trickery, powerful shooting and explosive turn of pace from a standing start that Lucas Moura shares with his illustrious predecessors too. Something else the trio have in common is French football itself: it’s little remembered that back in the mid-1970s Jairzinho and Paulo Cesar also played there in a brief and infamous spell with Marseille.
While the disgraced Bernard Tapie might have been Marseille’s most notorious president in modern times, history suggests he was just the latest in a long line of hubristic and dubious individuals to run this most volatile of French footballing institutions. A generation earlier there was the bombastic Manuel Leclerc: he too spent borrowed fortunes on top players and aggravated everyone by aggressively using new contract laws to tempt away top players from major rivals. Leclerc was driven out of the club in 1972 after coming close to withdrawing OM from the League, decline set in and by the spring of 1974 when Fernand Meric took over the presidency, the team had slumped to a lowly twelfth placed finish – a major collapse for a club crowned champions twice in the previous three seasons.
Changes were needed to restore competitiveness and as was too often the case at OM, those changes meant the scattershot signing of plenty of new and usually expensive players. By chance Meric and the OM coach, Jules Zvunka, happened to be in Strasbourg on the day that Brazil were playing a friendly game as part of their preparations for the up-coming World Cup. Meric was very taken with the performance of Paulo Cesar and after the game he sought out the Brazilian to float the idea of a potential move to France.
An opportunity to sign a world champion winger from ever-glamorous Brazil was the sort of extravagant gesture that no self-respecting, vainglorious Marseille president could ever pass up. A follow-up meeting was duly arranged in Frankfurt with the Brazilian agent Elias Zakour, a shadowy figure who was an early prototype for the influential modern-day super-agent. A sharp practitioner and wearer of many hats, Zakour was the go-to guy for Brazilian clubs because of his talent for extracting top dollar when selling their players to European clubs. He happened to be in Germany on another mission masterminding Joao Havelange’s campaign for the FIFA Presidency.
As negotiations got underway for the Paulo Cesar transfer, Zakour seamlessly introduced Jairzinho into the package on the premise that if you sign one Brazilian then you really should sign a second one to help him settle. This just made the deal more exotic as far as Meric was concerned and certainly on paper it seemed a real coup. Never mind that wingers were much in vogue domestically, there would be no club anywhere in the world able to field such a pair of skilful and high-profile 1970 World Cup stars on their flanks.
There was something of a disconnect between reality and fantasy though as what Zakour was actually selling was the glamour of Brazil’s last World Cup success. This would have been fantastic for Marseille had these negotiations been taking place in 1970, but this was 1974 and the intervening four years had been far from kind to either player, an inconvenient truth Meric might have come to realise if he had not been so hypnotised by that universal mystique that surrounds Brazilian footballers.
Paulo Cesar had exploded on the scene as a 21-year-old in Mexico with a number of brilliant cameo appearances on the left wing. The most plausible of the anointed heirs to the crown of the ‘new Pele’, he unfortunately got caught up in the adulation following Brazil’s win and his focus drifted from football to fast cars, women and parties. An expensive transfer from Botafogo to Flamengo had been a disaster and now, burdened with the fourth best-paid player in Brazil, the Rio giants were desperate to get him off their wage bill. Jairzinho had been one of the big personalities of the Mexico tournament and made history by scoring in every game. Four years later, while capable of moments of jaw-dropping brilliance and still a regular international, he was a very old-looking 29. With his pace deserting him and issues with recurring injuries, his club Botafogo saw a last chance to cash in on his stellar name.
Negotiations for Jairzinho stalled but Marseille did successfully agree a deal for Paulo Cesar. The costs involved were considerable: a huge $600,000 (£250,000) fee that shattered the French transfer record and a further $250,000 committed to wages and signing-on fees over the duration of his contract. The deal was finalised on the day the 1974 World Cup got underway and it was perhaps clever strategy by Zakour to rush through a deal as early as possible. Blaming exhaustion from a long domestic season, Paulo Cesar endured a miserable tournament that would have left him a whole lot less marketable to prospective suitors if Zakour had been trying to sell him a month later.
Not even a scoring debut against Strasbourg could mask the problems that Paulo Cesar was having with acclimatisation to a new country and culture. Anxious to try to help his new star settle, Meric felt that installing a cabal of other Brazilians might help. The national team’s highly respected physical trainer, Cláudio Coutinho, was added to the staff and Meric successfully returned to the stalled Jairzinho negotiations and agreed a £115,000 deal. Very much in keeping with the folly of the endeavour, the assumption that the pair would become friends and confidantes just because they were both Brazilian was greatly misplaced. Paulo Cesar admitted that he had never really got on with Jairzinho and that they had nothing in common on a personal level.
Jairzinho arrived in October of 1974 and made a quiet debut against Monaco, then within a few weeks went out injured. He was nursing a long-term problem and Coutinho suggested he shouldn’t be playing for more than 45 minutes in any game – not the sort of prognosis his new employers wanted to hear. While both players would score goals and show glimpses of their class in OM colours, performances were often patchy and blighted by the many off field issues that arose.
Paulo Cesar was much the more culpable in this respect. Early in the season he complained at length about the harsh tackling, the heavy pitches, the language, how the club didn’t encourage players to make friends and his unceasing disappointment that Marseille was not a party city like Rio. Both players asked for and were given expensive new cars and private language tutors. They denied being homesick, but Paulo Cesar in particular was flying back to Rio at every opportunity. Returning to France four days late after the Christmas break, his increasingly fed-up club banned him and imposed a 50,000 franc fine. Unperturbed, during his ban he promptly flew back to Brazil again.
The phone bills he ran up from his luxury OM-supplied house became legendary and stopped only when the club finally grew tired of his behaviour and evicted him after one too many late-night parties. Turning up late for training was common, a situation he blamed on problems with Brazilian tax authorities. As a protestation of his unhappiness he dyed his hair red for reasons that were never quite explained. A damning comment Paulo Cesar made to World Soccer magazine suggested his focus was off kilter from the very start: “I was bought because the French First Division urgently needs personalities. Frankly, I feel my drawing power is of more importance to them than how I play.” A public pretence that all was happy in the camp had been maintained but by the spring of 1975 that approach changed. Claiming he was missing his fiancée back in Rio, Paulo Cesar publicly stated: “I will go home at the end of the season.” This announcement raised questions as to whether anyone would notice the difference.
Despite relations between club and Brazilians becoming increasingly strained, the initially underwhelming form of the pair actually picked up in the second half of the season thanks to the signing of yet another attacking talent. The arrival of the French international left-winger Georges Bereta from Saint-Etienne proved a revelation, the newcomer’s hard work and creative endeavour in linking midfield with attack liberating the Brazilians to entertain and score goals. Paulo Cesar switched to the central role he was playing for Brazil and he would finish the season as the club’s top scorer with sixteen League goals. Jairzinho managed a respectable nine goals too and when the pair were in the right frame of mind, they were a daunting and unplayable proposition for bewildered defences.
Positive on-field performances to counter the off-field soap opera at least raised the prospect that there might be a future in France for the pair beyond the end of the season, but any hope for such a reconciliation was shattered during a fraught Coupe de France tie against Paris St.Germain. Following a heated exchange, Jairzinho appeared to strike a linesman and despite strong denials from the OM camp, the Brazilian winger was hammered with a year-long ban from domestic football. Paulo Cesar also picked up a two-month suspension from a separate altercation with the referee.
Marseille’s patience with their erratic and high-maintenance imports finally snapped. The club initially decided not to pay the pair for the duration of their bans but hold on to their registrations until they were available again. But with Paulo Cesar and Jairzinho back in Brazil and threatening to sue to overturn their suspensions, eventually it was accepted that cutting their losses and putting this experience behind them was the best route to go. Paulo Cesar joined Fluminense and Jairzinho signed for Cruzeiro, both for hugely reduced fees from what Marseille had paid for them.
There was a lot of bitterness on both sides. Marseille felt let down by the behaviour and the sheer lack of professional focus from their ill-starred imports. Paulo Cesar was always a candid interviewee and some months after his return to Brazil he spoke to Shoot magazine: “I had nothing but bad experiences of my season in France and I could hardly wait to get back home. It was a mistake to leave Brazil and I freely admit it. I’d rather be a poor man in Brazil than a rich man in Europe.” His issues with France dissipated sooner than Marseille’s issues with Brazilians did and seven years later Paulo Cesar came back to play for a brief spell with Aix. It took Marseille fourteen years after this chastening and financially profligate adventure until they were ready to bite the bullet and sign another Brazilian.
Marseille v Nantes, Coupe de France 1974/75
Highlights of Jairzinho for Marseille and Brazil
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