Ademir might be a forgotten hero right now, but very few could match his ferocity and goal-scoring mojo even today. He was a predator in the true sense of the word
Vasco da Gama Football Club of Brazil was regarded as one of the more racially diverse clubs. In the past, football in Brazil was the sport of elites and Vasco’s diversity did not sit well with them. They were pressurized by the elites to ban some players, but Vasco did not care. Big clubs like Flamengo, Fluminense and Botafogo along with others created the Metropolitan Athletic Association and denied entry to Vasco.
The former President of Vasco, José Augusto Prestes, decided to respond to such ignorance with a letter that became known as the “Resposta histórica”, which revolutionised the practice of sports in Brazil. Gradually, the barriers of racism fell from Brazil’s sporting culture and Vasco started to bloom as the institution became one of the most forward-thinking clubs in the 40s and 50s.
With a mixture of players from all areas of society, Vasco became the team to watch for more than a decade. Between 1947 and 1952, the club was nicknamed Expresso da Vitória, as Vasco won several competitions in that period, such as the Rio de Janeiro championship in 1945, 1947, 1949, 1950, and 1952, and the South American Club Championship in 1948. And such success hugely depended on a player who is regarded as one of the deadliest centre-forwards in the history of Brazil football.
His name was Ademir Marques de Menezes, who was popularly known as “Queixada” which means “Jaw” due to his prominent underbite.
Recife is the fourth largest city in Brazil and the centre of love, music, festival and joy. It also gave birth to Ademir.
The people of Recife love the Boa Viagem beach but the deep blue sea is also the place for predators like sharks. If the tropical waters of Recife can shower love, they can lead to shedding tears as well. Beauty and the Beast live together in Recife’s tropical waters.
Someone like Ademir could also be this way when it mattered. When he played football, his silky skills were a treat to watch, but the way he destroyed the opposition, it was similar to a shark hunting its prey. The beauty and the beast part of Ademir had been always evident on the pitch – the fans loved it. And alongside, the legendary Zizinho, Ademir was regarded as a legend in those days, when Brazilian football was making an impact globally.
Born on November 8, 1922, Ademir was supposed to become a doctor. But he flirted with his professional career in medicine and chose to become a footballer. In 1941, while playing for a regional sports club, he scored an astonishing 11 goals to inspire them to victory and then in 1942, he would lead his regional club to a win against Vasco da Gama. Vasco did not waste time in recruiting him and since then the love affair of Vasco and Ademir began.
By 1945, he was the vital cog in Vasco da Gama’s fabled five-pronged attack comprising Djalma, Lele, Ademir, Jair and Chico. In 421 official matches for Vasco, he found the back of the net 301 times and won titles regularly to raise Vasco’s reputation to the top.
For Vasco, Ademir was their prince and no one could overshadow the impact he had on them.
As Fifa’s Official website says, “Such was Ademir’s popularity that an inhabitant of Recife made the long trip to Boa Vista, where the Seleção were based, to ask coach Flavio Costa to allow Ademir to attend the delicate surgical operation due to be undergone by his son, who was refusing to go under the knife without the presence of his idol. After Flavio Costa gave him the green light, Ademir accompanied the adolescent into the operating theatre and then awaited the surgeon’s reassuring diagnosis before returning to the national team camp”.
Attack, attack and attack – this has been the mantra of Brazilian football. They gave the planet the unique Samba style of play, which led the world to fall in love with their football. It is said, Leonidas had been the starter of such an attacking and stylish brand of football and in the late 40s and early 50s, Zizinho, Jair, Chico and Ademir carried on the legacy of Leonidas.
Ademir was thin, lanky and strong. He had dark, fastidiously slicked-back hair, and a pencil-thin moustache. His eyes possessed a stare which could put the devil to rest and the angels of hell would certainly feel a bone-chilling sensation in their spines. His gigantic presence was enough to give a psychological blow to the opposition and then after killing them softy even before the game had started, he would leave them stunned with his mesmerizing displays on the pitch.
“Ademir, in his era, was the greatest player in the world,” stated Evaristo de Macedo, who faced off against Ademir in the colours of Flamengo before going on to represent Barcelona and Real Madrid. “When he shot on goal, he didn’t fail.”
Ademir was a two-footed centre-forward. He could hit the ball powerfully from the tightest of angles and the most special thing about him was his ability to appear from nowhere and find any hole in the opposition defence. If he noticed the ball being passed into a space, he would run like a hare to meet it. Such was his effect that it forced opposing teams to switch to a back four rather than a back three.
By the virtue of imagination and the poise he exhibited, Ademir was to build a lethal combination with Zizinho, Maneca, Jair and Chico during the 1950 World Cup. Ademir and Zizinho would inspire Brazil to clear the hurdle of the group stages, but in the second round, Ademir would unleash the beast and beauty in him.
The Spanish and Swedish teams planned to mark him, but Ademir paid them no attention as his spaghetti-legs left them clueless as soon as he received the ball. At times, the Spanish and Swedish defenders crowded around him like Jose Mourinho’s Inter did against Lionel Messi in the 2010 Champions League final. Messi was halted, but not Ademir.
His great vision allowed him to receive balls and start a diagonal run like Eden Hazard from both flanks and score. If he noticed players standing in front of him to spoil his plans, Ademir would shoot to the utter astonishment of the defenders.
According to Jair, his teammate in 1950 World Cup, “He would appear in midfield and out wide, and his incredible speed made him impossible to mark. And he could score in so many different ways. He was one of the greatest players Brazil has ever seen.”
In front of 160,000 spectators at Maracana on July 9, 1950, Brazil handed out a 7-1 thrashing to Sweden. Ademir scored four times “before maintaining his dazzling scoring form with a further double in a 6-1 rout of Spain four days later to bring his running total to nine”.
With Ademir in such a goal-scoring mojo and the likes of Zizinho and co in such a magnificent form, no-one in Brazil had the slightest of doubts about Brazil claiming the World Cup for the first time.
In the decisive match against Uruguay, Ademir would set Friaca free to net the opener, but Varela and his teammates would successfully halt the predator from Recife. Either they would stop the ball from reaching Ademir or target his feet, so that he was not able to move forward with the ball. Ademir cut a frustrating figure and witnessed Uruguay celebrating in front of a silent Maracana.
That defeat in Maracana in 1950 was devastating to Ademir. What was supposed to be an absolute swan-song in a career, which had been full of jaw-dropping displays and goals, was overshadowed by depression. The level of depression was such, it made Brazilians forget about the heroes of 1950. Brazil bounced back in Sweden eight years later and the emergence of Pele, Vava, Garrincha, Romario and Ronaldo O Fenomeno has led all of us to forget Ademir, who was the deadliest centre-forward in the history of Brazil.
Ademir may be forgotten and may not make the podium in the pantheons of Brazilian immortals, but at Vasco, he is still the hero whom they needed to outshine the elites of those days. Vasco were blessed to have the likes of Bellini, Vava, Romario and Roberto Dinamite, but even those players would not step back from accepting the fact that Ademir was the greatest of all.