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Born: Monday 18 July 1892, São Paulo, Brazil
Died: Saturday 6 September 1969, São Paulo, Brazil (aged 77)
One of the first great stars of Brazilian football, Arthur Friedenreich played an important role in changing attitudes within his country at a time when black players had previously not been allowed to play professionally. He is also renowned for developing some of the techniques for which later Brazilian stars would become famous, and for having one of the highest, if not the highest, career goalscoring totals.
Friedenreich was born in São Paulo on 18 July 1892. He was the son of a German father and an African-Brazilian mother, and his mixed race background meant that he regularly suffered from the racial prejudices that were widespread in Brazilian society at that time. The first black professional in Brazil, early in his career he was not even allowed to socialise with white team mates. It is even rumoured that he, along with other mixed race players, used to try to make themselves look 'more white' in order to be allowed to play. The great career that he would go on to have went a long way to changing these social conditions.
His playing career began in 1909 when he joined SC Germânia, a logical choice given his father's background as the club had been founded ten years earlier by German migrants to São Paulo. In 1911 he moved to join another São Paulo club, Mackenzie College. His 16 goals for Mackenzie in the São Paulo state championship made him the leading goalscorer in the 1912 season, and led to an appearance for an unofficial Brazilian national team against Argentina. That side was made up of players from São Paulo clubs, and Friedenreich scored one of Brazil's goals in a 6-3 defeat.
His skill on the ball, pace and power impressed all the leading clubs in the area. His strength surprised many given his relatively small stature (5 foot 7 and just over eight stone) and earned him the nickname 'The Tiger'. Over the following five years, Friedenreich would move around a variety of clubs in the São Paulo area, including Américano, Atlas, Paulista, Paysandu and Paulistano. He also had another short spell with Ypiranga, which brought a rapid run of goals that made him the league's leading scorer again in 1914. That year also saw the first ever official Brazilian national side, and Friedenreich played in the first ever game, a friendly against English club side Exeter City.
He became an important member of the national team, and in 1916 was named in the squad for the first ever South American Championship (now the Copa América). In the tournament in Argentina, Brazil drew their first two games against the Chile and the host nation, but still had a chance of becoming champions if they beat Uruguay in their last match. Friedenreich gave Brazil an early lead, but Uruguay hit back to win 2-1 and went on to take the title.
Although he missed the second South American Championship the following year, 1917 did see the beginning of a remarkable run of goalscoring success at club level. Finally enjoying a prolonged stay at a single club, Friedenreich topped the scoring charts in the São Paulo State Championship four times in five years between 1917 and 1921. He remained with Paulistano until 1929, during which time the club won seven São Paulo state titles (often, due the presence of two competing leagues at the time, effectively 'shared' with another club). During his time at the club, Paulistano became the first Brazilian side to tour Europe, and Friedenreich's 11 goals in eight games led to him becoming perhaps football's first global superstar.
Friedenreich also got a second chance to play in the South American Championship, on home soil in 1919. His hat-trick in a 6-0 opening game win over Chile helped Brazil to tie with Uruguay at the top of the standings, making a play-off for the title necessary. In the longest match in tournament history, four periods of 15 minutes' extra-time were needed before Friedenreich clinched success for Brazil with a goal in the 122nd minute, making them champions for the first time and himself the tournament's joint highest scorer with four goals.
He was left out of the squad for the 1921 South American Championship, allegedly because the authorities did not want black players to take part. Outcry over his exclusion would prove to be major turning point in ending this racial discrimination within South American football. Friedenreich would go on to appear in two more South American Championships in his career, in 1922 and 1925. In the first of these, Brazil claimed another title but Friedenreich did not score in the tournament or even play in the final. In 1925, however, he did appear in the crucial final match against Argentina on Christmas Day. Brazil had to win to have any chance of the title, and Friedenreich opened the scoring as Brazil went on to lead 2-0 late in the first half. Argentina hit back, and eventually claimed a 2-2 draw and with it the championship.
Although moving into his late 30s, Friedenreich was still a prolific goalscorer at club level and would be the top scorer in the São Paulo league again in both 1927 and 1929, the latter success coming at the age of 37 and a remarkable 17 years after he had first led the goalscoring charts. In 1930, the first World Cup came around and although Friedenreich was nearly 38, he was still considered a strong contender to be part of the Brazilian squad. The fact that he wasn't is the source of some uncertainty and controversy. Some allege that the politics of the Brazilian federation led to players from Rio being favoured over São Paulo, although others contend that Friedenreich was in fact recovering from injury at the time. His last international appearance came in a 3-2 victory over France shortly after the end of the World Cup, but his career would continue for several more years at club level.
Most of his later playing career was spent with São Paulo FC. Between 1930 and 1935 he scored 106 goals for the club in 127 appearances, helping to win a state title for the loss of just one match in the 1931 season. Friedenreich's playing career ended following the 1935 season, by which time he was 43 years old and had been playing at the highest level in São Paulo for 26 years. Opinions vary wildly as to how many goals he actually scored during his career, due to arguments over which tournaments count as 'official' and also to the relatively poor record keeping of the time. Many sources credit him with more than 1,000 goals, and figures as high as 1,329 have been claimed. Some place him as the highest goalscorer in the history of the game, others give him second place behind Pelé.
After suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, Friedenreich died in September 1969, at the age of 77. His contribution to football goes way beyond the number of goals that he scored. He is credited with being one of the first players to 'curve' the ball when shooting, and also with developing the skill of using a body feint to fool opposing defenders. Most importantly, his career paved the way for future generations of black players in Brazil, and helped to break down many of the racial divisions in the country.
References (all accessed 18 November 2011):
- Published on Friday, 18 November 2011 15:16