Hercules de Brito Ruas was born on 9 August 1939 in Rio where he seems to have settled in the same poor Vila de Penha suburb as Carlos Alberto.
Brito, then at Vasco da Gama, had travelled to England in 1966 but had spent his trip on the bench, understudying Feola’s ageing back four. Four years later Zagalo had built his defence around his muscular, 6ft 2in, 80 kg frame, by now the rock of the defence at Flamengo.
Brito’s long, powerful physique and unnatural strength made him the butt of many of the Guanajuato jokes. ‘We used to say that man was not descended from monkeys. First Brito was born, then the monkeys and then man,’ Piazza had said.
His humour seems to have been only a little more sophisticated. ‘If you were taking a photograph he would come and insist on taking it for you,’ Piazza told me. ‘It would be developed and then it would be only the legs, from the waist downwards. It was his idea of a joke.’ Clodoaldo had told me how Brito hid false teeth in Mario Americo’s food. ‘He was going to eat and suddenly he was shouting “Oh, my God”.’
Yet for all his reputation for Carioca craziness, Brito had taken his last chance of World Cup glory as seriously as any member of the squad. At the age of thirty, he was clearly in the best physical condition of his life. ‘In the Cooper Tests, he came out as the fittest physically of all of us,’ Rivellino had told me. His preparation paid dividends in a campaign in which he was stretched to the limit.
Brito lacked the calculating calmness of a Bobby Moore or the all-round footballing ability of a Franz Beckenbauer. He was responsible for his share of errors. Blame for Petras’ opening goal for the Czechs, Sotil’s second in the quarter-final against Peru, and, if we are being harsh, Boninsegna’s in the Final, could comfortably be laid at his door.
Yet talking to his colleagues it was clear that his importance to the side was considerable. Brito’s was the most vocal and physical presence in the Brazilian defence. ‘He would call me chefinho, little boss. He would shout “Come on chefinho”,’ Piazza had told me. Even Gérson had called him ‘a lion’ among men.
Perhaps his finest performance came against England. For all the heavy artillery wheeled out against him, Brito held resolute. In the Final too, his strength of personality helped overcome the frequent lapses. No contribution was more important than a wonderful tackle on Boninsegna when Piazza had let him through on goal in the final fifteen minutes. Brito’s intervention effectively snuffed out Italy’s resistance. Soon Clodoaldo was constructing the coup de grace that would end the game in such glorious style.
Brito’s career seems to have taken a slide afterwards, in part because of his age, in part because of his loosening grip on his temper. Zagalo had been at the Maracana during the final match of the 1971 Carioca Championship between his Fluminense and Brito’s Botafogo. Botafogo had only needed a draw to win the title. They were within a minute of holding out for a 0–0 draw when Lula scored a controversial last-minute goal. In front of 142,000 fans Brito protested to the referee that Marco Antonio had pushed his keeper Urbirajara and that he had been offside. When he refused to cancel the goal, Brito laid him out with a haymaking punch.
When Zagalo recalled virtually the entire squad for the Independence Cup tournament in 1972, Brito was the most glaring omission. He retired from the game soon afterwards. Today he oversees the provision of sports facilities for local schoolchildren in Rio.