Clodoaldo – The Altar Boy

Name: Clodoaldo Tavares Santana

Born: September 25, 1949, Aracaju

First Professional Club: Santos

<h3″>The Altar Boy

‘If in your childhood or adolescence you didn’t have a very good life, I think it makes you fight for your goals with more determination than a person who has been born in a golden cradle.’

If they were being delivered upstairs in the corporate conference suites of Sao Paulo’s Hotel Melia, Clodoaldo Tavares Santana’s words might sound like another slice of self-help psychobabble, a glib one-liner from the latest motivational management manual. Whispered like a liturgy downstairs in the lobby of one of the city’s most opulent buildings, however, they carry a simplicity and sincerity it is impossible to find uninspiring.

On the surface, at least, Clodoaldo exudes the same look of well-pressed well-being as the American and Japanese businessmen milling around the hotel’s entrance. Dressed in an immaculate Italian shirt and slacks, a chunky Rolex on his wrist, he seems as natural a part of his surroundings as the polished marble and the crystal chandeliers. Beside him sits his mobile phone and his personal organizer. The cards in his wallet are probably platinum.

Yet in truth Clodoaldo’s roots could not lie further from this golden cradle of modern Brazil. The extraordinary story of his childhood and adolescence explains why he regards every day as a fight for his life.

Appearances have always been deceptive where Clodoaldo is concerned. Back in 1970, for instance, he looked like an altar boy and played like an assassin. The twenty-year-old was the team’s energetic enforcer, its midfield fetcher and carrier, willing to run himself into the Mexican ground for the Brazilian cause. It was only in the dying minutes of the Final, as he began the unforgettable move that set up Carlos Alberto’s goal, that we glimpsed the angelic skills he had subdued for the greater good of what he still calls ‘the motherland’. Clodoaldo’s mazy dribble past four Italian defenders was an unscripted blend of football, samba and sheer humiliation. It was as if Nobby Stiles had suddenly turned himself into George Best.

Clodoaldo was born on 25 September 1949 in the town of Aracaju in the state of Sergipano in the north-east of Brazil, the youngest of ten children, four brothers and six sisters.

The north-east, or Nordeste is the poorest, most chaotic part of the country and that with the closest links to its African past. It was here that the vast bulk of the slaves were put to work in the darkest days of the colonialist nineteenth century. To many it is the soul of the country. ‘The core of our nationality, the bedrock of our race,’ the writer Euclides da Cunha called it. With his limpid, childlike eyes and utterly unaffected air, Clodoaldo has the sort of simple serenity that his big city countrymen make fun of but which comes as close as you can get to the essence of Brazil – if this vast, infinitely varied nation can be said to have such a thing at all.

There is much that is remarkable about Clodoaldo. That this tranquillity survived the tragic events of his early life is perhaps the most remarkable quality of all. Clodoaldo was just six years old when his life was altered for ever. ‘My parents were killed in a car accident,’ he explains, matter-of-factly. Understandably, Clodoaldo does not like to dwell on the details. It seems his father was a transport worker. Apparently the accident happened on a dangerous stretch of road outside Aracaju.

What is clear is that the loss so devastated the family that Clodoaldo and some of his brothers and sisters could no longer bear to live in Aracaju. With what little money they had, they made the long journey south, ending up in the town of Praia Grande on the southern seaboard, near Sa^·o Paulo. From there they moved on to the bustling port of Santos.
For his brothers and sisters, life in the south was no less forgiving than that they had left behind. Eventually they returned to the Nordeste. For Clodoaldo, however, there was no turning back. ‘I decided to stay and confront life alone,’ he says.

His fate was, of course, far from unique. Thousands of orphaned young boys lived a similar existence in the favelas of Rio and Sa^·o Paulo. There they learned to live by their wits, or perish. According to the colourful, conventional wisdom, the roots of the Brazilian footballing phenomenon lies on the streets of these shanty towns. It is here that boys learned to play football with rolled up socks and oranges. It is here they schooled themselves in the methods of the Malandro, a folklore figure popularized in the songs of the 1920s and 1930s. The Malandro was a workshy, bohemian rascal, a ducker and diver able to use his guile to move in all circles of life without being pinned down to responsibility by anyone. Football was an extension of the Malandro’s arts, a game to be played with spontaneity and the wisdom of the street. It was the philosophy of Garrincha. It may never have been better personified than in the streetsmart genius of Romario.

Clodoaldo lived on a morro, or hillside slum, on the edge of a small Chinatown in one of the poorest parts of Santos. Whatever means he used to survive, however, he was no Malandro in the traditional sense. To begin with, he was willing to work for a living and did so from the age of nine. With the consent of the local courts, to whom he was answerable as a minor, he was hired at one of Santos’ vast coffee warehouses.

He was too slight for the back-breaking routine of loading and unloading the coffee sacks at the docks. ‘I could not bear the weight,’ he says. Instead he spent long hours sweeping the floors and keeping the stores in order. What little time he had left was spent sleeping or playing pelada on the streets.

What he lacked in physicality he more than made up for in fighting spirit. By 1965 he had graduated to a small local club, Barreiro, from where he later moved on to the junior side of Santos. As his talent blossomed at the club’s famous Vila Belmiro ground, Santos’ coaches encouraged Clodoaldo to skip work to concentrate on his training. When his bosses at the coffee warehouse detected his waning interest they sacked him.

As an amateur Clodoaldo earned nothing from his football. ‘Not enough for a sandwich,’ he says, shaking his head. Once more forced to live off his wits, he turned first to the Catholic Church for salvation. The Church had offered some semblance of sense when his world had been turned upside down. He had, from the age of six to ten or so, spent part of most days performing his duties as an altar boy. With his future uncertain, he persuaded the priests at a Santos seminary to take him in. A quiet, contemplative boy, Clodoaldo briefly considered a life of the cloth. To their eternal credit, however, his temporary landlords encouraged him to follow another path. ‘They saw I had another vocation,’ he says with a gentle smile.

When Clodoaldo explained his predicament to his coaches at Santos, they came up with an alternative solution. For the next two years of his life, the Vila Belmiro stadium became Clodoaldo’s orphange instead.

As Catholicism’s most serious rival as a religion, it was perhaps fitting that football was second only to the Church in providing futures for the poor boys of Brazil. As Clodoaldo discovered, even for those boys who did not go on to become titulars or first team players, the benefits of being taken on the books of a major club like Santos were immense.

Boys could be taken on as young as ten or eleven, when they would become members of the mirim squad. Between the ages of twelve and fourteen they would graduate to the infantil team, then the juvenil between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. The clubs treated their investments like young princes. As well as providing players with a monthly allowance, boys could expect to have all their medical, dental and nutritional needs looked after. When Pelé joined Santos, for instance, he had been put on an intense high-protein diet and a calisthenics programme to build up his slight-framed body. The clubs also contributed to improving their boys’ education by putting them in the better big city schools. If their careers as footballers did not work out, they had higher education or white-collar work to fall back on.

For many boys from the rural areas of Brazil the intensity of the training and the big city left them feeling homesick. Pelé tried to run away from Santos after five days there. For Clodoaldo, however, life inside the Vila Belmiro offered security he had never dreamed of before. ‘I had lost my job and had no means to support myself. I had no salary but at least there at Vila Belmiro I had somewhere to sleep and somewhere to eat.’ For the next two years of his life, the Santos ground became his life. It has remained central to his very existence ever since.

As a boy in his favela, Clodoaldo was given the nickname Corro (pronounced Co-ho). ‘I was very small and there is a bird, in the North, called corro.’ By his seventeenth birthday, Corro was ready to fly.

In the mid-1960s, the step into the dressing room of the Santos first team was an intimidating one for any player. The all-whites of the Vila Belmiro were by now the most famous – not to mention the hardest working – team in not just Brazil and South America but the world. Their first team included three double World Cup winners – Gilmar, Zito and Pelé, two more 1966 squad members – Orlando and Edu, and two more new Brazilian national stars – Joel and Carlos Alberto.

Since winning the World Club Championship in 1961 and 1962, the all-star eleven had superseded Real Madrid as the glamour club of the international scene. The lucrative, whirlwind tours of the world that had come with the status had already earned them uncharitable comparisons with basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters.

A ‘lightning tour’ in the summer of 1969 summed up the treadmill-like existence that Clodoaldo suddenly found himself facing. In just over two weeks, Santos squeezed in seven matches in four countries, criss-crossing Europe to fulfil lucrative contracts in Yugoslavia and Spain, England and Italy. Even by the standards of the day, their travel arrangements were arduous. The final leg of their tour involved leaving Sarajevo at 5 a.m. for Manchester, arriving at 11.45 p.m. that night, travelling for a match at Stoke the following evening, then on to London and a 3 a.m. flight to Genoa that night. The miracle of their tour was that they returned unbeaten.

Pele was the unquestioned star attraction, filling stadia wherever he travelled. Clodoaldo shakes his head quietly at the memories. ‘Some people wanted to touch him, some people wanted to kiss him. In some countries they kissed the ground he walked on,’ he says. ‘I thought it was beautiful, beautiful.’

Yet, just as on the streets of Sao Paulo, Clodoaldo refused to be intimidated by the exalted company he was now keeping. Once more he soaked up everything he saw and heard. And once more he fought every day of his working life. Sharing a dressing room with Pelé was, he admits, an inspirational experience. ‘I would have been a fool if I hadn’t profited by learning something from the greatest player of all time,’ he says, laughing quietly at himself. ‘I learned lessons every day.’

Pelé taught his resilient young colleague to use his eyes as well as his heart. ‘Pelé was always ahead of everyone in reasoning, speed and physical condition. One of his main virtues was that he observed everything – the supporters, the terraces, the goalkeeper, the work of the referee. If Pelé was without the ball he was observing. I learned very much about this aspect with Pelé.’

On the training pitch, Clodoaldo saw the extent of Pelé’s vision. He would regularly embarrass his team-mates by exposing their weaknesses. ‘When you were marking Pelé in training, he knew when he controlled the ball which was your worst side and that was the side which he should go to,’ Clodoaldo says. ‘He was always, always in front of everybody.’

Yet if Clodoaldo had a hero at Santos, it was the man who wore the club’s No. 5 rather than its No. 10 shirt. Zito – with Didi – had been Brazil’s midfield lynchpin in both Sweden and Chile. With his pencil moustache and brilliantined hairdo, Zito looked more like an Argentine tango crooner than a footballer. For a generation he had been the sheet anchor of both the Santos and Brazilian sides. Though perfectly capable of breaking forward and scoring – as he proved in the 1962 World Cup Final when he scored Brazil’s second and decisive goal – Zito’s genius lay in his tireless tackling and simple yet destructive distribution. He was the closest the Brazilian national side had to a conventional, English-style right half. ‘As a man, as a leader, he has always been a person that I have modelled myself on. He was a world champion and great example,’ says Clodoaldo of the mentor to whom he still talks on an almost daily basis.

Under Zito’s watchful eye, Clodoaldo had eased his way into the Santos first team by his seventeenth birthday. Soon the Sao Paulo press had earmarked the teenager as the great man’s heir apparent. By 1967, the torch had been passed on in a suitably symbolic scene. ‘Zito was the absolute owner of the No. 5 shirt,’ says Clodoaldo, recalling the most powerful and evocative moment of his young career. ‘It was a game against Portuguesa de Desportos and we were in the dressing room. Zito called me and the coach over and he said “Today, the No. 5 shirt belongs to Clodoaldo”. That day he played with the No. 8.’ His eyes well up with tears as he recalls the moment. ‘Every time that I remember that I become emotional,’ he says, his voice faltering.\

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