Name: Gerson de Oliveira Nunes
Born: January 11, 1941, Rio
First Professional Club: Flamengo
Watch Gerson In Action
Gerson with the Brazil squad in 1970, second from left front row.
At junior school in the southern Brazilian city of Niteroi, the young Gérson de Oliveira Nunes was known as papagaio, the parrot. A lean, rugged, square-shouldered boy, he was never short of an opinion, particularly on the football pitch where he already cut a confident and commanding figure. The fact that his words could never match the eloquence of the sublime left foot he possessed did little to quieten him. The reputation for rampant verbosity remained with him throughout sixteen years as a professional with Flamengo, Botafogo, Sao Paulo and finally Fluminense. So too did the nickname.
He was born on 11 January 1941, to a family with football in its veins. His father Clovis Nunes and his uncle were both professionals in Rio. The legendary Zizinho, with Ademir and Jair part of the free-scoring Brazilian forward line of 1950, was a close friend of his father’s and a familiar face at the Nunes household. When the teenage Gérson announced his intention of becoming a footballer too, he found few obstacles put in his way. ‘I did not have lots of problems in that respect,’ he smiles.
As a boy his heroes had been Zizinho and Danilo and Jair. At his first club, Flamengo, across Guanabara Bay in Rio, however, he found himself cast in the same mould as the most influential midfield player of Brazil’s first gilded age, Didi. The young Gérson combined speed and ferocious shooting power with the intelligence and ability to control a game from the midfield, the meio de campo. One of his greatest assets was his ability to switch defence into attack with one long, laser-like pass – or lançamento – from deep in his own half. Soon he was being talked of as a successor to Didi.
Even in adolescence, Gérson resisted the comparison. He was his own man, the original Gérson not the next Didi, although he admits he had an affinity with him. ‘His style of play was very similar to mine,’ he nods. The suggestion that he modelled himself on him meets with a pursing of the lips and a stern, shrugged ‘No’.
Gérson’s first five years in the game represented an almost seamless rise through the ranks. Within a year of making his professional debut for Flamengo in 1958, he was in the Brazilian ‘amateur’ team in the Pan-American Games. A year later he was a lynchpin of the side at the Rome Olympics. By 1961, with Didi in decline, he was the playmaker at Flamengo and had starred in the Brazilian side that won the inter-South American competition, the Oswaldo Cruz Cup. He had also been recruited into the full national squad to defend the World Cup in Chile by the new national coach Aimore Moreira.
By now Gérson had made the short journey from Flamengo to Botafogo, also in Rio, home to the most natural talent of all, his boyhood idol Garrincha. His dreams of combining with the bandy-legged ‘Little Bird’, along with Pelé and Didi, in Chile were dashed when he suffered a serious knee injury. Forced to undergo surgery, he couldn’t get himself back into Moreira’s squad. It would be one of many injuries to blight his career.
Gérson arrived at Mexico with much work to do. He was twenty-nine, approaching the end of a career that had somehow failed to fulfil its early, infinite promise. Even more than for Pelé, 1970 had represented his last realistic chance to stamp his greatness on the world game.