World football lost one of its most distinguished figures on Wednesday, with the death of former Brazil and Botafogo left-back Nilton Santos in Rio de Janeiro. He was 88.
The ex-defender, who made his name for club and country in the 1950s and 60s, winning the FIFA World Cup™ with Brazil in 1958 and 1962, died as a result of a respiratory problem.
Affectionately nicknamed “The Encyclopaedia of Football” during his playing days, he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in his later years and had been residing at the Bela Lopes Foundation in the district of Botafogo, the name of the only club he played for during his 16-year career between 1948 and 1964.
On learning of the news, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter sent a letter of condolence to Jose Maria Marin, the president of the Brazilian Football Association (CBF), expressing his sadness at the death of such an iconic player.
“It is with great sorrow that I am writing to you today, having learned of the death of the former player Nilton Santos, a legend of Brazilian football, who won the World Cup with Brazil and Pele in 1958 and 1962,” wrote Blatter.
“On behalf of all the members of the international football family, I would be extremely grateful if you would pass on our most sincere condolences to his family, friends, Botafogo Futebol Clube and the members of the Brazilian Football Association.”
An adventurous player who made many a daring foray up the left flank, Nilton Santos always enjoyed talking about his contribution in revolutionising the role of the full-back at a time when coaches expected them just to sit back and defend.
A legendary footballing figure who owed his unique nickname to his historical appreciation of the game, he had many stories to tell, having shared a dressing room with the stars of a golden age in Brazilian football and witnessed at first hand the emergence of Pele and Garrincha, among others.
Speaking to FIFA.com, his former Brazil and Botafogo team-mate Mario Zagallo said: “There weren’t many things that happened on a football pitch that would take Nilton by surprise. You only had to watch him for five minutes to see that he knew everything, absolutely everything, about football.”
To find out more about Santos and his outstanding career, click on the link to his profile on the right.