It was not so long ago that Brazilian goalkeepers were a rarity in Europe. Considered as unreliable as their outfield countrymen were talented, the performances of one man did more than most to dispel that stereotype and open the door for Auriverde custodians to enjoy European success.
That man was Claudio Andre Taffarel, Brazil keeper at three consecutive FIFA World Cup finals™ and subject of a 1990 transfer to Italian side Parma. With clubs only allowed to field three foreign players at the time, that Parma should "waste" one of those coveted spots on a goalkeeper, and a Brazilian one at that, was considered an act of sheer folly.
Taffarel's success on Italian soil soon silenced any doubters. Indeed, his assured performances were indirectly responsible for AC Milan taking a gamble on a Brazilian keeper named Dida a few years later, one that paid off handsomely when his penalty shoot-out heroics helped them to UEFA Champions League glory in 2003.
Since then, the safe hands of Julio Cesar have been crucial to Inter Milan winning three consecutive Scudetti, and four successive Dutch league titles for PSV custodian Heurelho Gomes recently earned him a big-money switch to London side Tottenham. And with up-and-coming young custodians such as Almeria's Diego Alves or Liverpool prospect Diego Cavalieri beginning to make an impact on the Old Continent, Taffarel's compatriots have a lot to thank him for.
From the pitch to the marketplace
Now 42, Taffarel continues to be held in high esteem both in Brazil and his adopted country Italy, dividing his time between the two football-mad nations. And having agonized long and hard about how to stay involved in the beautiful game after putting away his gloves, he joined forces with his erstwhile Atletico Mineiro team-mate Paulo Roberto to start up a player agency, with the focus mainly on promising youngsters.
"," says the former Internacional (1984-90), Parma (1990-93 and 2001-04), Reggina (1993-94), Atletico Mineiro (1994-97) and Galatasaray (1998-01) star.
"When Paulo came to me with the idea for the first time, I was looking into the possibility of opening a restaurant, but I was torn between doing it in Brazil or in Italy. What Paulo said stuck in my mind, however, and a few months later in April 2005 I decided that it was a good opportunity."
Three years on, the 'Taffarel & Paulo Roberto' agency continues to tap mainly into the rich supply of talent found in Brazilian youth squads. However, they do have one veteran performer on their books in the form of their first-ever client, Fernandao. The experienced striker played a vital role in Internacional's Copa Libertadores and FIFA Club World Cup triumphs in 2006, and just a few days ago announced a lucrative move to Qatari outfit Al-Gharafa.
Honesty the key
"Taffarel the businessman is just the same as Taffarel the goalkeeper. Between the sticks, he used to try and avoid catching the eye any more than necessary and just do his job with honesty and clarity," says business partner Paulo Roberto.
"Every day we're seeing more players showing an interest in joining us. In part that's because the company bears the name of a world champion, but also because that honest way of working is bearing fruit."
One of the main protagonists of the Seleção's victory at USA 1994, and a hero to football fans in Italy and Turkey, where he played a major role in Galatasaray's historic UEFA Cup win in 2000, Taffarel's down-to-earth approach took him to the very top of the world game. And given the dedication to his chosen profession that made him a pioneering figure for Brazilian keepers abroad, who better to guide gifted youngsters on the path to footballing success?