Though a player of many attributes and qualities, Carlos Alberto Torres will always be remembered as the captain of the Brazil side that won the country’s third world title at the 1970 FIFA World Cup Mexico™. Given that he was the man who had the honour of holding aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy, which Brazil earned the right to keep after beating Italy in the Final, it is perhaps understandable that that should be the case.

The image of the player hoisting the famous Trophy into the air as if it were the most natural thing in the world has become an iconic one, yet it is worth stopping for a moment to consider what it meant to be the captain of such a richly talented side and what an achievement that was in itself.  

Aged 25 when he made his world finals debut in Mexico, the right-back was younger than five of his team-mates. His seniors included midfield general Gerson, who was nicknamed Papagaio (“Parrot”) on account of his habit of giving instructions to his team-mates, and Pele, twice a world champion already and on the point of turning 30. How was it, then, that the skipper’s armband was handed to Carlos Alberto?

Speaking to FIFA.com, the man himself provided the answer: “A lot of people have asked me about the captaincy thing. They say: ‘How can you be the captain of a team that had Pele in it?’. We played together at Santos, where I spent 11 years, ten of them alongside Pele. In 1967, the undisputed leader and captain of the Santos team was Zito, a midfielder and World Cup winner in 1958 and 1962. But when Zito retired at the end of the year, the Santos directors started looking for someone to replace him as captain.”

Explaining what happened next, he said: “What they did was give us each a turn, in different games, and they ended up choosing me at the start of 1968, mainly because I was an extrovert on the pitch. I was 23 and I was elevated to the captaincy of a team regarded at the time as the best in Brazil, and by many as the best in the world, a team that included world champions like Pele, Coutinho, Pepe, Gilmar and Mauro.”

He added: “There’s no doubt that being the Santos skipper led to me getting the Seleção armband. The national team went on a tour of Europe in 1968 and I captained the side, and I’m very proud still to be the youngest captain of a World Cup-winning team.”

A leader of men, and a star              
As his comments show, Carlos Alberto was entirely comfortable with the role, and possessed that unique quality that business advice books spend pages and pages trying to identify and explain: leadership.

The flying full-back understood that there was more to the job than just talking a lot or being an extrovert. What mattered as much as anything else was getting the right message across, an ability he showed as a mere teenager in one of his first outings for Fluminense, when he had the audacity to give veteran goalkeeper and club idol Castilho a ticking-off.

Aside from his strong personality, what helped him in the task of gaining the respect of his team-mates was his prodigious natural talent. No sooner had he turned pro at Fluminense, than he was being tipped as the great Djalma Santos’ natural successor, and by 1964, when he was still only 20, he was already holding down a starting place in the national side.

“My first World Cup should really have been 1966, because I was right on top of my game,” he said. “I started virtually all of the warm-up games and then, just like that, I was dropped,” he said. “It was a massive disappointment for me, but it gave me the incentive to push on and become a first-choice player in the future, as well as the captain.”

I’m very proud still to be the youngest captain of a World Cup-winning team.
Carlos Alberto on leading Brazil to win the World Cup in 1970

And push on he did, going on to become one of the greatest full-backs in the history of the game, a status that explains the respect he commanded in the game and among his team-mates, including Pele, his colleague at club and international level and the greatest player of them all. In his autobiography, O Rei speaks warmly of the full-back’s character and tells a story that says much of his respect for the man they called O Capita.

“I had a game I always liked to play with Edinho,” wrote Pele, Edinho being his son, who was a professional goalkeeper. “I’d take ten penalties against him, and then he’d take ten against me. I never lost to him. I’d play it a lot too in training sessions with the national team and I beat everyone. Only one person ever beat me, and he did it just the once: Carlos Alberto. He was a master when it came to taking penalties.”

That was another string to his bow. Aside from being Santos’s young skipper, Carlos Alberto was also the team’s designated penalty taker, and momentarily relinquished that duty to allow Pele to score the 1000th goal of his career, from the spot, against Vasco da Gama at the Maracana in 1969.

Twenty glorious minutes
Though he was not the first player in his position to push forward on a regular basis, Carlos Alberto took the art of full-back play to a new level, a development that was beautifully illustrated four minutes from the end of the Mexico 1970 Final at the Estadio Azteca, when the Brazil captain emphatically rounded off one of the greatest team moves in World Cup history.

The scorer of that fabled goal, which put the Brazilians 4-1 up against Italy, told FIFA.com how it came about: “It all started with Tostao winning the ball out on the left. He played it to Piazza, Piazza to Gerson and Gerson to Clodoaldo. We were winning 3-1 and the team was playing the ball around, just running the clock down.

“I was at the back, taking a breather. All I wanted was for the referee to bring the game to an end. Clodoaldo went past three players and when he laid it off to Rivelino on the left wing, I remembered what Zagallo had said about pulling the opposition over to the left.

“I had a look and saw that the whole of my flank was wide open, because Jairzinho was over on the left and had [Giacinto] Facchetti with him for company. I said to myself: ‘I’m going to wait, and if the ball goes to Jairzinho and I sense that Jairzinho’s going to play it to Pele, then I’m going to go because I know that Pele will give me the ball’. And that’s what happened. I gave it all I had, and found the energy to sprint at least 50 metres and get in a position to score the goal.”

It was an instinctive thing. I didn’t think about it. It was just something I felt like doing. And it was unforgettable.
Carlos Alberto on kissing the Jules Rimet Cup

Given that Mexico 1970 was Carlos Alberto’s one and only World Cup and that he played at a time when the game offered less global exposure than it does to today’s players, there is little doubt that he failed to get the recognition he deserved for his brilliance during the course of a 19-year career.

In recompense, he will always have those glorious 20 minutes on that hot June afternoon in Mexico City, the time that elapsed between him scoring one of the great World Cup goals and playing out one of the competition’s most memorable celebrations.

“When I received the Trophy as the captain, my first instinct was to kiss it,” he explained, describing what happened when he stepped up to receive Brazil’s spoils that day. “In fact, I was the first to do it, to kiss the Trophy before lifting it up.

“It was an instinctive thing. I didn’t think about it. It was just something I felt like doing. And it was unforgettable. So much so that wherever I go in the world today, people show me their affection by remembering the fourth goal I scored against Italy and then me going up to collect the Jules Rimet Trophy.”

As anyone who saw Carlos Alberto play will tell you, he did a lot more in his career than that, but as the man who was born to captain one of the greatest teams of all time, it is no surprise that he is best remembered for that golden afternoon.