Amarildo was only 16 when he left his hometown of Campos dos Goytacazes and made a 300-kilometre journey to Rio de Janeiro to try his luck with Flamengo’s youth team. It was a trip that changed his life. Though Fla decided to pass on his services, he made A Cidade Maravilhosa (The Wonderful City) his home when Botafogo decided to come in for him.
Before long Amarildo had nailed down a permanent place in a Fogão side that also featured the likes of Nilton Santos, Zagallo and Garrincha, becoming one of the most important figures in Brazil’s rich footballing history in the process.
After then spending ten years in Italy, where he ran out for Milan, Fiorentina and Roma, Amarildo returned to Rio in the 1970s. Since then he has seen the city grow, the traffic on its streets increase, and its housing market take off. Even so, the FIFA World Cup™ winner can still see the things that first attracted him to what would become his adopted city and which have made it one of the world’s great tourist destinations.
Emphasising above all else the warmth and hospitality of Rio’s inhabitants, Amarildo believes that everyone who visits the city in 2014 will have the same positive impression that he had when first setting eyes on it nearly 60 years ago. Reminiscing on those distant days and the delights of the city, he spoke to FIFA.com in the latest in our series of reflections on the Host Cities of this year's FIFA Confederations Cup and Brazil 2014.
FIFA.com: Amarildo, you came to Rio when you were still a teenager. What were your first impressions of the city?
Amarildo: The same as everyone else who comes to Rio for the first time and sees its wonderful landscapes. It’s a picture-postcard city. It’s got some fascinating locations and it knocks you out. Obviously I was overwhelmed by it all. It was all a big surprise for me, and I think everyone feels the same way the first time they see Rio.
Rio is known for its samba, carnival, football, beautiful women and beaches, but what would you say is special about the city for anyone visiting for the first time?
I always enjoyed going to the beach and the most popular spots, like the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain and the Botanical Garden. I’m more of a nature lover and so are my family. To my mind, Rio’s all about landscapes. I wanted to soak up its beauty and make the most of the places where it was peaceful and quiet.
What is it that makes football in Rio so special?
In my day we were the best. Our football was the envy of the world and it put Brazil on the global map. The two World Cups in 1958 and 1962 made sure everyone around the world knew who we were. Brazilian football was better thought of and more highly regarded, and if you’d asked me for 20 star names back then, I would have come up with a list of 20 great players from Rio right on the spot.
The Maracana was the biggest stadium used at the FIFA World Cup in 1950 and will be hosting the Final in 2014. Which of the many big games played there stands out most for you?
Playing for Botafogo was exciting, though I found every game exciting because I loved my profession. The game that really sticks in my mind at the Maracana is the time we beat Flamengo 3-0, thanks to goals from Garrincha, to win the 1962 Rio state title. Every Botafogo fan from back then remembers that game and so do some younger ones too.
How do you feel about the stadium welcoming the world again?
It will be a chance to remove that stain from 1950, which still hurts today – that fateful final match at the 1950 World Cup, when Brazil lost to Uruguay. Brazil has the opportunity to settle that old score and consign that nightmare to the past once and for all. That shadow from 1950 is still there, hovering right over the Maracana.
Rio people are known for their friendliness. What image do you think tourists will have of them?
They’re going to see people who are proud of their city and who’ll obviously do their very best to ensure visitors make the most of their sporting holidays. Anyone who hasn’t been here always has a picture of what it’s like in their heads, that everything’s beautiful and wonderful. We’ll be at our hospitable best and we’ll show them that Rio really is A Cidade Maravilhosa.