Such is the significance of a FIFA World Cup™ to football followers that even one participation can permanently shape perceptions of a player’s career – for better or for worse. In the case of Jairzinho, or Jair Ventura Filho to give him his full name, the misperception was something different.
Ask anyone who Jairzinho was, and there is a good chance their answer will be along the lines of: the Hurricane (Furacão) of Mexico 1970; the right-winger in one of the greatest teams of all time; or perhaps the marksman who, to this day, is the only player to have scored in every game of a FIFA World Cup, including the Final, in a title-winning side. And while all this is true, it is still only a small – albeit hugely important – part of who this Brazilian was.
That is not only because Jairzinho had a 20-year career that also took in the FIFA World Cups of 1966 and ‘74, but because he was not a right-winger per se. Nor was he striker, despite racking up an impressive amount of goals. It’s simply that the months of May and June in 1970 left such an enduring image in people’s minds.
When I took off with the ball it was hard to stop me.
“I was a deep-lying attacker, a No10,” Jairzinho told FIFA.com. “What happened is that [Mario] Zagallo’s 1970 team achieved something really special. Together in that side we had five players who carried out practically the same role for their clubs. We were all No10s.”
The quintet Jairzinho is referring to consisted of himself, at the time linking midfield and attack with Botafogo, Gerson of Sao Paulo; Cruzeiro’s Tostao, Corinthians star Rivellino and the man who actually wore the No10 jersey at the finals, and on merit, Pele.
“At the time, Botafogo had Roberto Miranda as centre-forward. Pele, at Santos, had Coutinho. Cruzeiro had Evaldo, and so on. None of us were out-and-out strikers,” he explained. “Your position was more or less determined by your shirt number. I wore No7, which was right-wing. Rivellino, with No11, was on the left. And, as it turned out, we all attacked.”
Position matters least
Attack they all did, but no-one took to the new role better that month than Jairzinho, netting two goals in their opening game against Czechoslovakia, then one in each of their five subsequent fixtures, including the 4-1 Final triumph over Italy. The No7 jersey was misleading, given that he spent most the time operating in the vacant centre-forward role.
“I knew Jairzinho was going to be a big success,” Zagallo, who replaced Joao Saldanha as Brazil coach just months before finals, recalled in a conversation with FIFA.com. “And not only because of his ability to score goals, but also because he was in frighteningly good shape, physically. He was flying. He had the physique to be a right-winger, a midfielder, a centre-forward… all at once.”
However, this confusion surrounding the exact position of Jairzinho, who played such a pivotal role in that 1970 campaign, goes back to the start of his career. The Ventura family moved to Rio in 1958 from the nearby city of Duque de Caxias, settling in General Severiano street on the doorstep of Botafogo’s stadium. And it was not long before the 14-year-old Jair was playing for the club’s youth teams.
Led by Jair, the Botafogo youth team were so impressive they soon caught the eye the Zolo Rabelo, then head coach of that remarkable senior team. The upstart got his first chance in a training game, coming on for veteran centre-forward Quarentinha – that is to say, playing up front alongside Didi, Garrincha, Zagallo and Amarildo.
Jairzinho was not a striker at the time, but he was not about to squander the opportunity. He duly scored twice that day and, before long, was playing regularly for the first team.
His coming of age professionally coincided with Garrincha’s decline and subsequent departure from Os Alvinegros in 1965. Jairzinho inherited his No7 shirt and the position of right-winger and coped so well with the pressure of replacing one of his idols that he was soon called in to the Seleção squad. Once a firmly established star name, he took up his definitive position as a withdrawn attacker, where his explosive physique and ability to run with the ball at his feet made it his most effective position.
“When I took off with the ball it was hard to stop me,” he said without false modesty. “To do that, I needed space, and likewise at Mexico ‘70, when I was playing up front. During most of our attacks, I covered a lot of ground, very often making diagonal runs. I was always like that, capitalising on the spaces."
And as accurate as his ‘Hurricane’ nickname was, what not everyone knows is that Jairzinho was permanently brewing up a storm, and not just at that FIFA World Cup.