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Rogério Ceni, Miracle Keeper

April 3, 2011

Rogerio Ceni: there can be only one...

This piece was originally published on Just Football, here: Rogerio Ceni – The 100 Goal Keeper

I wrote it right after Sao Paulo FC beat rivals Corinthians (2 – 1) for the first time in eleven games (4 years), in this year’s Sao Paulo State Championship (Campeonato Paulista).

I hope you enjoy it (I did, immensely!):

I watched it live on television, but I must have seen it again on youtube one hundred times since then.

Fernandinho is brought down some two meters away from the penalty box. The referee blows the whistle. Foul. Free-kick for Sao Paulo.

The fans go ballistic. The cheers grow louder and louder.

They know what’s coming.

Rogerio Ceni, Sao Paulo’s skipper and goalkeeper, and the team’s set-piece specialist, runs up the pitch, away from his net.

He will take this free-kick, as per usual. But this time the cheers are extra loud for one particular reason: this is Ceni’s chance to score his 100th goal. And in a classic match against bitter rivals Corinthians.

What better occasion?!

Allow me to briefly pause here, and remind you once again that we are talking about a goalkeeper.

A goalkeeper who has the chance to score his 100th (one hundredth, Christ!) goal.

Diego Maradona, arguably the greatest footballer of all time (and not a goalkeeper), scored some 300 goals.

Think about it, the gap isn’t that wide.

Has your head exploded yet, or shall we continue? I’ll continue, but be aware, your head may in fact detonate by the end of this piece.

Ceni gently places the ball on the spot the referee has indicated, and then confidently stands upright, resting his gloved hands on his hips. He stares at the carefully constructed wall of Corinthians players that stand between him and Julio Cesar’s goal. He seems concerned. Even for a free-kick expert like Ceni, the distance between the ball and the goal is overwhelming – and he knows Cesar is a keeper in sublime form.

Ceni covers his mouth with his left hand, and secretly mumbles something to his teammate, midfielder Carlinhos, who stands to his right. Carlinhos shakes his head, spits out a couple of words, and dismisses Ceni’s secret statement, gesturing and encouraging the skipper to go on.

Ceni stares at the wall once again. He is as focused as Jean-Claude Van Damme in that final fight in “Bloodsport.”

The whistle is blown, and Ceni swings his right leg, hitting the ball gracefully and powerfully, making it travel over the wall…

For one milli-microsecond, the entire stadium goes silent…and then it explodes in cheers and screams as we watch the ball land perfectly into the right upper-corner of Cesar’s net.

GOAL!

Rogerio Ceni’s 100th goal, indeed.

100 goals!

One-friggin’-hundred goals, from the foot of a goalkeeper!

Cesar’s acrobatic flight was in vain. The Corinthians ‘keeper lies on the ground in disappointment, as Ceni and his Sao Paulo mates celebrate history.

(Once more: 100 goals!)

And it almost didn’t happen! In the post-match interview, Ceni revealed that his “secret statement” to Carlinhos was in fact a plea for the midfielder to take the shot, instead of him. The ‘keeper said that only when he arrived at the free-kick spot, he realized how far from Cesar’s goal it actually was. But it was too late to chicken out and run all the way back to his net, especially after having created so much anticipation and noise from the fans.

Carlinhos’s words, as revealed, were wise ones: “no way, this is yours.”

Even though I’ve watched this monumental moment multiple times, it still makes me smile like an idiot, and my heart races when I replay it over and over, as if I were constantly watching it happen for the very first time.

What a remarkable achievement for someone who plays in the most solitary of all positions in football. It must be tough and somewhat frustrating to watch your teammates from between the two posts, alone. As a goalkeeper, you don’t get to share in the embracing of a teammate when he scores. The outfield players come together in celebration, cheering and hugging and rubbing all that testosterone and excitement on each other, some laughing, others crying in joy, but the goalkeeper remains alone. Ever faithful to his net, the ‘keeper can only clap, let out a few yells, and watch the fun from afar.

Unless, of course, you are Rogerio Ceni.

To put it simply, the Sao Paulo skipper has re-defined the goalkeeping position by adding a unique level of creativity and character to the job. Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the concept of appointing ‘keepers as team captains, as they seem too removed from the central action of the game. But then there are natural leaders such as Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas, who simply challenge that stereotype and somehow manage to become involved in all major plays and controversies within the pitch.

Rogerio Ceni is a natural leader; and similarly to Buffon and Iker, he is also a phenomenal goalkeeper capable of performing acrobatic saves that make your jaw drop. That should be more than enough to grant him the status of a great footballer. But, as I said, Ceni has re-defined his position because he is original: he scores goals too, a lot of them.

It all started in 1997 against Uniao Sao Joao, from a free-kick and in a match for the Sao Paulo State Championship as well. That same year, Ceni became the club’s skipper, and quickly rose to stardom by getting call-ups to the Brazilian Selecao, and finally becoming FIFA World Cup Champion with his country in 2002.

Three years later, Ceni single-handedly (or double-handedly if you will) destroyed Liverpool’s chances of winning the 2005 Club World Cup in a final match whose highlights were his prodigious saves and Steven Gerrard’s many facial expressions of sheer frustration. The game ended 1 – 0 for the Brazilians, and as team captain, Ceni not only hoisted the Cup, but was also voted Man of the Match.

The world of football was his.

The following year, after Ceni had already won three MVP Golden Balls with Sao Paulo, the player became the top goalscoring-‘keeper of all time after breaking Jose Chilavert’s mark of sixty two goals. The new record was established in a match against Cruzeiro, also from a free-kick. Not satisfied with becoming history’s top ‘keeper-scorer by one goal, Ceni scored once more in the same match, this time from the penalty spot. Sixty four has a nicer ring to it than sixty three anyways…

And why stop there? The next three years at Sao Paulo were absolutely glorious. The club won three consecutive Brazilian League titles (2006, 2007 and 2008), and in 2008 Ceni was once again voted Goalkeeper of the Tournament. There really was only one way to top it all: to reach the mark of 100 goals.

After all, one hundred has such a lovely ring to it.

And one hundred goals Rogerio Ceni did score.

If your head hasn’t exploded yet, scroll up, back to the beginning of this piece.

You can re-read about Ceni’s amazing feat, just like I have re-watched it, over and over.

Trust me, it gets better every time.

Undoubtedly, this is a record that shall stand for the entire century. It will take ages until a goalkeeper with even bigger cojones is born. In fact, I honestly think this may never happen again. We have witnessed something so unique and special we might as well call it a miracle.

What a ridiculously lucky generation of fans we are, indeed.

Regarding the nature of being a goalkeeper, Uruguayan author and football enthusiast Eduardo Galeano once wrote that “they call him the doorman, goalie, bouncer or tender, but he could just as well be called martyr, pay-all, penitent or punch-bag. They say where he walks, the grass never grows.”

Unless, of course, they call him Rogerio Ceni.

From his feet sprouts life. And plenty, plenty of goals.

RB.

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