Some great players will be remembered for decades to come. Other great players are quickly forgotten. And then there are great players who were never famous in the first place. Mario Sergio belongs to that latter category. Spending his entire career in South America, and not being called up for any World Cup, he never featured on the radar of football fans in Europe.
Fans of the European Cup winners Hamburger SV might recall him. When HSV took on Gremio in the 1983 Intercontinental Cup, the Germans would have noticed an aged, stocky, slightly balding midfielder with a straight posture and a full beard. But there was something else about him that caught the attention.
He never seemed to look down at the ball. Never. And frequently he wouldn’t even look into the direction where he was going to pass or dribble. He’d just gaze into the distance or look the other way, similar to the no-look passes Ronaldinho and Laudrup would later become famous for. But for them, it was a trick they’d use a dozen times per season. For Mario Sergio, it was his standard way of playing. In Brazil, it earned him the nickname the cross-eyed one.
Watch the video 4Dfoot created for this feature to check out Mario Sergio’s skills in the 1983 Intercontinental Cup match between Gremio and Hamburger SV:
There’s no question that his playing style required incredible technique and vision. If the mark of a great player is the ability to keep his eyes off the ball, then Mario Sergio was truly a great footballer.
So why wasn’t he famous? Why has almost nobody outside Brazil ever heard of him? Why didn’t he feature in any World Cup?
The truth is that it’s mostly Mario Sergio’s own fault. For years he chose to play at Vitoria, a small team that few people care about. He then joined Fluminense, couldn’t handle the pressure that accompanied playing for one of Rio’s big teams and started drinking excessive amounts of alcohol to alleviate his problems. And to further worsen his situation, he was known for having a sharp tongue and an explosive temper.
As calm as he appears on the field, as out of control he could be outside it. At one occasion hooligans blocked the player’s bus. Mario Sergio immediately grabbed a gun that, for whatever reason he had been carrying in his bag, and furiously started firing shots to dispel the crowd. It worked, but it didn’t help his career.
By the time he was 29, Mario Sergio had still achieved nothing and was plying his trade in the remote corners of the Argentinian league. It was then that the great Falcão, star of Internacional, recommended his club to sign the forgotten playmaker. Mario Sergio grabbed the chance with both hands and revived his career. At the age of 31, he finally made his debut for the Brazilian national team. With the 1982 World Cup approaching, here was his chance to make a name for himself. There was just one problem.
Tele Santana’s side was already overloaded with creative midfielders. Socrates, Dirceu, Falcao and Zico, to name a few. They were just as talented as Mario Sergio, but were younger, more reliable, scored more often, and had more experience on a high level. All of them were taken to Spain for the World Cup. Mario Sergio was left home. And while everyone else in Brazil was following every move of the national team on TV, Mario Sergio can be forgiven for watching into a different direction.