Mario Sergio

Forgotten Footballer ~ Mario Sergio

Mario Sergio

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.

Except once.

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.

14 thoughts on “Forgotten Footballer ~ Mario Sergio”

  1. if bobby charlton or di stefano were brazilian they would have about the same worldwide recognition mario sergio has.

  2. It’s certainly true that if Mario Sergio had been English or he’d have been famous world wide. In one game he does more skills than most famous playmakers did in a dozen.

  3. i was realy see mario sergio when i leave in sao paulo,he play in corinthians,as a very good player,their left foot is like a magic touch,anyway it was one of the old players,who no have fame in the intrntl soccer,if he play at our days,shour going and have success to a big club,regards.

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  5. Thank you for posting this.Great job 4dfoot.
    You are best football site in the world.Its hard to impress real football fan,but you just do it.I never ever heard or see this great man playing football.I swear I will sit down watching how this guy
    playing instead of watching Messi scoring his 1000 goal which would be just like previous 999.
    Mario if you could read this,know that real football fans think that players like YOU,BERGKAMP and CANTONA are best of all time regardless of how many goals you scored.bravo.God bless you

  6. Thank you guys for this amazing memory of a great player.
    I´m a close friend and was watching this with his son a couple of minutes ago and ( i relayed the message above Vahagn bless you too) and would like to say this was a great homage to an incredible player.
    We agree that if it were today this man would have been globally famous and not forgotten like so many geniuses.
    thank you 4d you are the best…
    big hugs from Brazil to all football fans.

  7. Once I saw an interview of Mario speaking about mysterious injections players took in Argentina. He addmited taking some of this before the games. That is probably the cause of being left aside in the World Cup 82.

  8. Somewhere in Brazil, there’s a website saying, “Hey look at this Matt le Tissier bloke! Why haven’t we ever heard of him?”

  9. Great great player … Its a shame mario sergio never went to a world cup he was class. He would not have looked out of place next to zico falcao eder and socrates .. Infact he would have given them another dimension.. Great work seb great site love it !!

  10. This is a very common thing in Brazil. The list of “injustices” is huge, because of the huge amount of talent in the country and the huge competition amongst players.
    Especially in previous decades, when it wasn’t common for Brazilian players to go to Europe in order to perform at high-level football leagues. They all stayed in their country.

    Mario Sergio is just one out of dozens. Just think of some Brazilian players that were not taken to the World Cup in 1982:

    The goalkeeper Leão was at his peak in 1982. He had the experience of being a starter in 2 previous World Cups and was, by far, the best keeper in Brazil at that time.
    But Leão was also renwoned for his explosive temper, which clashed with the strong personality of Brazil’s manager, Telê Santana (some called him authoritarian).
    Waldir Peres is still pointed as the weak spot on that team and many people claim that the experienced and legendary Raul Plasmann and João Leite, who had been tested, could also have been taken in his place.
    Even Carlos, his substitute, might have been a better option as the starting goalkeeper.

    The defenders Oscar, Luizinho and Edinho were amongst the 3 best full-backs in the country. Many people claim Edinho was more solid (although less “classy”) than Luizinho and shouldn’t have been benched. But the main absence was Mozer’s.
    Mozer wasn’t even 22 years old yet, but already played an essential role as a full-back at the legendary Flamengo team of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Many people assert he should have been taken in the place of Juninho Fonseca, who was going through a good moment and taken to the World Cup as a substitute, but was just not in the same league as the other guys.
    Mozer continues to be mentioned as one of the greatest Brazilian defenders of all time in rankings and polls and only got his chance to play in a World Cup 8 years later, in 1990.

    Wladimir is still regarded as the greatest left-back in the history of Corinthians. He had unfairly not been taken to the World Cup in 1978, even though he was part of the preparations and was the best in his position at that point.
    There’s no question that Junior was the man for the job in 1982, but the dispute was who was to be his substitute. Pedrinho was an excellent left-back and was chosen, but many people say that Wladimir could also have been taken, since he was in great shape. Proof of that is that he was named by the legendary Placar magazine as the best Brazilian left-back of 1982 (yes, ahead of Junior).

    Andrade is still regarded as one of the greatest Brazilian central-midfielders ever. Like Mozer, he was part of the great Flamengo team of Zico and company. He could have very well replaced Toninho Cerezo on that 1982 Brazil squad and it wouldn’t have been such a big crime (although he would probably be Cerezo’s substitute). Both were absolute ‘craques’, but manager Telê Santana preferred Cerezo.

    And he took Batista, an excellent defensive midfielder, as the substitute, because he was the only one on that team who could perform the role. Some even say Brazil lost that World Cup because the team did not have a real defensive player on midfield, except for Batista, who was on the bench.

    In the attacking-midfield positions, the competition was just insane. Zico was of course the king, and Sócrates was also most people’s first choice, but his spot was still under threat. As his substitute, they took Paulo Isidoro, Dirceu and Renato.

    Paulo Isidoro deserved to be called-up; he had been part of the team during most of the preparations and was named the best player in Brazil in 1981, by Placar. He could also play as a forward; during the preparations for the World Cup, he’d often been a starting player on the right-wing.
    Dirceu could also play as a forward as was a great player, but many claim his spot on the team had been granted due to him being named the third best player of the previous Word Cup, in 1978. At 30 years of age, he was past his prime.
    Renato was a talented midfielder, but his spot was also very contested by the press and the supporters, because he wasn’t a very prominent goalscorer.

    Many people claim that, instead of Dirceu and Renato, names like Jorge Mendonça, Pita, Adílio, Zenon and Tita should have been favoured. All of them hold legendary status in Brazil at their respective clubs and it would have been no surprise if they had made onto the team.
    Jorge Mendonça was one of the highest goal-scorers in the country at that point. Very talented classy attacking midfielder and forward player, he had been part of the Brazilian national team at WC’78.
    Pita was the successor or Pelé in Santos. He was so good that he was elected by Placar as part of Brazilian squad of the year in 1982 (which was made up by the best players of the year in each position), occupying the attacking-midfield position, alongside no one less than Zico. But perhaps the biggest injustice was not taking him to the following World Cup, in 1986, when he was more experienced.
    Adílio was Zico’s partner in the machine called Flamengo. An absolute ‘craque’ who would have been a starter on any team in the world.
    Zenon is still regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of Corinthians. He was Sócrates’ partner on the team’s midfield. Another classy attacking-midfielder who could have very well gone to that World Cup and not that many people would have contested it.
    Finally, Tita was another of Zico’s partner in Flamengo. At that period in time, Flamengo was the best team in the country, if not in the world (considering they beat Liverpool and became club world champions in 1981); and yet most of the players on that squad were forgotten.
    Tita was actually an attacking midfielder who had to be improvised as a right-winger when he arrived at Flamengo, because the midfield was already taken by Andrade, Adílio and Zico. Tita had been a starter for Brazil at that same improvised position during the preparations for the World Cup, which caused him to have an argument with Telê Santana, since he wanted to have a chance to play as a midfielder for Brazil. The argument cost him the World Cup.

    For most of the preparations for the World Cup, the left-wing position belonged to Zé Sérgio. Zé Sérgio was a fantastic player, extremely skillful and agile; and dominated the position up until 1981 (he had already been taken to the World Cup in 1978, but as a substitute, since he was only 21 by then).
    Éder Aleixo, who ended up being the starter at WC’82, was his substitute. Zé Sérgio had a series of injuries (which followed and tormented him for his whole career) that caused him to lose his spot on the team.
    Some say Joãozinho (Cruzeiro) and, to a lesser extent, Lico (Flamengo) also deserved a spot on the left-wing.

    It is commonly accepted that there were, at least, 2 or 3 names for the position that were better than Serginho (who was also pointed as the weak link of that squad).
    The first and obvious one was Reinaldo. Reinaldo was the greatest Brazilian striker of the late 70’s and early 80’s. Like Zé Sérgio, he was haunted by injury throughout his career and had severe problems in his knees.
    Still, he managed to be regularly called up for the national team up until 1981, when another injury left him out of shape and he couldn’t recover in time for the World Cup.
    It is often said that he would have still been the best option for Brazil in 1982 and wasn’t called up for political reasons. Brazil was under military dictatorship regime, which interfered even with football activities, and Reinaldo was one to speak up against the government, which caused the censors to pressure the Brazilian Football Confederation to ban his participation. There is no proof of that, but it is a recurrent rumour in the country.
    But Reinaldo’s absence did not cause so much worrying, because Careca, Brazil’s newest number 9 sensation, had been called-up. Unfourtunately for Careca (and for Brazil), he got injured already in Spain, FOUR DAYS before the start of the World Cup and his participation at the tournament had to be postponed to 1986 and 1990 as Brazil’s number 9 centre-forward.
    Amazingly, Roberto Dinamite, another world-class striker, had not been called-up. Telê preferred Serginho, a decision that caused a lot of questioning in Brazil at the time. Dinamite ended up being called to replace Careca, but remained on the bench, as a substitute to Serginho. Go figure…
    There is still a fourth option, which was Flamengo’s Nunes. He was very similar to Serginho: not as classy and highly technical as Reinaldo, Careca or Roberto Dinamite, but an effective goal scorer.

    The fact is that team could have had even better options on the bench.

    People abroad seem to get the idea that these classic Brazilian squads were all made up by unanimous choices, but in Brazil everyone knows that’s far from true.

  11. It is a shame that Mário Sérgio never got to participate in a World Cup.
    WIthout a doubt, one of the most talented Brazilian players to never play the competition (out of many). Few players had his technique and vision – he was one of those classic brainy players that you could just tell were above the average from the moment he touched the ball. Unfourtunately, he was a bit unlucky in his career.
    Very intelligent and outspoken guy with a strong personality, a trace that managers either love or hate.
    Should have been part of that 1982 Brazilian squad, when he was at his professional peak, but manager Telê Santana was part of that second group of managers that tagged him ‘undisciplined’ – unlike his club manager.
    He was doing so well that Telê was almost forced to get him in the Brazilian squad in late 1981 and early 1982. Since then, he had been pretty much called up for most matches in preparation for the World Cup as the left-winger, putting Éder on the bench (Zé Sérgio – similar name, different player – had been injured in 1981 and couldn’t recover to regain his postion as the starting left-winger).
    But less than 2 months before the World Cup, Brazil manager opted for Éder (who was also a great player, going through an excellent moment) and decided to take Dirceu Guimarães – who was playing in Spain – as his substitute. Telê Santana never liked Mario Sérgio.
    He could have been improvised as well. He could play either on the left-wing (his original position) or as a midfielder (which he often did for his club, as well).
    Telê Santana was a manager who simply did not tolerate being talked back in any way. If he had had problems with players before, he would simply cut them off. It was like that with Leão, with Jorge Mendonça (another amazing player), Tita… Telê was a great manager, but too inflexible, stubborn and intransigent at times.

    Anyway, another genius player to join the ranks of Ademir da Guia and Dirceu Lopes…

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