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Zetti's labour of love

Zetti, former goalkeeper of São Paulo

“First and foremost you have to like what you do,” says Armelino Donizete Quagliato, or Zetti, as he is better known, in an exclusive interview with“It’s not a job for just anyone. You stand there in goal, all alone, while players fire missiles at you. Not only are you likely to concede goals, but you stand a very good chance of being criticised as well.” * *

And it is precisely this message that the former Brazil custodian imparts to the students who pass through his dedicated goalkeeping academy, which he fittingly named ‘Fechando o Gol’ (Keeping the goal intact).

To date, more than 450 students have either passed through the academy or are currently in attendance there. Regardless of trainees’ objectives and whether they want to forge a professional career or simply stop being the butt of jokes in their weekend kick-about, the most important thing, as far as Zetti is concerned, “is that they like playing in goal.”

Coming of age
This native of Porto Feliz in the state of Sao Paulo had his share of ups and downs at the start of his career. “In sporting terms I was very good with my hands so I had the edge [on my peers] when I was an adolescent. Perhaps that was because I learned how to play many sports from an early age in my hometown. At school I played a lot of basketball and volleyball, which is how I ended up excelling between the posts,” he said, before admitting that there was another factor in deciding his position. “I also used to play outfield, but I was never picked there as I was hopeless!”

It was in nearby Capivari that the teenage Zetti began to get a name for himself in the local league. After being prompted by a friend, he got a trial with Guarani and was accepted, only to be subsequently let go at 17. His next stop was Palmeiras, where he struggled to establish himself and was loaned out to Parana sides Toledo and Londrina. Despite performing well with the former and being voted the state’s best goalkeeper one season, when he returned from his second loan spell in 1986 he had to make do with being third-choice at his club.  

It was in 1987 that his big break came. During a Paulista Championship match O Verdão’s first-choice keeper Martorelli was injured, allowing Zetti to come off the bench. “That was when I laid the foundations for my career,” he said. Incredibly the young keeper would then go 13 consecutive games and 1,238 minutes without conceding, in the process earning countless headlines and setting a record that would only be beaten by former Canarinha and Palmeiras custodian Luis Pereira in the colours of Santo Andre.

Almost quitting
No one could ever question Zetti’s passion for goalkeeping, but even this was sorely tested by the slings and arrows of fate in his early years. His lowest point remains, understandably, ingrained on his memory. “It was when I broke my leg on 17 November 1988 against Flamengo,” the player said matter-of-factly, referring to the fateful 50-50 ball he went for with Bebeto at the Maracana.

Eight months on the sidelines followed, during which time Wagner Fernando Velloso made the No1 jersey his own. Moreover, coach Emerson Leao, himself a former keeper, was happy with the status quo, leaving Zetti to warm the bench on his return.

“Eventually I ended up out of contract and in search of a club, but whenever someone expressed an interest in me, Palmeiras set the price very high. [Editor’s note – at the time in Brazil, clubs continued to hold the transfer rights of players even after their contracts expired.] Tele Santana’s Flamengo side and Gremio were both interested, but neither of them would meet the asking price,” he recalled. “That was when I took up painting and started other activities. By then I’d had my fill and was very close to giving up the game.”

It’s not a job for just anyone. You stand there in goal, all alone, while players fire missiles at you.


As fate would have it, a friend from outside the game intervened, buying the player’s transfer rights from Palmeiras. The keeper then spent two months in Europe, where he got a trial with Atletico Madrid’s B team. However, everything changed on the morning he received a call from Valdir Joaquim de Moraes, another former Palmeiras custodian and a pioneer in the area of dedicated goalkeeper training.

De Moraes explained that Sao Paulo were keen on him, an interest that culminated in Zetti joining them on a ten-month loan basis in 1990. With the keeper eventually staying until 1996, it is safe to assume his friend reaped a handsome reward from his investment.   

Glory daysThe move would finally give the shot-stopper the chance to work with Tele Santana, who at the time was in the middle of rebuilding the side. In the years that followed, his *Tricolor Paulista *team would win almost every available honour and be rightfully considered one of the finest club sides ever to grace Brazilian football.

Two Intercontinental Cups – one against Barcelona, who they also beat 4-1 to win the 1992 Teresa Herrera Trophy, and another against AC Milan – two Copa Libertadores, one Brasileiro and two Paulista Championships were among the impressive list of honours won.

“What Tele managed to do was build a real team,” the 47-year-old explained. “He had and knew exactly what he wanted. Before long the team began coming together, while he went about filling us with confidence. Yes Rai and Muller may have been the big stars, but we had a great group.

"The coach also backed us all the way and helped keep us on track and maintain stability. We won trophies in '91, '92 and '93 and we were never out of the spotlight. The danger in football is when you’re on a pedestal and you let your vanity and ego influence you. That never happened to us. It was just a brilliant era.”

In the midst of all this club success an even bigger prize was to follow: the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™, at which Zetti would deputise for A Seleção’s legendary penalty-stopper Taffarel. Asked how hard was it to be second choice when in his prime, the keeper said: “I think 1993 was my best period. I was ready to play in the World Cup qualifiers, had come through major tests and become champion. I was mature and physically in great shape, so I regret not being able to play. I really wanted a chance. That said, I always admired Taffarel. I was a fan of his and cheered him on at the World Cup.”

The academyNowadays, Zetti puts this wealth of experience at the disposal of his students, taking every opportunity to participate in classes and training, and pass on tips. The biggest challenge was developing the methodology for the academy, which he founded three years ago.

“We didn’t really know the right way to do things as we had no guidelines. In practice, every player's behaviour is different, so we ended up studying these behaviours to find the key elements. This was so we could come up with training sequences to pass on to the younger students, particularly those just starting out.”

Academy members, many of whom arrive with dreams of a professional career, practice exercises that incorporate movements taken from judo, volleyball and other sports. The practice clearly works, with several members having had successful trials with Palmeiras and Corinthians, among other clubs. Zetti even has professionals on his books, like former Corinthians and Genoa No1 Rubinho, who is training at the centre to keep in shape while he looks for a new club.

However, with students aged from eight to 66, not everyone can have such lofty ambitions, as Zetti explains at the end of our interview: “What we teach people here is how to keep goal, improve motor skills and coordination, and fall without hurting themselves. We also remind them that it’s not all about diving. We practice every type of situation and work on all the basics. The only thing we don’t do here is play matches, because you can’t make a team with just goalkeepers!”

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