Fate works in mysterious ways. The fact that Tostao was forced to hang up his boots early not because of a broken knee or a hurt ankle, but because of an eye injury, was a chance event. But in a roundabout way, it was a symbolically suitable manner to end his playing career.
After all, it was his all-seeing eyes – and the sharp brain wired to them – that was the secret behind Eduardo Goncalves de Andrade’s genius as a player. Several attributes may have been missing from the diminutive striker’s game, but one thing he had in abundance was vision.
“I stood out because of my passing, my dribbling, my timing in the box and above all my ability to anticipate what was about to happen,” the Brazilian explained in his 1997 book entitled Tostão, Lembranças, Opiniões, Reflexões sobre Futebol (Tostao, Memories, Opinions and Reflections on Football). “I had several shortcomings that I reduced over time, through hard work in training every day. I practically only used my left foot, I couldn’t head the ball – I did so with my eyes shut – I was slow over medium and long distances. Moreover, my long-range shooting was poor, while my technical and physical limitations (and lack of pace) meant I couldn't keep up with my speed of thought. My mind rapidly told my body what it wanted it to do, but my body often didn’t obey. Nevertheless, I was extremely self-critical, and I always believed I could make myself a better player.”
It is clear from the above that Tostao was brutally honest in assessing his own abilities. Those reading that description could easily forget it refers to a player who was a regular in one of the most prodigiously talented attacks in football history, Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winning team. Furthermore, Tostao was the chief protagonist at his club, Cruzeiro. The brilliance of his displays there helped make them one of Brazil’s biggest clubs in the sixties, at a time when the country was teeming with great sides, not least Pele’s Santos.
Beyond his magnificent play on the pitch, Tostao had a great footballing brain. He pondered deeply about the game. Star players, as a rule, intuitively know what to do. “How do they know? They know, but they don’t know they know. It is knowledge that transcends human comprehension,” explained Tostao. The difference is that, as well as being born with this instinctive knowledge, Tostao had the intelligence to analyse it with precision, and then put this analysis into practice during his career. “Jean-Claude Killy, the famous French skier, used to train mentally with a stopwatch and would say that he managed almost the same time when it came to the actual race,” he said. “I trained the moves mentally, constantly picturing game situations in my mind’s eye.”
'Everything went dark'
The innate capacity to observe that set Tostao apart made the events of a rainy September afternoon in 1969, in Pacaembu, Sao Paulo, all the more poignant. Cruzeiro were up against Corinthians and on the attack when Tostao slipped and fell, losing control of the ball. It ran to Corinthians centre-back Ditao, who attempted to clear it as far upfield as possible. Tostao’s face was in the way of the wet and heavy ball - or more specifically his left eye was. The impact left Tostao with a dislocated retina. More than simply jeopardising his presence at the following year’s World Cup, the player's entire career was left hanging in the balance, and worse still, his very eyesight.
“I tried to stay calm. The worse thing at the beginning was the uncertainty, but I gradually gained confidence that everything would sort itself out,” he said. “I started making plans: surgery at the start of October, six months’ recovery time, back training again in April and in June I’d be at the World Cup. And that’s exactly how it worked out.” In the midst of these plans, in March 1970, Brazil ousted the coach who had made Tostao an undisputed starter, Joao Saldanha, replacing him with Zagallo. At the beginning of the new coach’s reign, Tostao was the second choice striker. In other words, Pele’s substitute.
While he was recovering from surgery and training to get himself fit for the Mexico World Cup – Tostao only knew he would make it shortly before the tournament kicked off – he spent time doing what he had always done: watching and thinking. He was not a regulation No9 like the coach wanted in his attack, but he knew he could offer something else, and be of even more use, alongside Pele, Jairzinho and Rivellino. “I wasn’t the centre forward that Zagallo wanted initially, a striker up front, or a midfielder like I was for Cruzeiro,” Tostao explained, looking back on the brilliant role he played in the World Cup. “I was an attacking midfielder, serving as a linchpin and supporting the superstars that came behind me. I realised A Seleção needed a player like that, who was technical, intelligent, a good passer, and not simply a goalscorer.”
Different roles, same endeavour
Being an essential part of a World Cup winning team as brilliant as Brazil’s 1970 vintage could have been the fairytale ending needed to eradicate the memory of his dramatic injury. But fate took another turn. After two more seasons playing for Cruzeiro and one for Vasco da Gama, whereTostao moved to in 1972, one of his routine tests brought bad news: his eye problem had returned. Another operation and subsequent rehabilitation period ensued, but this time, at 26 years of age, came the definitive diagnosis: Tostao’s poor vision was incompatible with playing professional football. Furthermore, every time he stepped onto the pitch he would run the risk of completely losing his sight in his left eye.
Tostao’s career lasted just long enough to leave no doubts that, thanks to razor sharp wits and exceptional vision, he was a genuine star. And it was as if the Gods had decided this intelligence and vision could not be reserved wholly for football’s benefit.
“At 18, I chose football rather than going to university because I realised I could be a special player. I put my youthful dreams of building a professional career, educating myself and saving the world on hold,” he said. “I looked at football not as a profession, but as a serious, profitable and temporary leisure activity that I couldn’t miss out on.”
In 1975, the ex-player enrolled for a medicine degree, subsequently qualified as a doctor and became a university professor. He put football to one side and shunned contact with the media. It was not a question of disillusionment or anger. He simply immersed himself in the medical world and that was the life he wanted to lead at the time.
This remained the case until 1994, when he accepted an invitation to go to the FIFA World Cup USA as a columnist and commentator. It opened the door to another life, and an eminently logical step. Tostao became one of Brazil’s greatest football writers, specialising in doing off the pitch what he had done so outstandingly on it: seeing what nobody else sees.
Did You Know?
Eduardo Gonçalves de Andrade earned his “Tostao” nickname when as a young and frail kid he spent endless days playing football with bigger and older boys. At the time a “Tostao” was the lowest value (and smallest) coin in circulation in Brazil.
Tostao reached the pinnacle of his club career in 1966, when Cruzeiro won the Brazilian Cup, defeating Pele’s Santos twice. At the end of the match Tostao was photographed adorned with a crown and the newspaper headline read: The New King of Football. “When I saw the photo the day after I was terribly embarrassed,” said Tostao.
Before arriving at Houston for the final tests on his eye, one month before the 1970 FIFA World Cup, Tostao decided to undertake his own examination. He went to Disneyland, in Los Angeles, and put his recently operated-on retina through the toughest test possible – a rollercoaster ride. The doctors gave him the go-ahead.
Tostao was operated on in Houston, Texas, by Dr. Roberto Abdala Moura, an emigrant from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais living in America. After winning the 1970 FIFA World Cup, the player gave his winner’s medal to the doctor in appreciation.
Tostao recounted an episode at the 1994 World Cup: “I was alone in the press centre cafeteria when an elderly, overweight gentleman approached and said he would like to meet me. It was Di Stefano, my idol, and one of the best forwards of all time.”