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There’s a special date in Brazilian footballer, and one player in particular. On 20 August 2006, São Paulo were playing against Cruzeiro and in goal for the Tricolor was the extraordinary Rogério Ceni. His first act of significance was to save a penalty. Something worthy of credit, but hardly sensational. Not long afterwards though, Ceni was invited forward to take on free-kick duties. He duly buried the opportunity. Now, we’re talking unusual – but there’s more. Later, in that same game, he also converted a penalty. Truly remarkable. Oh, and by the way, that penalty was Ceni’s 64th goal for the club!
It’s a figure that bears repetition. Sixty-four goals, and this isn’t a forward deputising for an injured goalkeeper, by the way. Such were the attributes of Ceni from dead ball situations, that his team – on numerous occasions – considered the risk of leaving their goal untended, by sending their custodian some 150 yards or so upfield to demonstrate his dead ball skills was worth the risk. And, do you know what? It was.
Ceni joined São Paulo in 1990 as a 17-year-old player, but wouldn’t assume ‘number one’ status at the club for half-a-dozen years, until the club’s established goalkeeper of choice, Zetti, left to join Santos. From then though, the tale of Rogério Ceni’s career reads like some comic book hero, made live. A Roy of the Rovers with goalkeeper’s gloves on. To give you an idea of his success, let’s look at a few examples of his achievements, during a 25-year career with São Paulo.
In July 2005, as captain of the Tricolor Ceri had the honour of raising the Copa Libertadores for the club. Safe to say that he didn’t drop it. It would be his second winner’s medal in South America’s premier club competition, but as the first one came in 1993 when he was still very much in the background of first-team matters, this one meant so much more. Later, that same month, he also broke the record for appearances with the club, turning out for the 618th time in a game against, Clube Atlético Mineiro. Ceni would wear a special kit for the occasion, displaying the total of appearances as his designated short number.
Such longevity though is achieved by many, especially goalkeepers, but between 2005 and 2007, his upfield exploits were to lift such notable achievements into the category of the remarkable. Across the period, Ceni would score no less than 47 goals from penalties and free-kicks. In the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup Final against Liverpool, he not only netted a penalty, but also produced a string of impressive saves to confound the Reds. As well as lifting the trophy, he was recognised as the outstanding player in the tournament. In the following year’s Copa Libertadores, his successful penalty against Mexican club, Guadalajara, not only won the match for São Paulo, but also – astonishingly – elevated him to be the club’s leading scorer in the competition.
In October 2009, after recovering from injury, he returned to the starting eleven to record his 700th game for the club, and in 2011, reached the 1000 mark. In between, in March 2010, a free-kick from against Corinthians brought up his century of goals. An injury in 2009 curtailed his playing time for a while but, upon recovery, played his 700th game for the club in October of that year. Less than two years later, he hit the one thousand games mark and in March of 2010, a free-kick from against Corinthians brought up his century of goals for the club.
At this stage, entering his late thirties, it was clear that the end of a career littered scoring and preventing goals was surely nearing its conclusion, but there was still more to come. After another injury, this time meaning six months on the sidelines, he marked his return with another goal to drive São Paulo to a 2-0 victory over Bahia in a Copa Sudamericana tie. A competition they would win, offering Ceni the opportunity to lift another trophy.
The following December saw the club offer their iconic goalkeeper a new one-year deal. Although age was inevitably dulling reflexes and talent, Ceni still had plenty to offer. The following April, in a single game against Botafogo he surpassed three landmarks. He passed Chilean goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert’s total for most goals by the man between the sticks, the record number of appearances for one club, and most appearances as captain.
In November 2104, the seemingly inevitable happened when Ceni, not far from his 42nd birthday announced his retirement. The club, understandably though, were reluctant to let him go, and an extension until the end 0f 2015 was agreed. It gave time for more records to tumble. In March 2015, another strike from a free-kick raised his total from the dead ball outside the penalty area to 60. It passed the 59 of Marcelinho Carioca’s record. By the way, Carioca was an attacking player, and in case it seems even more unbelievable now, it’s worth restating that Ceni was a goalkeeper! To underscore the craziness of his goalscoring achievements, a few months later, he notched his 128th goal for São Paolo, placing him into the club’s top ten goal-scorers of all time – the top ten goal-scorers of all time!
On 6 December 2015, Rogério Ceni finally made the definitive announcement. It doubtless brought sighs of relief from goalkeepers of other Brazilian clubs that had been tormented by his ability over the years. He retired from football. In his career with his one and only club, he would make 1257 appearances, and score 131 goals. That averages out at better than a goal every ten games. It’s always a danger to look at a player’s career, and say his achievements will never be surpassed. Perhaps in this case however, we can make an exception to that rule, for Rogério Ceni, Brazil’s goalscoring goalkeeper.