Last weekend, Rogério Ceni scored his 123rd league goal in professional football. For a career spanning over 20 years, 123 goals has been a fine return for the São Paulo dead ball specialist.
For the 42-year-old man it was business as usual on Saturday night when he coolly dispatched a 25 yard free kick into the back of the net against Bahia in the Brazilian Serie A. For the rest of us it was pure magic, for Ceni nothing unusual. There is a twist to the Ceni tale. Ceni is no ordinary player. Ceni is one of a dying breed…he is a goal-scoring goalkeeper.
A goal-scoring goalkeeper!
Usually when a goalkeeper scores a goal, it is because the laws of physics have temporarily been suspended and the stars have all aligned. Think back to Paul Robinson’s effort against Ben Foster, or Asmir Begovic’s long range goal against Arthur Boruc a few seasons back.
Within the normal realm, goalkeepers are there to save goals and not score them. Think of the excitement that inevitably emerges in the commentary box whenever a goalie goes up for a corner. A goalie trying to score is a spectacle for football fans.
Many of us will remember the final day of the 2004-2005 season, when Stuart Pearce nearly broke football by putting David James up front in the hopes of snatching a winner. There are unwritten rules in football that a goalie’s place is the safety of his own goal. Something that the majority of the game’s stars have shown themselves happy to abide by.
And yet life always has dreamers. There are always mavericks in life who like to challenge existing preconceptions. Ceni is one such man. Since making his club début in 1997, Ceni has been the official free kick and penalty taker for São Paulo FC, one of the biggest clubs in Brazil. In that time he has scored more goals than any other goalkeeper in the history of football…in the history of football. Just allow that to sink in.
Whilst most goalkeepers have concerned themselves with keeping clean sheets, Ceni wants to score more goals than the other side. Last weekend was further testament to that. Ceni has spent a large part of his career honing his technique and fighting against his critics. When he missed a penalty in an important match against Corinthians a number of years ago, people were calling for Ceni to step down from set piece duties.
He duly silenced his critics by scoring a Panenka penalty against the same opponents. His reputation in Brazilian football has reached an almost legendary status. Zico once conceded that Ceni is a better free kick taker than him and when Ceni scored his 100th career goal a number of years ago from 25 yards, the whole stadium erupted in celebration.
Of course there have been other goal-scoring goalies, most notably José Luis Chilavert, but Ceni comes out on top. His record, flair and determination have made the man one of Brazilian football’s most entertaining characters.
The last two decades have seen Brazilian football graced with the rarest sight in football, a goal-scoring goalkeeper. When the 42-year-old finally decides to hang up his boots, football will have lost some of its magic.
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.