The forgotten gifts of Márcio Amoroso, once one of the world’s most potent forwards

The forgotten gifts of Márcio Amoroso, once one of the world’s most potent forwards

It’s a tournament forgotten to time, sandwiched between France’s epic glories in 1998 and 2000, and just three years before Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, but the 1999 Copa América was a splendid affair, at least if you’re Brazilian. In a rare moment of stars aligning, a squad boasting the spectacular talents of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos, Cafu and a host of others would bring the trophy back home for a second successive time. It would also act as the dress rehearsal – at least for their front three – for an even bigger triumph in the Far East.

The tournament threw up few surprises. A look at the top goalscorers’ list sees Ronaldo and Rivaldo share top spot with five. Further down, Iván Zamorano, Martín Palermo and an 18-year-old Roque Santa Cruz bagged three. Sandwiched between these two piles was Italy’s Capocannoniere, one of the world’s most feared strikers, and a man about to move to Parma for £25m. That man was Márcio Amoroso, and while his name perhaps looks out of place amongst that litany of renowned stars today, at the time, few were better.

For a young Amoroso growing up on the streets of Brasília, that was still some way off. It would take a youth spent showcasing his talents in futsal tournaments in his hometown and São Paulo to get the break he deserved. Fiery, ambitious and supremely talented, Guarani FC, in the midst of their most successful period, offered Amoroso the chance to join their academy aged 14 in 1988.

Four years spent refining his approach to the game would receive scant reward as the club shipped him off for a two-year spell in the Japan Soccer League – the precursor of the soon-to-arrive J League – paving a path that many others would later take. While few records exist of his time in Japan, journalist Masa Kenichi reported on the shifting tides of the domestic game at the time: “We had many good players arriving. At first he was too aggressive, too strong, but he calmed down. He was very quick, skilful, but it took time to notice. But he stayed for two years and scored goals. He was liked.”

Amoroso would lift the title twice with Verdy Kawasaki – now named Tokyo Verdy – as well as the Emperor’s Cup. It convinced Guarani that he was ready for a shot at the Brasileiro.

He bagged 28 goals in 39 games upon his return, securing a move to giants Flamengo, which preceded an inevitable switch to Udinese. Arriving a year after Oliver Bierhoff, he joined a squad that boasted Thomas Helveg, Luigi Turci and the sublime gifts of Tomas Locatelli. Under the auspices of Alberto Zaccheroni, a manager on the way to announcing himself as one of calcio’s most sought-after, Amoroso would score 12 goals, finishing one behind Paolo Poggi and Bierhoff, as Udinese finished fifth.

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His endeavour, pace and intelligent movement, both behind the defence and in front of it, quickly made Amoroso a target, alongside some of his teammates, for the vultures. But they resisted the urge to move, joining Zaccheroni in staying at the Friuli for a shot at Scudetto glory.

They’d come close. Buoyed by the arrival of Martin Jørgensen, the Zebrette would finish third, 10 points behind champions Juventus. While Bierhoff would finish as the Capocannoniere with a staggering 27 goals, Amoroso would be restricted by injury and a subsequent loss of form. For the Brazilian, though still down the line, it would be a sign of things to come.

For now, he was a red-hot commodity. While Bierhoff, Helveg and Zaccheroni shifted off to AC Milan, Amoroso stayed, becoming the figurehead for the team in attack – and he wouldn’t disappoint. The top scorer award stayed in Udine as Amoroso registered 22 goals in a team that knew how to attack but struggled in defence. Dropping to sixth, they’d score 52 in 34 games, conceding just as many.

It was clear that Udinese wasn’t the place to be if the Brazilian was to fulfil his undoubted potential. Rumours of moves to all the big teams in Italy, as well as Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Manchester United, had been around for a year now. For Amoroso, he needed to join a club that could compete for honours.

It was a surprise, then, that he chose Parma after his defining Copa América heroics, despite their impressive rise through the 1990s, though he’d bagged a memorable goal the season before against them to surely put him in the spotlight. Under the obsessive, rigid reign of Alberto Malesani, Parma would rely heavily on Hernán Crespo to elevate them to fifth that season, with the Argentine scoring 22 in Serie A, 16 more than the next best, Marco Di Vaio. Amoroso trailed with four, unable to break into the line-up consistently, facing stiff competition from the aforementioned duo, Ariel Ortega, and Mario Stanić.

What he needed now more than ever was a persistence in training, a way of shifting the sands to convince Malesani that he was the man to lead the attack. Buoyed by the departure of Crespo to Lazio, Amoroso became a regular in the team alongside Di Vaio as Parma finished fourth in 2000/01, the Brazilian showcasing his dribbling skills and finishing on the way to 14 goals. Despite injuries plaguing parts of his season, Parma would still make the Coppa Italia final, losing 1-0 to Fiorentina as Amoroso played the final 30 minutes.

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Amidst a changing of the guard at the Ennio Tardini, with Gianluigi Buffon and Lilian Thuram leaving for Juventus, Amoroso sought a new challenge, sure that taking the number nine spot from Di Vaio was impossible under the old-school Renzo Ulivieri, who’d replaced Malesani by this point.

With his reputation still intact, a £20m move to Borussia Dortmund – a Bundesliga record at the time – saw the Amoroso shift to Germany for three years aged 27 and surely approaching the peak of his powers. While injuries were persistently hampering his ability to win a consistent run in the team at Parma, and his lack of tactical discipline a turn-off for Malesani and Ulivieri, a move to the Westfalenstadion offered a chance to turn the page on a tricky two years. Indeed, the Capocannoniere of 1999, the man Ronaldo called “an animal” and “great to play with” was as hungry as ever.

While he wouldn’t reach the zenith of 1999 again, his time at BVB dovetailed with the presence of a few other iconic Brazilians, namely Dedé, Ewerthon and Evanílson, three players who rank highly on the list of great club imports. Indeed, left-back Dedé would make almost 400 appearances for Dortmund.

Amoroso’s time in front of the Yellow Wall wouldn’t last as long, but it was littered with moments of sheer brilliance. In three seasons he’d score 28 goals in 59 Bundesliga appearances, a healthy record by any measure. Injuries would restrict his impact, as would competition at the club, with Ewerthon, Jan Koller and Heiko Herrlich all fighting for a starting berth. In retrospect, it was quite the attack.

For the former Parma man, it would mark the start of a slow demise. Eighteen goals made him the Bundesliga’s top scorer in his first campaign alongside Martin Max, but he’d score 10 less in 2003/03 as injuries and the form of Koller relegated him to the bench. His final campaign brought just four goals as Ewerthon confirmed his status as one of the league’s deadliest marksmen.

Despite his career and reputation waning, Amoroso would be fondly remembered by the BVB faithful, his pace, trickery and direct running deserving of more in the iconic yellow. What he left were memories of link-ups with Ewerthon and some stunning goals. His effort against AC Milan – after Dedé made a mockery of Milan’s status as the continent’s best team – ranks as high as any European goal in Dortmund history. Then there was his rabona, and his fizzing effort against Lokomotiv Moscow. It all ensures that he won’t be forgotten.

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Sadly for Amoroso, that would be as good as it got at Dortmund. With injuries restricting his time on the pitch, Koller and Ewerthon firmly ahead of him in the pecking order, and series of disagreements with the club, the Brazilian was allowed to leave, joining Málaga on a free. For a player who, just four years earlier, was valued at £25m, it marked an epic regression.

By now, his Brazil career was also over, memories of Copa América 1999 firmly fading into the background. While Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho would achieve the greatest glory in 2002, Amoroso would watch from his home in Brazil, ruefully cheering his compatriots as they conquered the world. Still, he can look back on his 19 caps and nine goals with pride, sure that in another era of Brazilian football – perhaps this one – he’d have achieved far more on the international stage. His talent certainly deserved it.

A solitary season at Málaga would yield just five goals as the club finished 10th in LaLiga. Disappointed with both his attitude and effort, the Spaniards opted against extending his deal as Amoroso headed home to São Paulo for a brief resurgence. At the Morumbi, he would lift the Copa Libertadores and Club World Championship, finishing the latter as the top scorer as he rediscovered both his love for the game and form. Injuries had decimated the best part of five years, and while he’d lost more than a yard of pace, his mind was as sharp as ever. Operating as a traditional striker, he’d elevate the Tricolor to just their third Libertadores triumph, and first in 12 years.

Such form caught the wandering eyes of Europe’s big guns again, with Milan opting to sign him as Christian Vieri’s replacement in 2005. A handful of appearances later and he was heading back to Brazil, his career at the top surely over. He’d scramble around over the next three years, unable to play regularly as his body rejected any and all attempts to shine again.

It marked the end of a career that had seen Amoroso win major honours in Japan, Italy, Germany and his native Brazil. Between those collective triumphs, however, were moments of sheer brilliance and audacity, at times offset by his injuries and prickly personality, but still very much in the minds of the fans that witnessed his brilliance.

Despite becoming something of a forgotten icon, for five years between 1998 and 2003, Amoroso could count himself as one of the game’s most gifted and potent forwards, his pace and movement matched only by his intelligence and technique. The goals were classy and aplenty, the skills were audacious and rare, and the runs was piercing and direct. In another era, we may have been talking about one of the greats, such was Márcio Amoroso’s talent.

By Omar Saleem @omar_saleem

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