- Preguinho scored Brazil’s first World Cup goals 90 years ago today
- Football was one of ten sports in which he won trophies
- He refused to get paid for playing a sport he loved
Coelho Netto, a high-profile author, playwright, politician and poet, yearned for one of his 14 kids to become a sportsperson. He decided it would be number 12, and saw swimming as Joao’s calmest waterway into the sporting ocean.
So, when his son turned five, Coelho grabbed him by the arms and threw him into a pool. “I expected him to swim, but he sunk like a nail,” the inventor of Rio de Janeiro’s cherished nickname, A Cidade Maravilhosa (The Wonderful City), would recall. From that moment on, Joao was known as ‘Prego’, for Portuguese word for nail, and consequently its diminutive, ‘Preguinho’ (Little Nail).
Surprisingly, that incident didn’t put the tough-as-nails child off water. Mano, his elder brother, whom Coelho had earmarked for a career in literature, used to swim in Rio’s seas at every opportunity. Joao initially went to watch Mano but, fearful the sibling he idolised would consider him weak, began to front crawl and realised he was rapid.
At just 18, Preguinho became Rio de Janeiro’s 600-metre swimming champion. Two years later, on 19 April 1925, he won the title for the third year in a row.
This time, though, Preguinho didn’t wait to collect his medal. He didn’t even have time to dry himself off and put on a pair of underpants, instead hurriedly pulling a pair of shorts over his soaked trunks and rushing across Rio to make his football debut for Fluminense.
Preguinho’s undertaking to face Sao Cristovao was understandable. Mano had not become an essayist or a swimmer, but a footballer. Three years earlier, the Brazil international’s abdomen had become infected during a game for Fluminense against Sao Cristovao and he had died, aged 24, because of it.
“The legend is, some say, that he got from Botafogo beach to the Laranjeiras by taxi,” Argeu Affonso, a journalist and Preguinho’s best friend for 40 years, told Globo’s Esporte Espetacular program. “Others say he got there by bicycle. And others say – the more fanatical ones – that he got there running.”
What is sure is that Preguinho helped Flu win the Torneio Inicio and another six trophies over a one-club, 14-year football career. Preguinho’s marriage to Fluminense has begun way before he began wearing their Tricolor shirt. Founded by Oscar Cox and other members of Rio’s elite circles in 1902, Coelho Netto, whose family home was just in front of the club’s headquarters, became an instant fan. When his wife Maria became pregnant with Preguinho in 1904, Coelho registered his unborn son as a member of the club.
“I loved Fluminense for as long as I can remember,” Preguinho later said. “I couldn’t speak properly and Fluminense was in my soul, my heart and my body.”
Not convinced? When Fluminense turned professional in 1933, one of their players refused to be paid for the “privilege” of wearing their colours. “I play for the love of this club, not for money,” stated Preguinho.
And play his something he did exceptionally. Preguinho averaged around a goal for Flu, twice finishing as leading marksman in the Campeonato Carioca, despite not only playing up front, but also in central midfield, on the left-wing and in behind the striker.
His versatility extended beyond football pitches. Preguinho unbelievably won 387 medals for the club in ten sports, football and swimming among basketball – he remains second on their list of all-time leading point scorers – diving, roller hockey, rowing, table tennis, track and field, volleyball and water polo.
Yet Preguinho is best remembered for something he accomplished not in the red, white and green of Fluminense, but in the then-white of Brazil. A Seleção’s preparations for the maiden FIFA World Cup™ in 1930 were marred by a dispute between the Rio and Sao Paulo federations. The latter duly prohibited its players from participating at Uruguay 1930. It meant the likes of Del Debbio, Feitico and the great Friedenreich missed out.
It left Preguinho as the star and skipper of a squad also comprising Fausto, Moderato and Carvalho Leite. In their curtain-raiser against Yugoslavia, 90 years ago today, they walked out carrying a Uruguayan flag to gain the support of the 24,000 in attendance, but found themselves 2-0 down after 30 minutes.
Brazil would ultimately lose 2-1, but, just after the hour, Preguinho secured his place in history. After fine work from Fausto, he netted their first World Cup goal.
Six days later a Preguinho double inspired a 4-0 thrashing of Bolivia, but the damage had been done and Yugoslavia earned Group 3’s solitary ticket to the semi-finals, where they lost 6-1 to Uruguay.
“I have written over 100 books, but I’m still known on the street as Preguinho’s father,” said Coelho Netto.
The story of Brazil’s first World Cup goal will leave Preguinho in the history books infinitely.