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Born: Friday 22 August 1930, Santos, Brazil
In a country which is more renowned for producing exciting attacking players, Gilmar's name stands out above all others when it comes to a discussion of the greatest Brazilian goalkeepers of all time. A star of the national squad that won back-to-back World Cups in 1958 and 1962, he also starred for the legendary Santos team which dominated Brazilian football throughout the 1960s and is considered one of the finest club sides in the history of the game.
Born Gylmar dos Santos Neves on 22 August 1930, he was always known by his first name albeit with a slightly different spelling. He grew up in the Santos area of São Paulo and began his football career with local team Jabaquara at the age of 15. Spending five years with the often struggling club and beginning to consider alternative careers, he found himself transferred to Corinthians ahead of the 1951 season although he was really only a makeweight in a deal to sign team-mate Ciciá.
Having got his chance with a bigger club, Gilmar did not get off to the best of starts. Part way through his first season, with Corinthians on the way to the São Paulo state championship, he was in goal for a 7-3 defeat at the hands of Portuguesa. Corinthians' coach blamed Gilmar for the loss and he fell out of favour. After the best part of a year in the reserves he eventually returned to the side in 1952, helping Corinthians to retain the state title.
His performances during that title success earned Gilmar a reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in Brazil, known for his fast reflexes and positional sense as well as his ability not to allow himself to lose confidence if he did concede a goal. Early in 1953 he received his first call-up to the national team for the South American Championship in Peru, where he made his debut as a substitute in an 8-1 thrashing of Bolivia.
Although it took him a couple of years to become first choice for Brazil, Gilmar was fully established as number one at Corinthians, helping the team win back-to-back Rio-São Paulo Tournaments in 1953 and 1954 and another state championship in 1954. It was at the South American Championship in 1956 where he finally became an international regular, appearing in all five of Brazil's games in what proved to be an ultimately disappointing tournament.
With Gilmar giving them a more solid defensive foundation that they had often had in the past, Brazil's team grew ever stronger. Again he was ever present as they fell just short of winning the South American Championship in 1957, missing out only after losing their final game to Argentina. They travelled to the following year's World Cup in Sweden in good shape as they looked to claim the title for the first time.
Gilmar unusually wore the number three shirt in the finals, but was the undoubted number one for Brazil. He was unbeatable in the group stage as Brazil qualified for the quarter-finals without conceding a goal, then kept a fourth clean sheet in a row in the 1-0 win over Wales. Although he was beaten twice in both the semi-final and the final, Brazil's stunning array of attacking talent was more than capable of overcoming those goals. They won both matches 5-2 against France and Sweden to claim their first World Cup success.
Despite that success, the late 1950s were something of a frustrating time for Gilmar as Corinthians lost their dominant position in the São Paulo state league, regularly finishing second or third as Santos became the leading force. There was also another agonising near miss at the hands of Argentina in the South American Championship, a final game draw between the sides handing the title to Argentina by a point.
In 1961, Gilmar fell out with the management at Corinthians when they accused him of faking an injury. He was determined to leave the club, but his hopes of a move were damaged by the price tag which Corinthians placed on him. Eventually he had to decide between going to his home town team Santos and Uruguayan side Peñarol, who offered a higher fee and a big signing bonus. Gilmar did not want Corinthians to earn any more money from the deal than was necessary, so passed up the signing bonus and moved to Santos after the 1961 season.
His first year at Santos proved to be the most incredible of Gilmar's career. Before the season had even begun, he travelled to Chile with the national team to defend the World Cup and came away with another winners' medal, keeping two more clean sheets and conceding just five goals in six games. Next, he played a starring role as Santos won the Copa Libertadores for the first time, keeping at bay the team who he had turned down the chance to join as his side beat Peñarol 3-0 in a final play-off.
In October 1962, Santos added the Intercontinental Cup with a stunning 8-4 aggregate win over European champions Benfica. At the end of the year, they easily retained the São Paulo state title, an achievement was even more satisfying for Gilmar as they beat Corinthians into second place. Those triumphs marked the start of an incredible run of trophies for Gilmar, as Santos retained the Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup in 1963, as well as adding success in the Rio- São Paulo Tournament and the 'Taça Brasil' cup competition for good measure.
Santos' success continued unabated for the remainder of Gilmar's career. By the time of the 1966 World Cup, they had won four cups finals in a row and added two more state titles and another Rio- São Paulo Tournament. The World Cup itself was however to prove disappointing. After opening with a 2-0 win over Bulgaria, Brazil's hopes of an unprecedented third title in a row were seriously damaged by a 3-1 defeat against Hungary.
Following the loss, Gilmar was dropped for their final group game against Portugal but the team fared no better without him. Santos team-mate Pelé was largely kicked out of the game and after another 3-1 loss, Brazil went out. Gilmar appeared in just two more internationals after that tournament, leaving him with a total of 94 offical caps. The exit was damaging to the careers of many of the team, but less so for Gilmar whose place in this history of Brazilian football was already secure.
He played on at club level for another two seasons, each of which brought the São Paulo state title to Santos, giving Gilmar a total of eight state championships across his time at Corinthians and Santos. Having reached his late 30s, he was no longer an automatic first choice and played less regularly. He retired during the 1969 season, a final international appearance in a 2-1 win over England bringing to an end an 18 year career which included more than 750 league games.
In his retirement, Gilmar worked as a supervisor to the Brazilian national team and also ran a car dealership in São Paulo. In June 2000, shortly before his 70th birthday, he suffered a serious stroke which left him largely paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. He still lives in São Paulo, with his wife of more than fifty years.
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- Published on Wednesday, 10 October 2012 20:15