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Sayonara Sampaio, a great servant of the J.League

1 Jul 2004(Thu)

The Sanfrecce Hiroshima fans were going crazy, waving Brazilian flags and singing "Sampaio, Sampaio."

And this was only in the car park, long after the match at Jubilo Iwata had finished on Saturday afternoon.

The man himself, Cesar Sampaio, waved humbly to the fans one last time, climbed into the waiting taxi and was driven off into the sunset.

The J.League had lost one of its best servants.

Sampaio, now 36, had just played his 156th J1 game, and his last.

Age had caught up with the midfield master, and he no longer had the pace or the stamina to keep up with the high-speed J.League.

"The first half was okay," Sampaio said after the game.

"But in the second half I was running and running but I could not touch the ball."

That was a typically honest admission from an honest man and football player.

Throughout his career in Japan, first with Yokohama Flugels, then Kashiwa Reysol and finally Sanfrecce, I have found Sampaio a true gentleman to deal with.

I first met him in Thailand in 1995, when Flugels were playing the Thai Farmers Bank in an Asian Football Confederation event.

He had just arrived at the club, along with 1994 World Cup-winning midfielder Zinho, plus the tall centre forward Evair. Flugels had paid some US$ 10 million to sign the trio....no wonder the club went bust a few years later!

Sampaio was the classic defensive midfield player. He conserved his energy, used his brain, broke up opposition attacks with a well-timed tackle, and then launched a counter-attack with a short, clever pass.

There was nothing fancy or spectacular about his game. He just did the basics, and did them very well. He made the game look easy.

The Sanfrecce fans thanked him for last season's efforts in winning promotion. They had a huge banner at Yamaha Stadium reading "Obrigado" (Portuguese for thank you) and several waved the green and canary yellow Brazilian flags. After the game, Sampaio was overcome with emotion at the generosity of the Sanfrecce fans.

Sanfrecce manager Takeshi Ono says Japanese youngsters can learn from Sampaio on and off the pitch, during a game, during training and from his disciplined lifestyle. He was the perfect professional, according to Ono.

"His contribution is beyond description," he said.

Sampaio has been a great success in Japan, not only for his teams but also for his Brazilian nation.



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