Football fans across the world would definitely be astonished if they are told that a certain player named Arthur Friedenreich is the all time top goal scorer in history of the beautiful game.

Though Pele holds the glory according to Guinness World Records for his 1281 goals during his football career, it is generally believed that Friedenreich scored an undocumented total number of 1329 (Pele fans claim the number to be 1239) goals. The latter should also be remembered as probably the first ever footballer to break the white dominance in the earlier history of the game.

Poster of Brazil's Fried, player of 1919 Brazil National football team

Friedenreich was born in 1892 in Sau Paulo. His father was Oscar Friedenreich, a German business person, settled in Brazil; and his mother was Mathilde, an Afro-Brazilian washerwoman, the daughter of  freed slaves. Arthur was inspired by his father to play for Germania, a Brazilian football team, consisting of German immigrants. In 1909, at the age of 17, Friedenreich made his debut for that club. From 1910 onwards he made his entry to several top level clubs like Ypiranga, Paulistano, Sau Paulo, Atletico Mineiro and Flamengo.

Friedenreich was the first Black footballer to join professional football league in Brazil. Football was usually regarded in Brazil as the game of the white elites.  The game was introduced to Brazil in 1894 through the initiatives of two British visitors, Oscar Cox and Charles Miller. Teams used to take players from members of the Brazilian societal elite. The Bangu Athletic Club, established in 1904 by the British directors of a textile company, was the first club to allow working-class footballers. However the white upper class scorned the blacks and maximum football clubs barred the entry of the blacks.

Bangu Athletic Club 1904
Bangu Athletic Club 1904 (Source: Bangu.net)

After slavery was abolished in 1888 in Brazil, the slaves merged themselves  with the proletarian working class, created as a result of industrialization. Vasco was probably the first club to admit both black and working class people. But the plant managers wanted to exploit the game as a pap for the oppressed working class and as a result of this, the game slowly started to erase the boundaries of race.

However, Friedenreich, the exceptional talent of mulatto origin, didn’t have to wait long to get his due recognition. He was selected in Brazil’s national squad in 1914 and participated in Brazil national team’s first ever football match against Exeter City. He represented Brazil during 1914-1925 and won Copa America in 1919 and 1922. In 1919 edition, he scored the winning goal in the final and came out as the first Brazilian football superstar. Celebrations started in the streets of Rio. Friedenreich’s goal-scoring boot was put up on a flag pole and people carried a huge banner declaring “the glorious foot of Friedenreich’’. He also became the player of the tournament.

Friedenreich in 1919 Brazil Copa America Squad
Friedenreich in 1919 Brazil Copa America Squad – Top right (source: Wikimedia)

The 1921 edition of the continental tournament, held in Argentina, witnessed a dismal incident as Brazilian President didn’t allow the black players to represent their national football team. Argentina was predominantly a country of the whites and out of fear of shame, Brazil didn’t want to send any black player. Friedenreich too was left out of the squad. Brazil saw a huge uproar by the blacks. But in 1922 Copa America, he was selected again and Brazil came out victorious.

Friedenreich participated in 22 international matches for Brazil and scored 10 goals. He became the top scorer in  1912  in the Sao Paulo League with 16 goals. He finished as a top scorer again in 1914, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1921, 1927 and 1929. Such feat is unmatched in Brazilian football history. Known for his brilliant dribbling, pace and power , he earned several nicknames like ‘Fred o Destroider’ (Destroyer), ‘O Deus dos Estadios’(God of stadiums) and was described as ‘’the green eyed mulatto dancer’’. For his never say die approach, he was called ‘El Tigre’( ‘The tiger’ ) by the Argentinean and Uruguayan footballers.

This Brazilian legend was involved in transforming the football style that  they had inherited from the Europeans. Even he is often said to be the pioneer of ‘jogo bonito’ or ‘the beautiful game’, the term frequently  associated with Brazilian football. Coming out of the British long-ball tactics( and the WM formation) , they adopted a short-passing game, with a combination of speed and swift touches.

Arthur Friedenreich
Arthur Friedenreich (source: wikipedia)

Friedenreich’s fame had reached such height that his team Paulistano were invited to play friendlies across Latin America only to watch him play. In 1925, he toured Europe with his club  and and enchanted the spectators with his dazzling skill. Mainly due to his astounding performance the French media hailed Paulistano as ‘’The kings of football’’. In another opinion, Friedenreich himself  was called ‘’The king of football’’.  There he managed to score 11 goals from 8 matches. However in 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, he didn’t get a place in Brazilian national team as footballers only from Rio were picked up for the first ever global  tournament. Friedenreich retired from football in 1935 from Flamengo  after a prolonged 26 year football career.

It has not been possible for football historians to collect the proper documents of Friedenreich’s goal scoring record. Only his father Oscar and his teammate Andrade managed to make a collective data. But after Andrade’s death, all records disappeared mysteriously . Moreover, Friedenreich himself probably became a patient of Alzheimer’s and lost every faculty to remember even his own name before he died in 1969.

Friedenreich is considered as one of the earliest football legends regardless of the dispute over his number of goals. He gave Brazil the global exposure in football world and became the first player to break the white hegemony in football. Born in a class-ridden society, full of discrimination, he came to rule the world of the beautiful game. Football began earlier as industrialist’s spread but Friedenreich was instrumental in transforming football as the people’s game.

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