Rogerio Ceni is among the top scorers in São Paulo’s history, having scored 131 goals for them. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Ramthum
Rogerio Ceni is among the top scorers in São Paulo’s history, having scored 131 goals for them. Source: Wikimedia Commons / Ramthum

When goalkeepers score: The Brazilian world champion with 131 goals

Football OlyBet 05.06.2024

Scoring goals is a real art in football, which of course is best done by strikers. Although, some midfielders and defenders are undeniably good at it too – we have already introduced you to the latter on Olybet.TV. 

However, it can happen sometimes that the goalkeeper’s name also appears on the scoreboard, and it is not connected with an own goal. We’ll now introduce you to these extraordinary goalies as part of another ten-part series. 

1st place – Rogério Ceni (131 goals)

Rogério Ceni was a special footballer in many ways. At a time when money is increasingly dictating what happens in the football world, the Brazilian was an example of something money can’t buy. He was loyal! As faithful as Ryan Giggs, Francesco Totti or Jamie Carragher, who similarly wore only one club’s shirt during their careers.

For Ceni, the source of loyalty was São Paulo, in whose ranks he started in 1990 and finished a quarter of a century later. In total, he represented the club in 1,238 matches during this time, surpassing even Pelé.

However, what makes Ceni’s story even rarer is of course the fact that during his 1238 matches, the goalkeeper also scored 131 goals: 61 from free kicks, 69 from penalties and one from open play. But in reality, Ceni’s amazing journey could have ended long before it began…

Between the posts because of dad

When Ceni’s mother became pregnant, the doctors told her that it was a very high-risk pregnancy and that it would be safer to have an abortion. After discussing it with her husband, they decided to still go forth with having the child, and so on January 22, 1973, little Rogério was born in the state of Parana, located in southern Brazil.

While still of kindergarten age – emphasis on age because there weren’t many kindergartens in poor Brazil at that time – the family moved to the town of Sinop in the state of Mato Grosso, and there Ceni learned the basics of football. However, the first teacher was not the coach, but his father Eurides, who had been a goalkeeper himself in his youth.

It was there that little Rogério got the goalie bug, but in the youth classes he also sometimes acted as a wing defender. In the end, however, his father’s will prevailed, and Ceni stepped permanently between the posts in Sinop FC’s junior training.

In 1989, when Rogério was 16, Sinop’s coach asked Papa Ceni if his son could become the third goalkeeper of the representative team. His father categorically rejected this offer. “He was working in a bank at the time, but the championship lasted four months. They wanted him to leave the job there, but I couldn’t accept that, because when the four months are up, what is he going to do?’

It was indeed a practical decision because, to tell the truth, Brazil is full of such soccer rookies who left their other lives to give it a try, but failed, after which they found themselves in a rented house somewhere without an education or a job.

An opportunity given by fate

But fate had other plans for Ceni. In 1990, the Brazilian bank underwent restructuring, which resulted in the dismissal of the teenage Rogério. And when Sinop’s head coach came back to negotiate again considering this news, the head of the family had no choice but to agree to the offer.

In Sinop, Ceni spent the first half of the season nailed to the bench – he was not even part of the squad on match days. But when the team’s first goalkeeper Marilia was injured, Ceni was promoted to the bench. And in the very first match, when he was a substitute, the goalkeeper who was promoted to the starting line-up was also injured.

So suddenly all eyes were on the 17-year-old Ceni, who had to put on his gloves halfway through the game. The young goalkeeper stepped onto the pitch and gave a wonderful performance, and that three-quarter hour was enough to rise from Sinop’s bench to be their primary goalkeeper.

If this sounds like a fairy tale… in his first game with the starting lineup, Ceni also saved a penalty in the last minutes, thus helping Sinop to victory. And a dozen or so rounds later, together, the Mato Grosso state championship title was hefted above their heads.

Years of waiting in São Paulo

But then came the time that Papa Ceni had been dreading. The championship was over and with it, Ceni’s contract. Of course, Sinop was interested in his continuation, but in eight months, when the new season started. But in the meantime, a livelihood was necessary still…

Papa Ceni managed to get in touch with São Paulo through Sinop leaders. The goalkeeper spent only a few days there before o Tricolor offered him a contract. In other words, at the end of 1990, Ceni became a player of the São Paulo club.

Ceni spent the first four years there as if in a boarding school: he could not afford the living expenses, so he stayed in the club’s stadium. “I was incredibly happy there,” he commented on the spartan conditions.

“I woke up at five in the morning to get a ride from the cleaning crew and drive to the training ground. I arrived at six o’clock, after which I sat on the couch and waited until 8:30. Then the training started. At one point, however, [head coach] Telê Santanta suggested that I start doing extra training, which is why I started training by myself as early as eight o’clock.”

A tragic car accident

In hindsight, Ceni has realized that this extra work was beneficial to him, but at the time it didn’t seem like it. He was still far from the representative team of São Paulo then because even in the U20 he was a solid second number behind his rival Alexandre, who was a year younger. But in 1992, everything changed.

Namely, Alexandre died in a car accident. The tragic event opened the door for the main hero of our story in the U20 team, but Ceni himself has later admitted that Alexandre was a more talented goalkeeper than him, and if this accident had not happened, his career could have turned out completely differently.

At the end of the same season, Ceni also became the third goalkeeper of São Paulo’s representative team and managed to travel with them and see how the club was crowned South American champion and beat FC Barcelona and AC Milan in the Intercontinental Cup.

But then things started to go downhill at the club. Between 1994-96, São Paulo fell to the middle of the Brazilian league, and the players there started to leave the team. Thus, in 1997, the door finally opened for Ceni: he was promoted to the team’s first goalkeeper, and he defended the club’s goal in 70 matches. The season as a whole continued to be unsuccessful, but it didn’t matter – Ceni had his foot in the door.

An initiator named Muricy Ramalho

Speaking of Ceni’s foot, in the same season he demonstrated to his buddies in training what he can do when shooting free kicks for fun.

When Muricy Ramalho became São Paulo’s head coach a year later, he was fascinated by the goalkeeper’s shooting skills and told Ceni to start further training that skill. Six months and about 15,000 practice times later, Ceni became São Paulo’s free-kick specialist.

And we know what happened then: Ceni scored a total of 131 goals in the following 18 seasons. His 60 free kicks can be enjoyed in the video below (one is missing).

In 2005, Ceni could have become the second goalkeeper in history to score a hat trick, alongside Jose Luis Chilavert. In the Copa Libertadores match against Tigres, he shot two free kicks into the opponents’ net, but the penalty earned in extra minutes unfortunately went into the crossbar.

The same year was the most productive of Ceni’s career when he rattled the net 21 times altogether in all series. With the help of his goals, São Paulo managed to win both the Paulista state championship, the Copa Libertadores (aka the South American Champions League) and the Club World Cup.

Ceni scored there as well when he shot a penalty against the Saudi Arabian club Al-Ittihad in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, in the final against Liverpool, the keeper did not get a chance, but he did keep the English team dry with his saves, earning the best of the game award.

The fact that Ceni was a damn good goalkeeper is also illustrated by the fact that you can find six best goalkeeper titles in the Brazilian league in his trophy cabinet. In 2008, he was also awarded the bola de Ouro, or the title of the best player in the entire league.

Mixed feelings regarding the national team

Given that he was so good, it seems strange that the goalkeeper represented Brazil only 16 times. However, his relations with the head coaches, which were not the warmest, played a role there. After all, Ceni was a man who valued loyalty above all else – why else did he spend 25 years in one club? But when the supervisors kept eating their words and didn’t give him opportunities, he decided to speak out.

During the 1997 Confederations Cup, for example, he publicly criticized head coach Mário Zagallo when the latter failed to punish players who shaved the hair of a couple of teammates as a joke. Understandably, this irritated the coach, and Ceni had no business in the team that went to the World Cup in 1998.

In 2002, Ceni was in the national team, but the then head coach Luis Felipe Scolari preferred Marcos. Considering that Brazil also became the world champion at the time, it is silly to criticize this decision. Ceni also echoed this in 2005. “Why do they need me, if they even won the World Cup without me? “This [low number of national team games] is not too big of a deal,” said the goalkeeper, who has the World Cup gold on his mantelpiece still.

In 2006, Ceni was again present at the World Cup, but this time as Dida’s backup. However, he was given a chance in the last group match against Japan when he was substituted in the 82nd minute with a 4-1 lead. To the fans’ disappointment, Brazil did not earn a penalty kick in the remaining time, so a goalkeeper is yet to have scored in the World Cup finals.

When goalkeepers score article series:

P.S. If you’re interested in our “When Defenders Score” series, you can check them out here:


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