Gilmar, Pelé’s Last Line of Defense, Dies at 83
By JACK BELL
Published: September 1, 2013
Gilmar dos Santos Neves, a goalkeeper for Brazil’s national soccer team when it won its first World Cup title in 1958 and when it successfully defended the title in 1962, died on Aug. 22 in São Paulo. He was 83.
Keystone/Hulton Archive, via Getty Images
The cause was a heart attack, his son Marcelo told a Web site in São Paulo. He had a stroke in 2000 that left him partly paralyzed.
Like many Brazilian soccer players, Gilmar was known by one name, a combination of the names of his parents, Gilberto and María, according to Alex Bellos, the author of “Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life.”
Gilmar’s career was inextricably tied to that of Brazil’s — and perhaps the game’s — greatest player: Pelé. After beginning his professional career at 15 with his hometown club, Jabaquara, Gilmar moved to São Paulo to join Corinthians in 1951. On Sept. 7, 1956, the 16-year-old Pelé made his debut for the renowned Santos club and scored his first goal as a pro in a 7-1 thrashing of Gilmar’s Corinthians.
Gilmar joined Pelé at Santos in 1961. With Pelé, Gilmar and other stars, the club won numerous state and national titles, two Copa Libertadores championships (the South American club title) and two Intercontinental Cups (the world club championship), each in 1962 and 1963.
“Even though I was a champion many times over with Corinthians, I had my biggest successes at Santos,” the FIFA Web site quoted Gilmar as once saying. “We were a family with no egos in the way.”
With keen reflexes and an unshakable calm, Gilmar first played for Brazil in 1953, at age 23. He missed out on the 1954 World Cup but was in goal during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. In the tournament, Gilmar allowed only four goals in six games, including shutouts in the first four games, as Brazil won its first World Cup. In the 1958 final against Sweden, Pelé scored the decisive goal in a 5-2 victory, then broke down in tears in Gilmar’s arms, a scene made famous in photographs.
Four years later, Gilmar was again in goal as Brazil became the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups since Italy did it in 1934 and 1938. Gilmar traveled with the team to England for the 1966 tournament and started Brazil’s first two games before being replaced by Manga in the final first-round game, a 3-1 loss to Portugal, which eliminated Brazil, the two-time defending champions.
In all, he played 104 times for Brazil, allowed 95 goals and was in goal for only 16 losses.
Gilmar was born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Santos, a coastal city south of São Paulo. He retired from the national team after the 1966 World Cup and left the game in 1969. He was recalled to the national team for a final game against England, the world champion, at the cavernous Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro in 1969. Brazil won, 2-1.
In retirement, Gilmar owned a car dealership and became supervisor of the national team in 1983, a post he held for one year.
Survivors include his wife, Rachel Izhar, and two sons, Marcelo and Roger.
Gilmar saw goalkeeping as the game’s most pivotal and in some ways loneliest role.
“The goalkeeper is the team’s solo star, an artist all on his own,” Gilmar told FIFA.com. “He dances to a different tune. He has to jump and then stand around doing nothing, things that no one else has to do. He has more responsibility than the forwards, because it’s there that the game is won and lost. And at the end of the day everyone’s always got a shoulder to cry on, everyone, that is, except the goalkeeper.”