Zé Roberto – in the minds of Bayern fans, that stands for Brazilian flair in the midfield, many assits, some titles and of course exotic hairstyles. In today’s article we look back on the Brazilian’s six seasons in the Munich and beyond.
On the way to becoming the Assist King of the Bundesliga
If you want to be internationally successful, you will have to leave your home country at some point and take your chances in Europe. Young Zé Roberto is also drawn to the old continent, albeit somewhat late. After all, he is 23 years old when the great Real Madrid signed him in 1996.
But like so many Brazilians, the later 84-time international fails in his first attempt in Europe. Madrid coach Capello prefers to rely on Guti, Redondo and Seedorf rather than the young man from Ipiranga. After less than a year, Zé Roberto breaks off his tents in the Spanish capital and returns home.
He will make a second attempt in the summer of 1998 and the step is a little smaller. Going to the third place in the Bundesliga – Bayer 04 Leverkusen. There he meets his countryman Emerson. In peaceful Leverkusen he plays with Nowotny instead of Hierro, Ramelow instead of Seedorf and Kirsten instead of Raul. A good step, as it turns out.
Zé Roberto is an undisputed constant at Bayer. When in 1999 Michael Ballack and 2000 Lucio joined the “Werkself”, the three of them formed a dangerous axis. Lucio the amchor in the back four, Ballack the man with all liberties in the midfield and Zé Roberto the left winger. Leverkusen qualifies for the Champions League in all four seasons.
The best days of his time at Bayer come in the 2001/02 season when the legendary “Vizekusen” team was born. The Brazilian assisted 17 goals and scored four himself in the league, where Bayer were runners up just like in the DFB Pokal. In the Champions League, the pharmaceutical team has almost achieved a major breakthrough. In the final Leverkusen was defeated by Zé Robertos former club Real Madrid. The Brazilian, of all people, was absent from the final receiving an unnecessary yellow card in the semi-final second leg against Manchester United.
An unfulfilled promise?
By this time at the latest, the Rekordmeister becomes aware of this left midfielder from Leverkusen. For the new season, Bayern will be hiring almost the entire midfield of last year’s runner-up and, in addition to Michael Ballack, also brought Zé Roberto to the Isar for 9.5 million euros. It was a promise that they had bought the class and brilliance of the “Vizekusen” team.
The Brazilian won his first titles in Munich. Directly in the debut season 2002/03 the double of championship and cup was won. Zé Roberto also played his part here with 12 assists. His assists were especially popular with fellow countryman Giovanne Elber.
Internationally, however, the great leap was not meant to happen. In the 2002/03 season they were eliminated in the group stage against Deportivo La Coruna, AC Milan and the RC Lens.
Zé Roberto’s performances also varied during this period. If he had room on his left side he could run up to top form. The Brazilian got this space first and foremost when he was facing weaker teams that were already trailing. Strong games such as his great performance at the 4-1 victory in Bochum on the 8th matchday, when he played half of the Bochum team dizzy, were created in this way. Nevertheless, against the big opponents the left wing also showed colorless appearances repeatedly. One of the main reasons was certainly his weak right foot. As a left foot on the left wing he was too easy to isolate. Thus, he often only had the possibility to go.
Against the big opponents the left wing also showed colorless appearances over and over again.
One of the main reasons is certainly his weak right foot. As a left foot on the left wing he was too easy to isolate. Thus, he often only had the possibility to go up and down the sideline. Zé Roberto also did pull inwards, as Robben and Ribery later perfected as inverted wingers. Due to his weak right food, however, he lost the danger of scoring, which is why he tended to let himself be led away from the goal. Imagine a Robben on the outside left that pulls inwards and now has the ball on his right foot.
The Brazilian had his strengths in the combination game. If the other players were not reachable because he was on his own on the wing, his performance suffered considerably. A good example of this was the quarter-final defeat against Chelsea in the 2004/05 season, when Zé Roberto was completely isolated and ran out of bounds with the ball several times.
Farewell and the discovery of a new role
The Bayern management was probably also not completely satisfied with the ex-Leverkusener and so it was only in the cabin after the cup final in 2005 that an agreement was reached to extend the contract by one year. After this one season it was really the end of Samba at Säbener Straße and Zé Roberto said goodbye on his way to Uruguay. From there it was loaned to Santos, where he was mainly used as a number ten. There the Brazilian rediscovered his goalscoring potential.
Only a few weeks later, however, the family man Zé Roberto showed his best performance in another position at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Brazilian coach Parreira put the former Bundesliga player in the central defensive midfield as the engine of the aging Copacabana star ensemble.
Zé Roberto played this role in front of the defence so convincingly that he can be regarded as the best Brazilian in the world championship. He was justifiably elected to the All-Star Team of the tournament.
Ze Roberto. @StatistikFan pic.twitter.com/y6WnL2k14l
— Goalimpact (@Goalimpact) March 25, 2017
In the centre, the four-time German champion was able to exploit all his strengths. His dribbling strength came into effect, as he was no longer limited by the sideline and thus could make better use of the space around him. He was also able to bring his running strength and endurance to this role. However, Zé Roberto was particularly surprising with his duel strength. His combination game was beyond all doubt anyway.
His interpretation of the six-man was unique in Europe as a dynamic and powerful box-to-box player who combined defensive power in a duel with the technical skills of a number ten. Zé Roberto knew how to combine the playful brilliance of a Thiago with the dynamics of a Khedira. In this role he has never had to hide from any midfielder in Europe.
Back after only one year
In the absence of Zé Roberto, the Bayern experienced a very weak 2006/07 season in which they even missed out on qualifying for the Champions League. For the next season, they wanted to attack again and therefore went deep into their pockets. In addition to Ribery, Toni and Klose, Zé Roberto was also brought back to the Isar on loan.
The 2007/08 season was probably Zé Roberto’s strongest season. In the central midfield he was the perfect complement to Mark van Bommel. The Dutchman was the organizing hand in defence. Zé Roberto compensated his frequent static play with his dynamic. He ran into defensive gaps, fought for balls and opened up spaces with his dribbling and running strength. The four-time cup winner was able to demonstrate all his strengths from the World Cup.
In addition, he also discovered his goalscoring ability and scored five goals. As many as in his four previous years for Bayern together. In the top games against Werder Bremen and Hamburg, he scored the important 1-1.
After two years, however, it was once again over when the now 35-year-old was thought to be close to the end of his career and was offered a one-year contract. The Brazilian then moved on to Hamburger SV, where he played an outstanding first half of the season. In a total of two more years at HSV, Zé Roberto was still involved in a total of 28 goals in 72 games.
Particularly noteworthy is the mentality of Zé Roberto. Contrary to most South Americans, the 1998 runner-up never flirted with a transfer. No comments were heard from him about the cold winter in Germany. On the contrary, he always emphasized that he felt comfortable with his family and wanted to stay at Bayern.
His work ethic and unconditional willingness to work on himself and his body are not only evident when looking at his six-pack, which he maintained until the end of his career. Without his dedication, his long career would hardly have been possible. Even the Bayern-Officials must have underestimated this attitude of the model professional at that time.
At the end of the day, all that remains for Bayern fans is to say thank you to our number 11 or later 15, but the most regrettable thing is that neither Magath nor Hitzfeld recognized in their early days how good the learnt left-winger would be in the central midfield. Especially in combination with Michael Ballack, an outstanding midfield centre could have been formed here.
This article was written in close cooperation with Tobias Günther.
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