Julinho: Brazil’s Wing Wizard Who Was Better Than Garrincha

Ask any adult football fan over the age of 30 to name a Brazilian winger and ninety-nine times out of a hundred the answer will be Garrincha. With his ridiculously extravagant ball skills and the tragi-outlandish life he led off the pitch, Garrincha was an individual who commanded perpetual attention, even after his retirement and early death. His soap opera existence had the effect of casting the careers of more discrete contemporaries into the shade.

One of those contemporaries was a player named Júlio Botelho, more commonly known as Julinho: a right winger like Garrincha whose career dovetailed with his more celebrated compatriot. Julinho may have lacked the tragic childhood backstory of Garrincha and he certainly lacked the World Cup winners medals, but by any metric you might care to choose he was a winger with a considerably broader game and a longer and more consistently successful club career.

One of a family of six children with plenty of European heritage thanks to a Portuguese father and Italian grandfather, Julinho started his youth career with local São Paulo based Clube Atlético Juventus. With his pace, power and ability to torment opposing defenders with his direct dribbling evident from an early age, he soon attracted the attention of bigger clubs near and far. Italian giants Internazionale tried to sign the 21-year-old in 1950 but were rebuffed because of his unwillingness to uproot his family following the recent birth of his first son.

A move to Portuguesa followed instead for the expensive fee of £25,000 and that investment looked a wise one as he played a starring role in his new club’s success in the 1952 Rio – São Paulo tournament. Julinho stayed there until 1955 with the exception of a season on loan in Rio with Fluminense and when Italy came calling again he wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity a second time.

This time it was Fiorentina who were keen to bring him to Serie A and he duly signed up with the Tuscan club in the summer of 1955. His impact was huge and in his debut season his wing skills and 12 goals dismantled most of the Serie A defences he faced. Along with the Argentinian forward Miguel Montuori, Julinho was the creative heartbeat of a team that won its first-ever Serie A title with a dozen points to spare.

The following season Fiorentina finished as runners-up in both Serie A and the European Cup and another second-placed finish arrived in 1958, Julinho’s third and final season in Italian football. Fiorentina were desperate to extend his contract and Italy wanted to call him up to play for the azzurri, but the winger was homesick and wanted to play again in his native São Paulo.

1958 was also a watershed year for his international career. He had made his Brazil debut in 1952 in a 2-0 win over Mexico in the Pan-American Championships and had been one of his nation’s few successes at the 1954 World Cup, particularly through the marvelous goal he scored against Hungary during Brazil’s Quarter-Final defeat. Four years later he showed considerable magnanimity by refusing a call-up and suggesting that a domestic-based player better deserved the opportunity. Garrincha was thus handed an unexpected opening and returned from Sweden as a world champion.

Julinho returned to his homeland to join Palmeiras and would star for the São Paulo giants through until 1967 when injuries finally got the better of him. He was instrumental in the national and two state titles Palmeiras won during these years. Good fortune was not on his side again when he was called up for Brazil’s 1962 World Cup squad only to suffer a knee injury just days before departing for the tournament. Once again Garrincha played on the right wing and once again Brazil returned as World Champions. Julinho did continue to play intermittently for his country through until 1965, though his paltry total of 24 caps did little credit to his actual value.

This was a player whose career was played out at a time when there was a glut of genuine world-class right wingers like Raymond Kopa, Kurt Hamrin, Helmut Rahn and Stanley Mathews. Looking back at these players through the prism of the modern game suggests that the one who would likely prosper best in contemporary football would be Julinho.

Unlike most of his brilliant contemporaries, Julinho was an all-rounder who had considerable power and the pace as well as exemplary footwork. The modern game is so much faster and more dynamic that luminaries such as Garrincha would struggle to make a name for themselves now. His incredible feints and ball-mastery would still dazzle, but the lack of directness and a preference for taking plenty of touches when in possession would be seen by modern coaches as traits that actually hindered attacking play by slowing it down. Julinho was however the closest thing the game in the 1950s and 60s had to Cristiano Ronaldo – that most modern and effective of 21st century wide men.