In his over two decade career, Rogério Ceni scored 131 goals in 1,256 matches for club and country. A goal once every 10 games or so would be a piss-poor return if Ceni was a striker, but he wasn’t. He was a goalkeeper.
The Brazilian Ceni—who retired Sunday—joined São Paulo in 1990 at the age of 17, and became the starting keeper in 1997. He held onto that job for 19 seasons, playing alongside legends like Cafu, Leonardo, and Kaka, and against every Brazilian player of note over the past 20 years. He holds virtually every soccer-related appearance record you can think of, from most games with a single club to most wins at a single club.
Most attention paid to Ceni is given to his goalscoring prowess, and deservedly so. At about the same time he became São Paulo’s starting keeper he was also anointed their free kick and penalty kick taker. In his peak, Ceni scored an absolutely mind-boggling 47 goals in the three seasons between 2005 and 2007, notching 21 in 2005. At final count it’s 69 goals from penalties and 62 from free kicks. You can watch the first 127 goals of his career here:
But as time passes on and only YouTube videos remain, what will be lost is how good Ceni was at doing the main goalkeeping task of, you know, preventing goals. After all, you don’t stay in goal for 20 years because you’re a pretty decent free kick taker. Ceni was good enough to make the Brazilian bench for two World Cups, including as they won it in 2002. He was also awarded the Golden Ball as São Paulo beat Liverpool 1-0 to win the 2005 Club World Cup, famously keeping out this Steve Gerrard free kick:
His saves highlight reel is pretty spectacular:
Rogério Ceni never really made sense. It was as if one of the best hitters in baseball was also a top closer. Sure, that happened a 100 years ago, but not in the 2000s at close to the top level of the game. For whatever reason, Latin America in the 1990s produced a bumper crop of keepers with a nose for goal. Besides Ceni there was Paraguay’s José Chilavert, the only keeper to ever score a hat trick in a game; Colombia’s René Higuita, most famous for his scorpion kick; and Mexico’s Jorge Campos, who would sometimes play as an honest-to-god striker and score gorgeous goals.
Ceni was the best of this hybrid breed, the one who stayed good enough long to amass a dozen records that are likely to never be broken.
Photo via Getty