Celtic’s 'Brazil international defender' lived up to his name, but not his reputation. Dan Brennan explains how the club blew around £9 million for ten appearances
In February, the Maracana was the scene of a humiliating defeat for fallen Brazilian giants Botafogo as they were felled by regional nobodies Americano in the semi-finals of the Rio de Janeiro state championship. Failing to marshal their back-line was a man who, if you’re a Celtic fan, would have prompted flickers of recognition and perhaps an involuntary shudder. Rafael, as they call him nowadays, is a bit older and sports a jazzy new blond hairstyle. But beneath the coiffure, he is still, by all accounts, Scheidt.
The John Barnes era at Celtic, brief as it was calamitous, spawned many disastrous signings, but if ever there was one that epitomised its awfulness it was the Brazilian “defender”. Scheidt arrived at Parkhead from Gremio in December 1999 for £4.8 million on a four-and-a-half-year deal, rumoured to be worth £20,000 a week. Barnes admitted, seemingly unembarrassed, that he had never seen him play live: he was signed based on a video of his finest moments (though bizarrely it later transpired that these had all been harvested from matches in which Gremio had suffered heavy defeats). But the tape had, apparently, also been tantalising enough to attract a gaggle of top Italian clubs, including AC Milan, who would never go for a defensive dud, surely? Celtic claimed a coup.
Yet even before Scheidt had played a game, the portents were not good. The day before his intended debut, appendicitis struck. Once he recovered, he collided with a colleague in training and was again crocked. In his first six months in Scotland he barely managed a total of 90 minutes, by which time Barnes had already been found out and given the boot.
Scheidt, though, had pedigree. He was, after all, a Brazil international. But his three caps had all come in meaningless friendlies. Suspicions were later roused by rumours that players were being handed caps in return for sweeteners from their clubs wanting to offload them to Europe.
The Parkhead image-makers insisted on ditching the family name and calling him “Rafael”, annoying his father. But the rebranding effort couldn’t disguise that there was nothing of the Renaissance Man about him. No timing, no speed and, according to reports emanating from training, precious little ball control.
When Martin O’Neill was tasked with bringing order to the mayhem left by Barnes and Kenny Dalglish, he gave the Brazilian a chance. But having seen him run ragged in a friendly with Irish side Bray Wanderers, it didn’t take the new boss long to get the measure of his man. Scheidt himself later told the Sunday Herald that O’Neill had hinted at his likely fate: “I like footballers who are not like you,” the Celtic boss had explained. “I like footballers who play well.”
Scheidt got the message and, after a total of ten games, packed his bags in December 2000, going on loan to Corinthians. Not, though, before leaving details of his Brazilian bank account. Briefly, when his loan spell came to an end in late 2002, there were panicked reports that he might resurface at Parkhead for the last 18 months of his contract. “I want this year to be known as the Scheidt year,” the player confirmed earnestly, in an interview with the Sunday Herald. “Those who doubt my ability are talking rubbish. If Celtic bought me, it was because they know I can play football at the level required. I have plenty of hunger and desire, all I ask for is a chance.”
Thankfully, the fact that he hadn’t played again for Brazil since those dubious friendlies meant he couldn’t get a work permit. The East End of Glasgow heaved a collective sigh of relief; he joined Atlético Mineiro instead. Remarkably, they even made him captain. Having since moved to Botafogo last year, he is now with his fourth top-flight Brazilian club. Reports say he has occasionally been known to have a decent game.
Long gone he may be, but as the Hoops’ annual report noted in June 2004: “Last year’s exceptional costs mainly reflected the early termination of Rafael Scheidt’s contract and registration.” He cost maybe as much as £4.68m in wages, for ten games. Every time O’Neill complains about a lack of transfer funds, it is hard not to feel the pall of Scheidt over Parkhead.
From WSC 218 April 2005. What was happening this month