In this, their centenary year, Santos have rightly earnt plaudits for their enduring influence on football. A seaside outfit of relatively modest proportions, they have provided Brazil with some of its most talented players: from Pelé and Coutinho through to Robinho and Neymar.

Santos have also played host to more than their fair share of gringos. Foreign stars such as Rodolfo Rodríguez (Uruguay), Augustín Cejas (Argentina) and Dejan Petković (Serbia) have been lovingly adopted by the Vila Belmiro faithful over the years. The trail was blazed, however, by one multi-talented man.

Born in Le Havre, France, in 1887, Julien Fauvel enjoyed an international education, attending school in a number of European countries. He grew up to work in an industry whose cultural significance was (and still is) recognised both in his homeland and in Brazil. But he was no footballer. At least not yet. Fauvel’s calling, rather, was in the coffee trade.

In 1910, he upped sticks and moved to Santos in order to manage the city’s coffee exchange, where he tested and classified Brazil’s black gold. He would only shoot to real prominence three years later, though, with his inclusion in the very first Santos side. The Peixe, despite having been founded months earlier, had only just entered their first competition: a local tournament that doubled as the qualification round for an early version of the São Paulo state championship.

Details of how Fauvel joined the recently formed club are few and far between, but records show that early impressions were positive. As the side’s goalkeeper, he conceded just three goals in his first four matches – a respectable record considering the occasionally cavalier attacking that characterised the game at the time. This defensive prowess helped to Santos to qualify for the state-wide tournament.

Things went swiftly downhill, however. In their Campeonato Paulista début, Santos fell to an embarrassing 8-1 loss at the hands of Germânia, a performance that O Estado de São Paulo described as “lamentable”. Fauvel suffered the ignominy of becoming the scapegoat in the days that followed; blamed by coach Urbano Caldeira, he would never play for the Peixe again.

This hardship would subsequently be eclipsed by Fauvel’s experience as a soldier in World War I. A fire fighter in the French air force reserves, he was called up in 1914 and would only return to Brazil when the war ended four years later. Fauvel was also injured in action, losing part of a foot during his time in Europe.

The setback curtailed Fauvel’s ambitions as a footballer, although, according to his grandson, he did continue to enjoy the sport at lower levels. “Despite all his problems, he kept playing,” Carlos Roberto Meirelles Fauvel told Globo Esporte earlier this year. “He’d limp around, but he’d always get onto the pitch.”

Fauvel’s influence, though, would continue be felt in Brazil, albeit in different fields. After moving to the city of São Carlos, the Frenchman gave language courses (for which he also wrote his own textbooks) and set up his own business school. His was also among the voices that dissented against Getúlio Vargas’ de facto dictatorship of Brazil in the early 1930s.

So whilst his career with Santos was short-lived, Fauvel’s name lives on – both in the club’s history books and elsewhere. The first foreigner to pull on the now-fabled Alvinegro shirt, his story speaks of the propensity of football – even in its nascence – to traverse national and professional borders. Not bad for a humble coffee expert. Pas mal du tout.

Follow Jack on Twitter @Snap_Kaka_Pop.

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AuthorJack Lang