The Constant Thread
Carlos Alberto Parreira, who has been involved in six World Cups, assesses Brazil's chances in Russia
Nobody has more experience of the World Cup than Carlos Alberto Parreira. The Brazilian was a fitness coach for Brazil in 1970, and then has managed Kuwait (1982), UAE (1990), Brazil (1994 and 2006), and South Africa (2010) at the finals. He spoke to The Blizzard about his memories of the tournament and what can be expected of Brazil in Russia.
The 1958 World Cup in Sweden was the tournament of your youth. What are your memories of it?
In those days, there was no TV in Brazil, let alone live TV. My memories are from the radio and the celebrations in the street. That’s where my football dream began. All the Brazilians were celebrating, singing, crying and dancing. It was wonderful. The players had a parade and people were embracing each other and laughing. Afterwards we went to watch the highlights of Pelé and Garrincha in the cinema. That was my first experience of football. I was touched by it and thought that one day I’d like to be a part of the national team. I was 15 and the idea grew that I wanted to be in football.
That was the start of your football dream. As physical coach of Brazil’s 1970 team, what defined that side?
High-level technique, but when you win a World Cup it’s not for one reason. It’s the same when you lose. You need additional ingredients. First, you must have quality and the team had that: Pelé, Tostão, Clodoaldo, Rivellino, Gerson and Paulo Cézar. The planning was very good. In those days, we trained for five months! Yes, that was possible. All of the players were playing in Brazil, no one was playing abroad. The local [state] championships in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo continued without the selected players. We had them for five months and it was a good preparation. Next was the acclimatisation to the altitude. Brazil were the only team to spend 21 days in Mexico. At the start of the preparation Brazil changed coaches: [João] Saldanha was out and in came [Mario] Zagallo. He brought new ideas and a new organisation. The team was well organised. What was Zagallo’s main input in the team? He created responsibility for the Brazilian players without the ball. They knew exactly what they had to do, which spaces they had to cover, whom they had to mark. They didn’t offer space to the European teams. With the ball, Zagallo introduced some movements, but the players had the quality to improvise, to create and do things with the ball. The great input of Zagallo was to organise the team without the ball. We were organised, planned well and were in good physical condition. The players were prepared for the altitude and acclimatised to it. We also had the mental strength. Brazil had lost the 1950 World Cup and lessons were drawn going into the competition in Mexico. All of this, together with the exceptional players, allowed us to win the World Cup.
Would Brazil have won the World Cup with João Saldanha as a coach?
You take a guess! Zagallo brought new ideas. Brazil had been playing 4-2-4 and had beaten all the South American opponents [in qualifying] easily, but for the European teams Zagallo had an approach and type of game with more players concentrated in the midfield and with more compactness and strength. Zagallo felt that with 4-2-4 Brazil couldn’t win the World Cup. That’s why he played four in the middle and everyone who didn’t have the ball had to defend. If Brazil lost the ball, everyone came back to the midfield and made it compact, with nine or ten players behind the ball. So, Brazil would have more chance to win. With Saldanha, we had two players in the midfield and four up front in the qualifiers, but Zagallo said that the balance of the team wasn’t right to win the World Cup. He believed that and created a team with his philosophy, and we won. Maybe we could have won with Saldanha, but with Zagallo the team had more security. The team was, without doubt, more balanced.
Is Brazil 1970 the best team ever to play football?
It’s difficult to compare teams who have won the World Cup. The best Brazilian team was 1958 – you know, as a team, as individuals. It was the first team to win the World Cup outside its own continent: Brazil in Sweden. They defeated all the opponents: France, Sweden, England. They played a lot of European teams. Why do I say this? A team, which had two geniuses, like Pelé and Garrincha, wonderful full-backs in Nilton and Djalma Santos, Didi, the brain in the midfield, Zagallo, who was tactically clever, and a wonderful striker in Vavá. He wasn’t just about power, as people think: he was technically gifted. He was a midfield player, a number ten at his club in the north [Sport Recife], but Brazil played him up front as a number nine. He was very good – attacking, dribbling, holding the ball and finishing. Orlando and Bellini were great centre backs with Gilmar in goal, one of the best Brazilian goalkeepers ever besides [Claudio] Taffarel. For me, the 1958 team was the best Brazilian team ever, although you don’t want to compare. Every World Cup has its own merit. Brazil has always had good players. We have played in 20 World Cups and are now going to our 21st World Cup. Brazil won only five.
What is the key to winning the World Cup?
It’s not enough to have good players. Brazil always has this – 2006, 1974, 1982, but that is not enough. Firstly, you must plan well and have a good preparation. The players must have a good attitude and mental strength to focus. Good players, but also three or four players who can make the difference, otherwise you can’t win the World Cup. As a team, you need organisation. It’s not easy to combine all these factors. When you can combine all of these elements with the Brazilian team you could have two hands on the cup.
You were also a member of Brazil’s backroom staff at the last World Cup. How do you reflect on the tournament?
We had a very young team. The players didn’t have so much experience. Neymar was 21, starting his international career. We didn’t play the qualifiers, which made a lot of difference. That wasn’t in our favour. Playing the qualifiers, in particular in South America, is very important for the team. Why? You have to play Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia, Paraguay, Chile, away, on their turf. There is a lot of competition, so the qualifying games help the coach to build the team and give players the pace of a World Cup. Sometimes – I was the coach of Brazil in 1994 – the qualifying itself was more difficult than the World Cup. When you to go Argentina, to Paraguay, to Uruguay, to Chile, it’s like a war: everyone wants to beat Brazil, the press, the fans. They say, “This is the game of our lives.” You build your players in such an environment. When we qualified for the World Cup and reached the USA, we felt at home, because the American fans, the Mexicans, everyone was supporting Brazil. In 2014, we didn’t have the qualifiers and only played friendly games. We played only one time in Europe. Those players felt that they lacked that experience. Some key players from the Confederations Cup, like Thiago [Silva], Fred, the goalkeeper Júlio [César] were not in the same shape as the year before when we beat Spain 3-0 at the Maracanã. We didn’t have a great World Cup with that dramatic 7-1 result against Germany. That will not happen again. People ask me: why? What happened? I cannot tell you. It’s difficult to say. There were so many factors. The first goal, then the second goal, then the team lost it mentally. The players weren’t thinking properly anymore. They were besides themselves and made individual mistakes. The Germans had a very good team. They were very sharp and very cold. They used every opportunity they got and scored seven goals, but we learned the lesson very quickly. Only the Brazilian national team, losing a semi-final of the World Cup at its own home ground, can recover in three years for the next World Cup. Only a powerful team, like Brazil, with the tradition we have, can recover from that defeat in three years. I don’t say that myself. I read the newspapers and the international press and plenty of former players say that Brazil is one of the favourites to win the World Cup in Russia. So, the lessons were learned and the past is behind us. The 7-1 will be there forever. We can’t take it away, but it belongs to the past. We have recovered in three years.
Did the result change the philosophy and mentality of Brazilian football?
You know, when it happened, there was a lot of discussion Why [did it happen]? There were a thousand answers. It’s difficult to address why exactly. The discussion was good: it made people think – the press, the coaches, the players, the officials. Everyone was involved – we have to build Brazilian football again. We didn’t have coaching courses until six years ago. Now, we do have that at the CBF [Brazilian Football Confederation]. Those courses are at a very good level. All the Brazilian coaches have to go there now. Those who don’t have the licence can’t coach. That didn’t happen in the past. The infrastructure at the youth level is being taken care of. You need a good foundation at grassroots level, so, the lessons were learned. We have to update our game, not change our style – to update the philosophy of the team: more compactness, defending or attacking within 40m, quicker transitions, but keeping the Brazilian tradition and the style, having the ball, to be creative and innovative and to do the unexpected. The trademark of Brazilian football is to create things.
Did the 2013 Confederations Cup win give Brazil too much self-confidence?
Yes, that is true. It allowed for a very optimistic feeling before the World Cup, really. We defeated Spain, the European and World champions. They were, I think, 53 or 54 games unbeaten [it was 29 competitive games; 26 in all competitions]. We defeated the Spanish 3-0 in the final. The win created a magic feeling that Brazil were ready again to win the World Cup, but some players, who were so important in the Confederations Cup, played the World Cup without that same shape and physical condition. That was maybe crucial.
Some players may have been out of shape, but did Brazil collapse under the pressure of hosting the tournament?
The pressure is always immense for Brazil in the World Cup, in particular at home. In 1950 Brazil had lost against Uruguay and this time we had to win. It was maybe one of the reasons, there were many others. We conceded the first and the second goal against Germany and then we collapsed. We couldn’t think as a team anymore. Everyone was playing alone. The team was disorganised. We lost the balance in the team when the Germans scored the second goal. They scored the third, the fourth, the fifth… until they reached seven goals.
After the World Cup the CBF appointed Carlos Dunga. A mistake?
When coaches are appointed they always divide the press and the fans. Dunga had been the coach in 2010. I believe that he did a good job, even at the World Cup. In my opinion, he shouldn’t have been dismissed after the 2010 World Cup. Before the tournament he did a very good job with the Brazilian team. Even during the World Cup Brazil played well, even in the game against the Netherlands, which Brazil lost. Brazil were much better in the first half and could have won the game by two or three goals. They made a mistake and Dunga was out. It was a surprise when he was reappointed. When Felipão [Luiz Felipe Scolari] left – and he needed to after that disappointment – the press began talking about new names and who was going to be the new coach of Brazil – Dunga was never in the picture. It was a surprise when they appointed him. People were supporting Tite at the time. He came back and at the beginning it was good, but during the qualifiers it wasn’t. The team wasn’t playing with much self-confidence. The performances weren't good and you know the Brazilian press: they had a lot of criticism and so Tite came. He was well prepared for the job.
What has been Tite’s main strength and quality in making Brazil so formidable again?
He changed the attitude. That is the best thing he has done. With Dunga, the press was criticising the coach and the players so much. The ambience was not cheerful or happy. When Tite arrived, he knew how to deal with the players, the press and the fans. He came with the full support of the players, press and fans. He knew how to tweak the attitude. The group was smiling again. Players were happy to be in the national team again. It helped that he won the first game. He won the second, the third and so on. The players were good, but didn’t have the right motivation. He motivated the players. He also brought organisation. Tite is a good coach. He knows how to get the best out of each player. He makes everything pragmatic and simple. The result is there for all to see: Brazil are one of the favourites for the World Cup. When he was appointed Brazil were in the sixth position in the qualifiers and after nine games under Tite, Brazil were the first team to qualify for the World Cup. He did great work.
What’s the main danger Tite will face in Russia?
Firstly, that’s not to believe in being favourites. Every game is a final – the World Cup is a very quick and short competition. You can be the best in the world, but there are only three games you can afford to lose. Then you have four more games in which you can’t make any mistakes. In 1994 Brazil had gone 24 years without winning the World Cup. We had a slogan, “Zero mistakes, maximum efficiency.” You can’t make a single mistake – one mistake and you are out of the World Cup. This Tite team has more experience. Some players participated in the last World Cup. They know what matters, what to do and what they shouldn't do to win the World Cup. Neymar is very experienced today. Marquinhos from Paris Saint-Germain, Willian from Chelsea, Gabriel Jesus from Manchester City, so we have players of an international level and with international experience.
Are Brazil too dependent on Neymar?
No doubt. He is our main player. If we miss him, it will be very tough to replace him. It’s not easy to replace Maradona, Garrincha, Messi, this kind of player. It’s very difficult to replace Neymar, but I believe, and Tite has mentioned this in interviews, we can’t be a Neymar team. We have to be a Brazilian team with Neymar. If he were to get injured or something happened to him, Brazil have to find a way to play and keep playing without Neymar. In 1962, Brazil lost Pelé in the second game. He was the best player ever, but Brazil won the World Cup with Amarildo. That’s why you have to be prepared to play without Neymar, but there isn’t any doubt that he is the most important player in the national team. We are going to need him in the World Cup, and in a good shape. He likes to win. He is a fighter. He is determined and doesn't run away from responsibility. When things get tight or difficult, he will step forward to ease the situation. That is very important. He can be a guide to the team.
Last summer Neymar moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for an astronomical transfer fee. A good move?
You see, I read his interviews, I spoke to him once. He is happy. That is the most important thing. He scored four goals against Dijon. PSG beat Dijon 8-0, the highest result in their history. Neymar scored four goals – and a wonderful goal when he picked up the ball in the midfield, left six players in his wake and scored. He has the confidence of the players. Neymar changed PSG and French football and how people perceive the French game.
Is there too much money in football?
Yes, and I don’t know where it’s going to end. When you think about it – [Paul] Pogba was about 90, 100 million, Neymar was 220 million euros. Coutinho was 140 million. They really went too far, but football is the global game and money is pumped into the sport. TV, advertisement, ticketing – there is simply too much money circulating in the game. It has become a business as well. People say Neymar was very, very expensive, but later you may discover that he was cheap. The Qataris bought Neymar. They have a fund of billions of dollars – 200 million for Neymar was just peanuts for them. He is producing a lot for the team. The value of the club has increased. Ticketing, advertising, shirt sales and the TV rights have all increased. They will have the money back in less than three or four years.
All the money in the game and the mega transfers, is it sustainable in the long run?
[Arsène] Wenger questioned this in an interview. He was wondering, like me, if it’s not too much. We don’t know what is going to happen in the future. At the point when you think that we have reached the top, the zenith, someone will come in and offer 250 million for Cristiano Ronaldo, but these [sums] will be just for two or three players and won’t be the standard for all the negotiations and all the deals in the market: 80-90% of the deals will remain at an average level. This is just for the big stars, like in arts: paintings by Van Gogh, Monet and Da Vinci are so rare that when they come on the market, people will buy them for a 100 million, for 150 million, for 500 million. Very few paintings have this valuation, the other paintings make the market reasonable again.
No South American team has won the World Cup since 2002. Has Europe become the dominant power again in international football?
Yes, the results show this, but Coutinho, Neymar, Willian, Messi – South American individuals are still in very high demand. It’s not about a philosophy and style, but the market is still looking for South American players. Perhaps we need to upgrade and add values to all this individual quality – and play more as a team, with more compactness, transitions, defending with eight or nine players, but without losing the creativity and the South American style. Brazil will always be strong, because we have a style that we don’t need to change. We have to adapt to the new philosophies – have eight or nine players behind the ball when defending, but when we do have the ball, be a Brazilian, be an Argentinian, be a Uruguayan, be a South American player and play the ball, use your skills. That will always be a big difference between Europe and South America. In Europe the game is more direct – the speed and the transitions. The game is more aggressive. In South America it’s more in a roundabout way: you go around, you dribble, you execute one-twos. We have to keep our style, a style that I do like.
Brazil need to keep their own style. How do you see the future of international football?
We are almost done with trends in football. We attack with eight players, we have speed, but we can’t play like robots. Sometimes I watch second, third and fourth division games, even in Europe, and it’s boring – too much speed: players don’t think anymore. Just play – quick, go fast, play it over there! They create very little. That’s why I think you don’t need too much speed. You don’t want too much individuality, too much collectivity and too much speed, but you want to create and make things happen. Play your own style and impose your own style. Football is nothing more than that for me. Sepp Herberger said this 70 years ago: a good team goes to the ground and plays its own game. That’s the big challenge in football – to try to impose your own style. That’s why I like Brazilian football. Every game we try to play our own football with technique, creativity and improvisation. For Brazilians, improvisation is very important.
Is football still a simple game? Sepp Herberger wrote that football is about attacking and defending with maximum efficiency.
That will never change! I like to mention Sepp Herberger in my lectures. He was wise and said that 70, 80 years ago, do you understand that?! He tried to define football as defending and attacking with maximum efficiency. It will be the same in the next 100 years. Without the ball you defend, with the ball you attack. All the trends began with one goalkeeper, one defender, one midfielder and eight attacking players. The evolution was meant to bring balance to the three zones of the field: defence, midfield and attack. The big turning point was the 1966 World Cup in England: until then improvisation and technique were king. Brazil were the world champions. The Europeans countered this with aggressive play and marking. Play and do not let play. More speed and less space. The pressing on opponents was higher, the intensity became higher. In South America, when the forwards lose the ball, they walk back. That was different in England. They were the first ones to press the opponents. This changed football, together with the creation of 4-4-2. England won the World Cup. I repeat: play and do not let play, more speed, less space and 4-4-2. That system still dominates world football tactically today. The major national teams play 4-4-2 or variations thereof - 4-1-4-1, 4-4-1-1. Everything that happens is a variation of 4-4-2. At the last World Cup and in the Champions League the foundation of teams is mostly 4-4-2. It’s the system that has lasted longest in the game. You have adaptations of trends. You can go even further: tactically, we have reached a peak. Big, individual players today make the difference. That why’s you must have big players. Messi, Maradona, Neymar, these are players with an innate talent. That is the reality.
Can Brazil win the World Cup?
Yes, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise. This team has more experience, Neymar is experienced. He will be playing in his second World Cup. Gabriel Jesus and Coutinho are there. The world’s two most expensive players are playing for Brazil. Who made up the best attacking trio in the world? It was Messi, Suárez and Neymar at Barcelona, but I say no. The best attacking trio belongs to Brazil with Gabriel Jesus, Coutinho and Neymar, all together in the same team. All three players can decide the game. Brazil has players up front who can make the difference and decide matches. Let’s hope that happens in Russia.
Will Brazil one day play the beautiful game of 1958 and 1970 again?
It is different. You can’t compare eras. French magazine France Football or newspaper L'Équipe defined the ‘futebol arte’ played by Brazil’s 1958 team. They considered the football played by Pelé, Garrincha, Didi, Zagallo and Vavá an art – the brilliant movements, the skills, the versatility. They couldn’t find words to express what Pelé was doing – or what Garrincha was doing! It was difficult to define: what kind of football is this? It was art, pure art! From that moment ‘futebol arte’ was a term in vogue, but the 1966 World Cup was a benchmark. As I said, play and do not let play, much less space, tight marking and speed. That changed the game. There is still space and Brazil have the players to create art again at times, but not the way it was in 1958. You can’t travel 60 years back in time. Football is different today. I don’t say it’s better or worse, but it’s different.
What does Carlos Alberto Parreira do nowadays?
I am 74 and retired. I have been in football since 1967 when I began my career as a coach. After 45 years in the game, it’s done. I said it’s time to rethink life. I have a wonderful family: two daughters and five grandchildren. I am in Miami, giving this interview, and spending holidays with my family. I am not totally out of football. The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ, has a post-graduate course in football coaching. They had Tite on the programme. I have given lessons and lectures, passing my experience on to young students. It gives me great pleasure.