The Eternal Captain
A previously unpublished interview with Carlos Alberto, who died in October
Carlos Alberto Torres, was one of the greatest attacking right-backs of all time, the captain who rounded off Brazil’s glorious triumph in the 1970 World Cup with the brilliant final goal in their 4-1 victory over Italy. This interview, reflecting on that side, has never previously been published.
Brazilian kids want to be the main striker or midfielder, to score goals and claim the glory. A place in defence or as a keeper is considered to be for the players who lack skills. Why did you choose to play in the right-back position at the start of your career?
I wasn’t a Pelé or a Ronaldo. It was a natural position for me, because, like most players at the start of their careers, I didn’t have the skills to play higher up the field. So I was assigned a defensive position. “The right full-back, that’s a good position for you,” one of my youth coaches told me. So I started out young at this position and I improved a lot. I was the first in Brazil, and possibly elsewhere, to dash forward and then track back.
You debuted for Brazil at the Maracanã in 1964 against England and had to mark Bobby Charlton…
It was momentous to play against Charlton. I was very young – 18 years old – when I got my first call up for the seleção, my first game at the Maracanã in the national team jersey. It was a great game. We beat the English 5-1. Pelé scored. Vavá was also a forward. It was a big moment in my career.
Throughout the run-up to the 1966 World Cup you were a regular fixture in Vicente Feola’s team, but you didn’t make the final squad…
That was a big surprise. He opted for Djalma Santos and Fidelis of Bangu instead. I had been in the senior team, training and playing exhibition games before the team was to head to England. It was a shock that I hadn’t been selected for the final tournament, but in a way it was good for me – Brazil didn’t defend their title and a year later I was back in the national team, but this time as the captain.
Brazil were humiliated in the first round. Did you notice a change of mentality in Brazilian football?
In 1966, Brazil were surprised by the new style of play – what was called ‘power football’ at the time. That was physical football. The lesson we took from 1966 was this: our physical preparation had to become very serious. Technically, we were still better than the other teams. That was the big lesson from 1966.
Brazil were excellent in the qualifiers but nevertheless the coach João Saldanha was sacked for reasons of ‘emotional instability.’
Saldanha and I had a good connection and a good understanding. In 1969, in the qualifiers, Brazil did very well under João Saldanha. Early in 1970 some problems within the team began to emerge. He wasn’t fired because of the incident with Dario, his non-selection1 - no, I don’t think so. The team had a slump shortly before the 1970 World Cup. Saldanha had problems with Pelé. He had criticised him over his fitness and eyesight. Saldanha was also in trouble with the press and Yustrich, the coach of Flamengo. That’s why he was sacked and replaced by Zagallo.
How did you as captain deal with his criticism of Pelé?
It was a problem between Saldanha and Pelé, but it was a talking point in Brazil. Saldanha had gone to the press, saying that Pelé was unfit and that his eyesight was problematic. It was a last-ditch rescue manoeuvre from Saldanha, because he knew that the CBD [Brazilian Football Federation] wanted to fire him. He was making a fuss before his inevitable departure. I had been a captain since playing for Fluminense’s youth team. I had my personality. I talked when I had to talk. Santos made me captain when Zito retired in 1967. Remember, that Santos team was the best team in the world during the 60s and full of stars! Captaining Brazil wasn’t more difficult than captaining Santos.
It is said that Saldanha’s successor Mario Zagallo taught his players to play with ‘two different shirts’ – a defensive shirt and an attacking one. Do you agree?
I don’t agree. The team had all-round preparation, physically, technically and mentally. We went to Mexico in the perfect condition to win the World Cup. The 1966 World Cup precipitated that. Brazilian football had been at a low and the 1970 World Cup represented the last chance for Pelé and Gerson to play a World Cup. Our group was tight-knit. There was cohesion and team spirit.
During the eliminatorias Saldanha choose a 4-2-4 formation. Zagallo opted for a more balanced line-up which would make the midfield less vulnerable, expose it less to the European teams. How would you describe the formation of the 1970 team yourself?
Well, do the numbers of the formation really matter? Our players were determined to play pure football – when you have the ball, you play and attack with six or seven players; when the opponent has the ball, you have to come back and mark to protect your defense. That is more important than theorising about a 4-2-4 or a 4-3-3. In the qualifiers we played the 4-2-4 formation on paper, but not per se on the field. Out of possession, we simply had to track back. Tostão came back, Gerson defended, and so did Pelé. Everybody had to defend and shore up the midfield, except Jairzinho. He stayed up front and was the point of escape. Zagallo dropped Rivellino into the team, but both systems worked well. It was the same to play 4-2-4 or 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 for us – when we had the ball, we attacked with six or seven players. The team with possession controls the game. The opponent simply can’t score. That’s very important, that you are in charge of the game.
How influential were the so-called ‘cobras’? A group of players composed of senior members of the team, including you, who would discuss team tactics and share their findings or remarks with Zagallo.
Haha! Every coach has his own system. Zagallo moved Wilson Piazza to the position of fourth ‘zagueiro’. That was his choice, but Zagallo was a modern coach. He gave the players the freedom to talk and to exchange ideas. He realised that ultimately the players understand the game better than anyone else, because they are on the pitch. Pelé and Tostão would drop back a little and fill up the space with Clodoaldo and Gerson. Jairzinho was highest up the field.
After months of preparation in the concentração, the World Cup arrived. On the one hand there was the pressure of the Brazilian people and on the other hand Brazil was suffering from the regime of General Medici. A difficult climate?
Oh no, about the regime - the political regime, that didn’t affect our group because we were football players, we were there to win the World Cup. The regime didn’t matter. In Brazil, you always have pressure, because you always have to win – second place is not good enough.
The evening before the opening game with Czechoslovakia you played cards deep into the night with Piazza?
Haha, no! We did play to pass the time and joke, but not the whole night.
After 11 minutes Ladislav Petráš scored for Czechoslovakia.
It was a key moment. The first game always is – at the beginning we were nervous as a team, but when Czechoslovakia scored the team woke up. It was a trigger to start playing the game we had envisaged and wanted to play. We also trailed against Uruguay in the semi-final.
Petráš’s goal confirmed what the Europeans thought of the Brazil team: a team with a poor defence.
History made Brazil pre-tournament favourites, but the real favourites to win the World Cup going into the tournament were England. They were the defending champions and had an excellent team. They were more experienced than in 1966. England had Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton. Brazil had to prove on the field that we were among the favourites. That’s what we set out to do from the first game.
For many, Brazil v England was the true final. After a foul from Francis Lee on goalkeeper Felix you asked Piazza to take revenge.
I spoke with Pelé. He knew how to get revenge. Pelé knew how to do it. Piazza didn’t. When the game restarted, I asked Pelé to get Lee back. Finally, I got him back, just to show England and him that we were hungry to win. From that moment on, we were more composed and cooler. The technical level of the game went up.
It was a very intense game.
I enjoyed the final more, because we defeated Italy and became champions. But the winner of Brazil v England was always going to reach the final. Everyone knew that. If you wanted to become world champions, you had to beat England.
The semi-final against Uruguay was precarious.
The game against Uruguay was difficult for different reasons. There was the pressure from our fans. In 1950 I was about five or six years old, so I don’t remember the Maracanazo. But it was psychological. The media and the fans in front of our hotel began to talk about that game in 1950 – “Oh, take care, we are afraid.” Brazil went a goal down. We were criticised for conceding that goal from [Teófilo] Cubillas [in the quarter-final win over Peru], but the reality of Brazilian football is that we have always produced better midfielders and strikers than defenders. Gerson came to me as the captain and asked me if he could change position with Clodoaldo. Clodoaldo played more defensively, Gerson was higher up the field. So Gerson dropped deeper and Clodoaldo had license to roam forward. That’s what changed the semi-final. At half-time, Zagallo gave an emotional speech in the dressing-room. We began the second half with more confidence and from that moment on our victory was almost a given.
Pelé produced two other sublime moments against Uruguay: firstly, hitting the ball directly from a goal-kick back towards the Uruguayan goal, secondly rounding the goalkeeper without touching the ball. What is your favourite moment of Pelé at the 1970 World Cup?
Well, Pelé never ceased to surprise with new moves. His halfway line attempt against Czechoslovakia was audacious. It was the first time a player had tried to do that; today everybody does it. For twelve years I played with Pelé at Santos and then at the Cosmos. Every game Pelé could surprise. Those two moments against Uruguay were again unique. Pelé tried to do something that hadn’t been done before. In every game, he improvised, a hallmark of great Brazilian players.
Do you believe your team could have won the World Cup without Pelé?
We had a unique squad. Paulo Cézar Caju was the best left-winger in Brazil – and he didn’t even play! Edu also didn’t make the first team. With the quality of our group, there may have been a chance to win without Pelé. In 1962 Brazil won the World Cup without him. He was a big asset to have. He was O Rei, but he was always with the group and his training sessions were an example for everyone.
Who was the most influential player of the team - Pelé, the perfect football player, or Gerson with his vision and distribution of long passes?
Pelé was great, the best, but at the time, in our team, it was Gerson and I have always said that. Gerson was the key to our team. Every move started with Gerson. When we gained possession, we passed the ball to Gerson for him to start the attack. He distributed play in a very intelligent manner. Pelé was the best player, but Gerson was the secret of our team for it to play well.
Were you happy with Italy as opponents?
If I had to pick an opponent, it would have been Italy. They wouldn’t pose too many problems. Germany were of England’s level.
The final was a confrontation between two totally different styles: futebol de resultados against your futebol arte.
Brazil always played futebol arte. We had beaten England and were in peak condition. Italy played a man-to-man system. That allowed us to create space – for Gerson and me. Gerson scored the second goal. Their approach caused us problems, but we had come prepared. We knew how Italy were going to play. We would have matched whatever system they played.
Brazil played an unforgettable final, with your goal in the 86th minute as the climax.
That goal was pre-planned. If Jairzinho moved to the other wing, [Italy’s full-back Giacinto] Fachetti was always going to follow him. It happened only once in the entire match, but we took advantage of it. They offered us a boulevard to go forward and to score. Pelé was ready to pass the ball. It was at the end of the game and that goal killed any kind of hope that Italy harboured to try to draw the game. That goal sealed our win. I had been thinking of scoring a goal during the entire tournament. That it happened in the final made me ecstatic. It was a goal destined to stay in football’s memory because of the way it was created. We had touched the ball 26 times before I received Pelé’s pass. In celebration, we shouted a lot of bad words behind the Italian goal, but that was out of happiness and relief.
Brazil lifted the game to an unprecedented level. Your team became immortal.
That final in fact started a new era in football in terms of professionalism and finance. Brazil 1970 in part helped that evolution. I think we were a catalyst, but we had a wonderfully talented team.
What do you remember from the tumult and emotions after the final whistle at the Estadio Azteca? Which feeling was the most overwhelming for you?
At the end of the game when the referee blew his whistle, there was pandemonium. All our players got their kits stripped off! Everybody was delirious, but the Mexicans loved football and we had a Latin relationship. If Italy had won, you wouldn’t have seen such scenes. Brazil was the first team to arrive in Mexico. When the hosts got knocked out, the Mexicans chose to support us.
You once said, “Our team is the best, those who see it, see it, those who don’t see it, will never see it.” Still, your team was more than just skills.
The key of our team was the physical preparation because in 1966 power football surprised us. Power football was equated with a good physical preparation. That preparation was a requirement if we wanted to have a chance of winning the World Cup in Mexico. The high altitude made it difficult to play. Technically we knew that we were the best, but we needed to be in very good shape physically.
Did you realise at the time that the world would never see such great football again?
Think of the number of great players in the team – Brazil 1958 had a very good team, Santos in the 60s were fantastic, but our team were special. We played the beautiful game.
The 1970 World Cup will always be a part of you?
Everywhere I go around the world, I am remembered for the goal I scored in the final and the moment that I lifted the trophy. Everywhere I go I am called O Capitão. It is unforgettable.