Football: Parreira revels in mind game against Hoddle

Adam Szreter meets the Saudi coach who quit at the top with Brazil to do it his way
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The Independent Online
FOR Glenn Hoddle the World Cup is, apart from anything else, an opportunity to pit his relatively youthful managerial wits against some of the best in the business. While England's supporters, and Hoddle himself, will ultimately only be concerned with the results, for the coach it is also a chance to put his footballing philosophy and theories to the test against people like Berti Vogts of Germany, Aime Jacquet of France, Cesare Maldini of Italy and Mario Zagallo of Brazil.

Hoddle should get a taste of things to come this afternoon, when England play Saudi Arabia at Wembley. It is a game England are expected to win comfortably, despite the Saudis' impressive showing at USA '94 when they beat Belgium and Morocco on their way to the second round. Hoddle's opposite number today may be a relatively recent appointment, but he happens to be the man who coached Brazil to the World Cup four years ago, with Zagallo as his No 2.

Carlos Alberto Parreira never received the sort of acclaim for his achievement that Zagallo enjoyed when his first Brazilian side, featuring Pele at the height of his powers, won the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The 1994 vintage was successful, but it failed to grab the public's imagination long before a particularly drab final against Italy which Brazil eventually won on penalties. After 24 years of glorious failure, Parreira had delivered what his fellow countrymen wanted most of all, yet it was still deemed not enough and, not surprisingly, he quit. "It was a personal decision," he explained to an eager audience after steering his present charges through their practice routine at Wembley on Thursday night.

"Three years and a half with the Brazilian team is too much, especially when they were not winning since 24 years. The pressure was so big, I would say it was not human to be there. I suffered a lot inside. I was strong enough to resist the pressure and do it my way, and it would not have changed over the next four years so I said, 'why?'

"This is just sport, it's not life or death, it's just soccer, so it was a very conscious decision and I've had no regrets at all. I was honoured to be invited back by Saudi Arabia, they are a very proud team and the World Cup is the big stage for coaches and players. If you are with Brazil or England or Saudi Arabia it's the same competition."

In stark contrast to his illustrious namesake Carlos Alberto who captained the 1970 side, Parreira never played professionally. He began coaching in Ghana before taking Kuwait to the 1982 World Cup finals. The following year he took over the Brazilian national side but lasted less than a year and did not resurface on the international stage until 1990 when he coached the United Arab Emirates at Italia '90.

The UAE had qualified for that tournament under Zagallo, while Parreira was enjoying his first stint in charge of Saudi Arabia, and in the following year he was back home, succeeding Falcao as Brazil's coach once more. His route to Wembley today has been equally circuitous, taking in Valencia in Spain, Sao Paolo in Brazil and most recently the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in America before returning to take charge of the Saudis upon their qualification for France.

The odds against him repeating the feats of 1994 are incalculable, but Parreira seems blessed with the kind of abundant enthusiasm, optimism and intelligence that would be an asset to any side. "We don't compare times in soccer, the last World Cup was in America, it was four years ago and this time it is in Europe. But we have the condition to repeat what we did four years back.

"The team has experience, they're not unknown any more in the world, people will look at them more carefully now and I think we are ready to try to repeat what we did there. I feel they are very confident and very relaxed and this team rises for the occasion, they're not afraid to play which is very good. They have personality."

Unlike or any of his players, Parreira has experienced Wembley before as the Brazilian manager in 1992. It was a 1-1 draw then, but a similar result today would be worth much more to him. "This is going to be a real test for us," he said. "To play England here at Wembley is good for any team. We don't have to be scared or fear the game, we just have to come here, have fun and enjoy it. This will give us a real assessment of what we need for the World Cup. After playing England here at Wembley, we don't have to fear anything else in the World Cup."