Old boy from Brazil

Profile: Mario Zagallo; Ian Ridley assesses the qualities of a veteran coach determined to restore traditional values; profile
Click to follow
The Independent Online
MARIO Jorge "Lobo" Zagallo has something most of us would kill for. Not his two World Cup winners' medals as a player for Brazil, not even his involvement as coach in two more triumphs. Zagallo is the proud possessor of Pele's No 10 shirt worn in the 1970 final.

Immediately after that match, in which the best team in the history of football had beaten Italy 4-1 in Mexico City, Pele's eyes met Zagallo's across a crowded, euphoric dressing-room in the Aztec Stadium. The best player in the history of football then put down the glass of water he was drinking and moved slowly across the floor. The hug with the coach was tearful and sincere. The presentation of the shirt that has become folklore was to cement a reconciliation.

Zagallo had taken over the Brazilians just three months earlier when Joao Saldanha was sacked. Saldanha had begun to tinker with the team and voiced the unthinkable: that perhaps Pele was not fit enough, perhaps he did not merit his place in the team. Zagallo, accepting the post after two others had turned it down, was seen as a safe pair of hands. He would simply let the players play. It meant that Pele's place was assured but there remained scepticism. Zagallo had played, tirelessly and effectively, as a left-winger in the 1958 and 1962 wins, but was considered fortunate to have been playing at all. In '58, the goal-scoring Santos winger Pepe was injured, in '62 Germano. In the fragile dynamics of Brazilian units, Pele apparently believed that Zagallo had jinxed his rivals.

All was forgotten after '70, when Zagallo's "lucky" reputation was enhanced. Only briefly forgiven. Four years later, having been associated with the best Brazilian team, Zagallo was coach to probably the worst, the brutal betrayers of the tradition in Germany, when, disgraced, they limped home. Pele was in attendance and deeply critical.

For a long while, Zagallo was without honour in his own country until the then coach Carlos Alberto Parreira recalled him as "technical co-ordinator" for the 1994 campaign in the United States. Zagallo, who had been the first to win the World Cup as both player and coach, became the first to take part in four wins. Now he is back as head coach, a safe pair of hands again, appointed on his 63rd birthday last year after Parreira departed to Spain to manage Valencia, who recently sacked him. Today Zagallo brings the latest bright Brazilian crop to Wembley to face England fresh from two charming wins in the Umbro Cup last week.

"We are reviving the Brazilian style of the past," he said after the 3-0 victory over Japan at Goodison Park. "We want our football to be played in a manner we haven't seen for some time. I don't want to make comparisons with the team that won the World Cup last year but we have changed things. This is now the football we should be playing."

The team, and his comments, came as something of a surprise for Zagallo has always been a pragmatist, a man who has sought to temper the traditional, natural exuberance and flair embodied in the national dance, the capoiera - also part martial art - with the defensive realities associated with modern winners. He has often been the personification of the debate on their own virtues versus those of Europe that is the Brazilian national pastime. He has often received only grudging gratitude.

As a player, Zagallo earned the nickname of "the little ant" for his energy and stamina, which he says he acquired swimming around the rocks off Rio de Janeiro. He began with the America club in 1948, before eight years with Flamengo and seven with Botafogo. At the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, his tactical development of the left-wing position was instrumental in Brazil's domination of the tournament. Along with a 17-year-old boy called Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

"Zagallo was the one who showed the world 4-3-3, who made it clear to all of us that a footballer must have two shirts - a defender's and an attacker's," said one of the players. In the final, Zagallo was one moment heading out from underneath his own crossbar, the next scoring the fourth goal. His was the cross for Pele's looping header for the fifth in the 5-2 win over the host nation.

Having contributed again in the '62 tournament in Chile as more of a left-sided midfield player, Zagallo took up his first coaching position with Botafogo in 1965, with whom he won a Rio state championship. Then came '70.

It has been said that anyone could have coached that team and indeed it would have been a dream job for any fantasy manager. Zagallo did make important modifications, however, moving Rivelino to the left wing so that both he and Gerson could be accommodated in the same team. Less significantly, as probably that muddied man in the advert who wants to play outfield could have played in goal, Felix was restored between the posts. The group game against England, won 1-0 by Brazil, was one of the World Cup's greatest; Zagallo described it as "a match for adults".

Zagallo himself says it was the first instance of 4-5-1 with Pele and Jairzinho being required to work from deep around Tostao. The latter player also represented the coach's fabled luck; an operation before the finals on a detached retina proved successful. The players at least recognised Zagallo's value - probably in not interfering too much - by chairing him around the Aztec after the win over Italy. Ever the coach, he was still carrying his clipboard.

The image of '74 was somewhat lower, the smile replaced by a scowl on the bench at the failings of his team. Before the tournament, he had complained that Scotland, who were in Brazil's group, were an excessively physical team. It turned out to be a case of pots and kettles. Zagallo was quoted in Brazil as having told his team: "Don't concede goals, don't let the other team play and only attack when certain."

He had, this time, been a little unfortunate. Gerson, Tostao and Clodoaldo were injured, Zagallo being blamed by Joao Saldanha, now a critic, for not shielding him during a pre-tournament tour in Switzerland. But this was little mitigation. The worst came in a 2-0 defeat by Holland when Johann Neeskens was felled by Mario Marinho and then scythed down by Luis Pereira, who was sent off.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Zagallo had short spells with Fuminense, Flamengo, with whom he won another Rio title, and Botafogo, but exile in the Middle East was the preferred option. Kuwait were first to benefit, then the United Arab Emirates, whom Zagallo led through qualifying for the 1990 finals in Italy, only to be replaced, ironically, just before the finals by Carlos Alberto Parreira.

A year later, on taking the head coach's position with Brazil, Parreira recalled the eminence grise. Tele Santana had produced a thrilling side in 1982; Sebastiao Lazaroni a dour one in 1990. Both were ultimately found wanting. Between the two, Parreira decided, there should be a Brazil capable of winning the World Cup again and Zagallo could help him with the blend. It worked, though still for the rabid purists of the Brazilian game it was not ultimately fulfilling.

Two days before the final against Italy in Los Angeles, Parreira, we were told, had been detained and a press conference put back several hours. Zagallo, with charm and indulgence, stepped into the breach. "Ah 1958," he began with pleasure. "I remember so many things but most of all the night before the final with Sweden. The hosts covered the pitch in case it rained. They knew Brazil did not like a heavy pitch. That kind of courtesy would not exist now."

This was no wistful yesterday's man, however. "Brazil is living football actuality," he added. "There is tactically nothing new in 1994. The only lesson is that it is as important to play without the ball as it is with it. Teams must defend as well as they attack. To do just one or the other indiscriminately is to go home early." He looked forward, too. "Tell them all that I am staying to the year 2000. We've got a new generation who are exceptionally good and with them we hope to go back to the old style of play." Roberto Carlos and Juninho have delightfully shown as much in the past week. Next month's Copa America in Uruguay will tell us more.

In the figure of Zagallo, Terry Venables can perhaps take comfort. He has no need of the luck, judging by England's results against Japan and Sweden, but Zagallo illustrates how to survive and prosper amid criticism. Would that England had a four-times winner of the World Cup they could so berate.