Of all the many winners in Brazilian football, Carlos Alberto Parreira is just the man to bring some perspective on the country’s history in the sport. He was the fitness coach of the legendary Seleção team that so emphatically claimed the country’s third World Cup in 1970. In 1994, he was the coach of the squad that would take Brazil back to the very top of the sport. As if that were not enough, 20 years later he was involved once more with his national team, this time as its technical director as Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Today, he works with FIFA’s Technical Study Group, which analyses the technical aspects of what happens on the pitch at FIFA tournaments.
We interviewed him on what makes football so well-loved by Brazilians ahead our first temporary exhibition Brazil 2014 Revsited opening on 21 September.
Looking back at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, what do you think made the tournament such a success?
"There was a real sense of anticipation ahead of the tournament, and about whether the country would be able to host the World Cup. In the end, yes, we received a lot criticism, but the vast majority of what we heard was positive and favourable - because it was something beautiful and it was very well organised.
"We know that we’re not a “first-world” country. We have certain difficulties in presenting ourselves to the outside world that countries such as France or Germany don’t have. However, we do have other, positive aspects: the people, the wealth of natural beauty, the food. And Brazil really made a huge effort to put on a great tournament. I’m certain that we made a positive impression."
In terms of the football, Brazil didn’t end the tournament the way they would have liked. But all matches were well attended and there seemed to be a strong connection with the fans, would you agree?
"Technically, the standard of football was very good. The champions had a very experienced and tight group of players, and Germany were deserving winners. We saw stadiums filled with fans - which was something we’d been worried might not happen to be honest. Brazilians tend to be very picky and follow only a few teams so I worried that for games featuring countries with less of a footballing tradition we might see empty stadiums. But that wasn’t the case and the grounds in every host city were all sold out.
"There was a real festival atmosphere that was so special for us and for everyone involved in football. It’s important to hold this retrospective for exactly that reason: so that we don’t let those memories slip away. The fans enjoyed four glorious weeks and now they have the chance to relive that time once more."
Do you think it’s right to talk about Brazilian football as something to put in a museum?
"If there is one country that should have its brand of football chronicled in a museum, then it’s Brazil - the only one to win five World Cups. It is the most universally admired style of football in part due to all the legendary figures that have featured over the years, and for the quality of football that has been on show. Perhaps we’re no longer at the level that we once were, but football goes in cycles: this was also the case in 1966 and 1990, but Brazil managed a resurgence each time."
Carlos Alberto Parreira There was a real festival atmosphere that was so special for us and for everyone involved in football
Is it still correct to say that Brazil plays football as a form of art?
"The manner in which we won the World Cup in 1958 was something to behold. It is not a question of living the past, but those are fantastic memories: the way the goals came about through beautiful play. We had Garrincha, Pelé... How can anyone forget about that? Here in Brazil it’s different again today. It’s not a question of looking critically at who is better or worse. I don’t like getting into that kind of discussion.
"We’ve just seen the Euros, a tournament that was full of close matches that were intensely fought but, when it was over, you were left wondering what had happened to the artistry. Yes, the matches were competitive but they were only about passing and tactics. The players have the technical ability but, generally, they don’t have that special touch. Improvisation and creativity were also lacking.
"In Brazil, we focus on our touch when playing, staying on the ball a bit longer, attempting a dribble. We won’t lose that core principle - even if we have to go through certain adjustments. For all its achievements and for the style of play, as well as its artistic beauty, Brazilian football truly deserves to be showcased in a museum."
So you are confident that Brazil’s talent will prevail once more?
"We’re sitting on a goldmine of incredible talent, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the only country in the world where football is played all year round and throughout the whole country. Kids start playing at the age of four or five. If they’re not playing in the streets like they used to, then it’s because they’re playing in organised clubs. We have that key ingredient: a big enough population from which to select top quality.
"In the team that won the Olympics, we had players that are now coveted by the rest of the world, guys like “Gabigol” (Gabriel Barbosa, who has just secured a big move to Italy) and Gabriel Jesus (an emerging star at Palmeiras), which is fantastic. There was also Luan (a talented Grêmio playmaker), who is a very good player, and I don’t even need to tell you about Neymar, of course. Suddenly we have four talented forwards up front. That’s how the cycle goes: if more of these players, other than Neymar, establish themselves, then we will be guaranteed a strong forward line for the next World Cup. And we will be more than ready for 2022."
Is it possible to list the five greatest artists in Brazilian football? Should the list perhaps be longer?
"Well, it’s always hard to compile such a list. I think that even a list of ten would be too short . I always get stuck when it comes to such things. Everyone is important. You can’t deny the importance of a Pelé or a Garrincha, sure. But there are so many more, including others from that golden generation that won two World Cups (in ‘58 and ‘62). Nilton Santos was a giant... Mário Zagallo, who would later be the first world champion as both player and coach in 1970, alongside Tostão on the pitch. Rivelino, Carlos Alberto... Then there’s Zico, Sócrates... I could go on,
and I was still only mentioning the older generation. We could still talk about Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho... There are so many. Our football is our culture. Perhaps more than a culture, football is even a religion. There are moments when it may feel as though we are losing faith, but it is always there, deep down."