An interview with Carlos Alberto Parreira
Carlos Alberto Parreira is a World Cup perennial. No manager has led more nations into a tournament campaign. When Felipe Scolari reclaimed the reins of a wobbling Brazilian national team in November 2012, the 71-year old Parreira became the nation's technical director as the two men -- World Cup winners both -- were hailed as "two sides of a victorious coin."
As the Brazilian national team attempt to fulfill what many of their countrymen consider to be their divine right -- winning the World Cup on home turf -- there are few better men positioned to reflect on the complex contours of that challenge than Parreira, the coach who first joined the Selecao in 1970 as a trainer.
Parriera knows exactly how much pressure his 2014 squad are under. "Soccer in Brazil is a cultural phenomenon, as well as a social and sporting one," he begins, capturing the enormity of its societal role by relaying a story involving one of his friends who is a volleyball coach. "The volleyball coach always says, 'My sport, volleyball, is the No. 1 Brazilian sport,' and people are shocked, because everyone knows that soccer in Brazil is the No. 1 sport," he explains. "Then the coach says, 'Calm down. Soccer is a religion. The other sports ... are just sport.'"
Despite that crushing messianic pressure, Parreira remains confident of his charges. A confidence born of last summer's Confederations Cup triumph when they galvanized a nation and spanked all comers, including a heavy-legged Spain 3-0 in the final. The people embraced the national team, they sang the national anthem together. "I looked over to the Spanish team [before the final] ... I'm not going to say they were scared, it wasn't that, they are a very experienced team, a very good team. But they were sort of perplexed. They had never seen something like that in their lives," he chuckles. "I've been a part of the national team for 43 years ... and I'd never seen anything like it."
The coach talks about this transitional moment with wonder. "The players were really impacted by this support from the fans and a beautiful thing happened in the stadium, and when I say beautiful it was because it wasn't the idea of any marketer or publicity agency, all of a sudden, in the middle of the game, the entire Maracana stadium, 70,000 people, started singing, 'The champion has returned! The champion has returned!'"
The chant was poetry to the ears of a man who picked up the team at a dark time in Brazilian football history. With the World Cup fast approaching, squad confidence had been low, and the Brazilian fan base was wracked with self-doubt and media panic-mongering. "The team wasn't playing well, the expectations for the World Cup were very negative, and suddenly the team grew in such a way ... in four months. And the people really believed, and in a certain way, helped us play better."
Retrospectively, the coach admits his team had been impacted by the negative culture he and Scolari inherited. "We had a bit of apprehension, a question of 'will it actually be good to play in Brazil?' Because Brazil had only played one Cup before here, in 1950, we were so young then, the coaching staff, the players weren't even born yet.
"We lost and from then on when we played in Brazil, we didn't have that support that we wanted. Because the fans were expecting too much, the press covered it too much, the team didn't have that reception that we hoped it could have. And we kept asking ourselves, 'Do you think for the World Cup it will be good to play in Brazil? If the team doesn't start well, the other team scores a goal, the crowd becomes impatient ... Instead of helping, they critique. Instead of supporting, instead of applauding.' I think the Confederations Cup got rid of all that."
All 32 team previews and predictions
Brazil | Cameroon | Croatia | Mexico
Australia | Netherlands | Chile | Spain
Colombia | Greece | Ivory Coast | Japan
Costa Rica | England | Italy | Uruguay
Ecuador | France | Honduras | Switzerland
Argentina | Bosnia | Iran | Nigeria
Germany | Ghana | Portugal | USA
Algeria | Belgium | Russia | South Korea
Parreira was quick to dismiss the shadow of the 1950 World Cup loss as pure media talk. "There is no impact on the current players or coaches," he insists. "There's no more ghost to haunt us. That doesn't exist anymore, however the press always likes to relive the 'Maracanazo' but it won't impact our preparation or winning of the cup in 2014."
Parreira's candid confidence is grounded in both the present and the past. "Teams win championships. And great players decide games. So you need both of them. You need the team to win the tournament. You need the players, like Neymar, like Oscar -- that we have -- to determine the games."
Yet Parreira draws strength from the power of history. "In every facet of humanity, there is a hierarchy. In your house there's someone who's in charge, at your job there's a president or a director, and in soccer there is a history -- a hierarchy -- that is formed by the victories throughout these last 100 years.
"Brazil has won five World Cups. It is the only country that has been champion five times ... so when the adversary faces you on the field he knows that he has in front of him an opponent that has a history, a tradition. And so, we have to make this history, this tradition, this hierarchy, prevail in the World Cup."
The flip side of that is what Brazilians refer to as "the weight of the shirt." The pressure and responsibility of representing the nation is enormous. "Only Brazil has the obligation to win." Parreira acknowledges and he and Scolari have selected a squad with an obvious flaw -- inexperience.
"For the first time in the history of Brazilian soccer, we are going into a World Cup with a completely new team," he says. "I've worked with great Brazilian teams," he says, referencing the 1970 and 1994 winners. "I think that, there is something very special that I value a lot. This team doesn't have a single player who's a world champion."
Parreira's panacea is simple. "We have created a maxim: 'zero mistakes, total efficiency.' You mess up, you're going home," he explains. The old trainer has sharpened his obsession with preparation working with Gatorade Sports Science Institute to work on ways he can enhance his charges' performance, including individually customized rehydration mixtures for each player. "You win on the field and off the field," he says. "The most important thing for the Brazilian national team is technical preparation, it's the physical preparation, it's the motivation, it's the group unity, it's the logistics, the travel, the nutrition, the physical training."
Will they win? The coach smiles and offers two answers. "The great attraction of soccer is it's an unpredictable game. We went to go watch some basketball, the Miami Heat, against a much worse team, we went there to see the place, to feel the party, but we already knew who was going to win. In soccer, the unpredictability sometimes works. The weakest opponent can win against the stronger one."
Irrespective, Parreira's confidence quickly returns. "It is unthinkable, unimaginable, that Brazil doesn't win the cup at home," he says. "Is there pressure? Yes. But the players are used to living under pressure. Now they all need to respond."