If World Cups could be won solely on experience, Brazil would not rely on their 23 players, of whom only five went to South Africa in 2010. Nor would they rely on Luiz Felipe Scolari, even though he led his nation to a record fifth title 12 years ago.
If a World Cup could be won solely on experience, Brazil need to look only as far as Scolari’s assistant, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who has enjoyed a life so entwined with Fifa’s showpiece tournament that a World Cup without him would feel almost as odd as a World Cup without a ball.
In 1970, 42 years ago, Parreira was a fitness coach with Brazil’s triumphant World Cup squad, working with Pele, Tostao and Rivelino. Inspired by the experience, he became one of only two coaches to lead five nations at World Cup finals, including the team of the United Arab Emirates in 1990.
Scolari joked earlier this year that if Brazil do not win this month’s tournament he will need to emigrate to Kuwait. Yet Parreira, 71, moved there voluntarily in 1978 and led the Arab Gulf nation to its only finals, four years later.
Kuwait’s appearance in Spain 1982 is remembered mostly for Sheikh Fahad Al Sabah storming the pitch and successfully overturning a French goal against his country.
But it is often forgotten Parreira’s band of amateurs drew 1-1 with Czechoslovakia and lost only 1-0 to England.
By 1985, the Brazilian had relocated to the UAE where he remained for four years before departing for a short spell in Saudi Arabia.
Less than three months before the 1990 World Cup was to kick off in Italy, Parreira received a call from the Emirates: the UAE Football Association had sacked Mario Zagallo and the national team needed a coach.
“My experience over there was very good,” Parreira told The National recently from his home in Rio de Janeiro. “We had a nice team with good young players eager for experience.
“I remember we had two excellent Gulf Cup campaigns (reaching the final in 1986 and 1988) and that allowed us to build the experience necessary to qualify for the World Cup in Italy.”
Parreira took his squad to Nimes, in southern France, for a training camp ahead of their finals debut.
He has a sepia-tinged photograph of himself standing happily alongside his technical team and wearing a puffy red, white, black and green shell suit. Once the tournament began, the UAE, with their defensive tactics and lack of stars, proved just as unfashionable.
In Italy, Parreira’s team lost all three of their games, against Colombia, West Germany and Yugoslavia, conceding 11 goals and scoring twice. Influential players criticised their coach for being too cautious. The Brazilian dismisses the disparagement.
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“In 1990, the UAE was one of the smaller teams from the Gulf,” Parreira said. “Now, it is very different, the players are professional and maybe more focused on football.
“In those days, for teams like Kuwait and the UAE, for us to reach the World Cup was just amazing.
“It was a signal that we were good and then, when we got there, we said, ‘Let’s enjoy it’, because we didn’t have the players to win the competition.”
That attitude jars with some Gulf football chiefs who believe that if a squad is good enough to qualify, then its players should be capable of fighting for the trophy.
In 1998 and as coach of Saudi Arabia, Parreira became the first manager to be sacked during a World Cup finals. His team lost their first game 1-0 to Denmark then were beaten 4-0 to eventual winners France.
“I did not agree with people who said once teams like UAE, Kuwait and Saudi reach the finals they have to win the World Cup,” Parreira said.
“This is not realistic. Everyone knows how difficult it is to win a World Cup – Brazil went 24 years without reaching a final (between 1970 and 1994).
“For this reason, you have to go there and enjoy the competition. That was my philosophy. We made a good tournament in 1990, the players got great experience and a few years later they reached the final of the Gulf Cup.”
Parreira retains positive memories from his five years in the UAE, where he lived in a serviced apartment in Deira’s Al Ghurair Centre and embraced being able to walk the streets without hassle and build friendships with Emiratis.
“The freedom we had there was nice,” he said.
“The people in the federation gave me very good support and I enjoyed my time there, really.
“I remember when we played Saudi Arabia in Dubai and we had to win to qualify for the Asian Cup and we won 1-0. That particular memory always stays with me.”
Parreira left his post in the Emirates in 1991 and coached Brazil to the 1994 World Cup final, where a hard-fought win over Italy ended his country’s 24-year trophy drought. He was tossed in the air like a hero by his players, but again his cautious tactics were criticised.
After Saudi in 1998, he led Brazil again in 2006 before coaching South Africa at the first World Cup on African soil, in 2010.
Parreira has returned to the UAE only twice since his historical stint as coach.
In 2005, he visited Dubai for two days while coach of Brazil and delivered the Emirates their heaviest defeat, an 8-0 loss in front of a disappointingly small crowd.
He returned to the capital last year for the opening match of the Fifa Under 17 World Cup.
“I found Abu Dhabi to be amazing,” he said. “It had changed a lot since 1988 when I was last there.
“I do not keep in great contact, but I still have good friends from the Emirates.
“I don’t follow the national team so closely, but I know all the clubs and as there are many Brazilians playing there, we often ask about them.”
Brazil has been at the centre of Parreira’s thoughts for much of the past two years, since being appointed technical director in late 2012.
With the tournament to kick off on Thursday, it seems as if the whole of Brazil is holding its breath. But not the man who has become synonymous with the World Cup finals.
Brazilian football is his domain and a World Cup in the country where he was born has him as much at ease as he has ever been.
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