Telê Santana: The Savior of O Jogo Bonito

Rob Hughes writes about the ailing Telê Santana in the International Herald Tribune today.
Is this the man who saved the beautiful game? It is a very important one for all football fans everywhere. It is true that Brazil almost lost its way, but thanks to Santana, we are still playing the game the way God planned it.
Here is Hughes’ version of Santana’s story:
Sometimes it takes a jolt of disquieting news from far away to remind us that Europe is not the be-all and end-all of global soccer.
It can seem that way because the Champions League dominates the club game, and the World Cup will be with us in Germany come June. But while it is the money that brings the best players of the world to Europe, it is still Brazil whose ability to elevate soccer to art provides the beauty in so many teams now playing there.
The two men I think of whenever I hear the phrase “O Jogo Bonito” (effectively, “The Beautiful Game” in Portuguese) are Pelé and Telê Santana.
Pelé, who played it and is associated with saying it, is thriving as he has for almost half a century of World Cups.
Santana is not so well. He is in intensive care in Felício Rocho Hospital in Belo Horizonte, where three years ago he had a leg amputated because of a blood disorder and where he now struggles for breath because of an intestinal infection.
Santana, 74, is a fighter and always has been. As a player, a winger, he was nicknamed Thread of Hope because his stamina and heart seemed to defy the slenderest of builds.
As a coach, which is when I met him, his determination to champion the beautiful game gave a whole generation of Brazilians – and the rest of us who are merely attracted to the principles of jogo bonito – the chance to believe talent would be liberated in spite of the concerted efforts of Brazilians themselves to make the game tougher and more consistent with European organization.
The fight, like Santana’s personal battle with illness, which started with smoking, goes back a long way. It involves the struggle between pragmatism and play, and it comes from men who also called themselves coaches.
Way back in 1966, Pelé and his colleagues were brutally kicked and inadequately protected during the World Cup in England. The Europeans booted the Brazilians literally off the ball and snuffed out their inspiration through applied organization and with the help of compliant refereeing.
A school of Brazilian coaches, led by Cláudio Coutinho, an army captain, came to Europe, studied the methods particularly in West Germany and went home to try to “Europeanize” the methods there.
One of Coutinho’s young aides, Carlos Alberto Parreira, has become the coach today. Parreira, a physical educationalist and a thoroughly pleasant man, succeeded in training the 1994 Brazil team that won the 1994 World Cup and, with his assistant Mário Zagalo, is back now guiding the team that goes to Germany as tournament favorite.
Parreira’s style is intelligent. He seeks order, but he knows that with God-given talents like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Robinho, his team needs a measure of liberty going forward. They can, given the platform, simply outscore the rest.
With deference to the three R’s, the consistent thread through the past five World Cups has been Marcos Evangelista de Moraes, simply known as Cafu. Nominally the right back, and now just coming back after a right knee operation, Cafu is too adventurous to be a dedicated fullback.
He will turn 36 by the time the World Cup kicks off, but he has never lost that irrepressible spirit that was encouraged in his youth, encouraged by Telê Santana.
As with Zico, Sócrates, Falcão, Júnior and Éder, some of the most thrilling of Brazilians over the past 30 years, Santana has been their mentor, their liberator, their strength to believe that even when Brazil’s own league took a brutal swing toward coarse defensiveness, skill was the way forward.
The balance has to be held, even for Brazil, which is the only Latin American country to win the World Cup on European soil – in Pelé’s fledgling year, 1958. Even Luiz Felipe Scolari, who coached the 2002 World Cup winning team in Korea-Japan, seemed to undergo a conversion along the road; he was a renowned pragmatist, a coach whose team played dirty until it reached the finals, and then he allowed it to blossom.
Bless him for that.
All the while, when his health allowed it, Santana was defending the cause of jogo bonito.
He suffered for his beliefs when at two World Cups, in 1982 and 1986, he led the nation but returned home defeated and insulted and pelted with rotting fruit at the airports.
Particularly in 1982, where Brazil pursued the beautiful game and came unstuck in a sensational game of attack and counterattack against Italy, this was the bravest of defiance. Brazil lacked a finisher of anything like the quality it has today, and it lacked a reliable goalie, but it was Paolo Rossi’s hat trick, in a 3-2 Italian victory, that was the undoing.
Santana acknowledged Rossi’s brilliance. Other Brazilians blamed the coach. He went back eventually to coach São Paulo to capture the Copa Libertadores twice, and each time to win the World Club Cup.
Vindicated, but never to give up his Beautiful Game, and never to concede to the brutes and the intellectuals who said Brazil had to become like all the rest, Santana was forced to retire in 1996. He suffered a stroke, he had diabetes, and though he had long ago abandoned cigarettes, he suffered consequences of smoking, too.
His son Renê Santana said Monday that, though his father was breathing through a ventilator, he was responding to treatment. “It gives us hope,” said the son, “that he will recover, though it would take a long time.”
The long fight to restore beauty to the game has put Brazil’s national side back on the road to health. Kaka, Robinho, Adriano and Cicinho, the young prospects, possibly barely know how much Santana fought to liberate the game.

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5 comments on “Telê Santana: The Savior of O Jogo Bonito
  1. Tele Santana was beaten mercilessly by the press and by the fans. I felt sorry for him when Zico and company failed…
    But now, Brazil is the king once again.
    Thanks to you Tele Santana!

  2. Goodbye Telê Santana

    Brasil and the world will miss you, Telê Santana. We are thankful that you were here to guide Brasil through the dark ages. You kept the light of the game burning when everyone was ready to give up. Without you…

  3. Ronaldinho is the most enthusisastic and the most hopeful person. I will try my best and use all my will power to become like him and become a praised soccer player.

  4. Ronaldinho is the most enthusisastic and the most hopeful person. I will try my best and use all my will power to become like him and become a praised soccer player.

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