Tele Santana’s legacy will show up in this World Cup.

The 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil, turned out to be in my mind the least interesting match of the whole tournament. Gone was the dazzling flair and showmanship of previous Brazilian squads. In place was this team whose only intention was ball possession. There were spells that one slept through. I remember being absolutely livid with the type of play that was going on. And the Italians whose best offence is their defence were only to happy to see this Brazilian side. The match dragged on and on and ended in a penalty shoot out, mercifully ending the snoozefest. Brazil won playing German football. It was a terrible sight to see.
It was all part of a new thinking introduced by Mario Zagalo and Carlos Alberto Parriera, following the defensive breakdowns of the Tele Santana coached Brazilian squads of 1982 and 1986, that played exhilarating offense, sweeping all opposing teams aside only to be let down by a porous defence. It was a joy to see the talents of players like Zico, Eder, Falcao, Junior, Socrates being let loose and unfettered on the field.
But the memory of those defeats cut deeply into the Brazilian soccer psyche. And so began the evolution to ball possession and efficiency. And at all costs winning the World Cup. Carlos Alberto Parreira and his assistant, Mario Zagalo were given the task of introducing those changes. Artistry was kept in check, no more exuberant displays of ball skills. It was better to be pedantic and pedestrian. And the enforcer was Dunga, the 1994 Brazilian captain, the archetype of the new Brazilian player. Dunga famously declared that the days of El Jogo Bonito was over. “This is the Brazil of sweat and sacrifice.” Dunga even looked the part with his close cropped hair and hatchet features. The Howie Long of soccer.
And so the days of Tele Santana inspired football was over. “I would rather win playing well than lose playing badly,” was his catch phrase. Under Parreira and Zagalo, it was, “Take the ball to the bank and keep it under lock and key.”
And for soccer purists the dark days began. For Brazilian soccer it was a transition. The 2002 World Cup showed a tentative Brazil playing a hapless German squad. But even the occasional flair and showmanship that Ronaldinho and Ronaldo brought was enough to overcome the Germans.
But nobody can keep the Brazilians down for long. And Tele Santana’s mantra resonates pretty deeply with the current crop of players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Cafu, and Kaka. So look out for El Jogo Bonito in this World Cup. There is no better way to remember Tele Santana’s legacy. And I am sure Zico is doing the same with the Japanese squad.

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