CARLOS ALBERTO PARREIRA: THE MAN THAT LED FIVE NATIONS TO THE WORLD CUP FINALS

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In 1994, Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira coached his country to a World Cup victory. He enjoyed the celebrations with his team and the short-term national exaltation, but he was weary. He was weary of every decision he made being scrutinised from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro.  As he said 20 years later, “Soccer in Brazil is a cultural phenomenon, as well as a social and sporting one.”

This national fervour reached such heights during Parreira’s reign that he eventually waived a decision to leave out the mercurial Romário from his squad after the Brazilian attacker was only selected as a substitute and criticised Parreira for it. Romário was thought to be in his prime; he was 27 years old and idolised by his club fans in Barcelona. Thus, Parreira’s decision to drop the attacker from his squad came under heavy scrutiny.

Brazil are the only nation to have qualified for every World Cup, but this statistic looked to be in a precarious position during the 1994 qualification campaign. With his side needing a draw against Uruguay in the final game to reach the finals – in the USA – Parreira reneged on his decision to drop Romário.

It paid off, as Brazil beat Uruguay 2-0 to qualify. The scorer of both goals? Romário.

But the national vitriol remained, and it didn’t help that Parreira’s success was always greeted with the caveat that his side had to play considerably weaker opponents in Holland and Sweden in the knock-out stages and could only beat Italy on penalties in the final. Parreira set up his team to play in a defensive way; they were notoriously well organised, and he later said that “they were one of the best teams I’ve ever seen without the ball.”

The coach would come under heavy criticism from the Brazilian media during the tournament for his defensive-minded central midfield – Dunga and Mauro Silva were labelled “two bruisers who could not play together.”But Parreira stayed true to his system, and eventually, the central midfielders played a key role in the Brazilian success. When speaking to Reuters in 2014, Parreira noted that “We wanted to play good football, but in the end, what really counts is to win the World Cup. The way you do it doesn’t matter really.”

As his side celebrated the victory – what should be the happiest moment in a coach’s career – it’s likely that Parreira was already gauging his next decision, which was to resign. After such contempt from the Brazilian public, it was all the more remarkable that he was met with choruses to return to his role when Vanderlei Luxemburgo was sacked in 2000. Parreira refused, but he found himself in a similar position only a year later after Luiz Felipe Scolari managed Brazil to a quarter-final exit at the Copa America.

The Brazilian coach did give in to the public in 2003 when he agreed to manage his country for the second time but vacated his role again after losing to France in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup. Brazil managed to qualify for the tournament far more easily than Parreira’s previous team in 1994, losing only twice throughout an 18-game qualification campaign. Parreira’s tactile approach to international football became clear as Brazil embarked on a training camp in Switzerland – where the climate is very similar to Germany – a month before the tournament.

It was unfortunate that while his team took part in the camp, Parreira found himself with an increasingly perplexing selection dilemma. In 1994, Romário and Bebeto were both widely known to be the greatest striking pair in Brazil. Bebeto was the perfect foil for Romário’s attacking exuberance, while Mazinho and Zinho were both very capable of threading passes through for the duo.

But in 2006, there was no clear attacking combination. In the end, Parreira opted for a quartet of Kaká, Ronaldinho, Adriano and Ronaldo, but it was a measure of the flair going forward in his squad that he was able to leave young talents Juninho and Robinho on the bench. Parreira had trialled this system at the Confederations Cup a year earlier, though Ronaldo opted to rest his ageing legs. His absence didn’t affect Brazil – they romped to victory at the tournament, largely thanks to five goals from Adriano.

This success was greatly welcomed in Brazil, after they drew seven times throughout the qualification campaign which preceded the Confederations Cup, winning only half their games. And when the tournament arrived in 2006, there was a notable excitement surrounding Brazil’s finely composed attack, only furthered by a comfortable group stage. Parreira’s side scored seven goals across the three games, including a 4-1 rout over a Japan side who’d reached the last 16 at the previous World Cup.

During their group games, only Ronaldinho failed to score, and the quartet were threatening to reach the heights that their nation would welcome. After breezing past Ghana in the Round of 16, Brazil would face a France side featuring similar illustrious talents that Parreira’s men had become fabled for. But in a tense quarter-final, it was France who prevailed, thanks to a second-half winner from Thierry Henry. Despite Henry’s goal, Les Bleus would pay a large debt to Zinedine Zidane, whose midfield masterclass sent a flimsy Brazilian midfield scrambling across the field all afternoon.

In assembling such a dominant attacking force, Parreira had forgotten about such a vital part of the game – the midfield. It took Zidane just 35 seconds to seamlessly glide past Brazil’s collection of attackers, who were having to play more defensively. Brazil’s midfield duo of Zé Roberto and Gilberto Silva looked hopelessly out of their depth, such was the dazzling quality of Zidane.

Ultimately, Brazil’s untimely exit at the 2006 World Cup can be blamed on Parreira’s muddled decision-making, and his unfortunate fickleness. Parreira’s admission after the victorious 1994 tournament that he had been unaffected by the widespread ridicule for his defensive football was clearly incorrect; this time, instead of erring on the side of successful caution, he pushed the boundary too far in the other direction.

When Parreira’s attacking razzmatazz faced stronger opponents, like France, the coach thought his fragile midfield would be unable to cope, so he replaced Emerson and Adriano with Gilberto Silva and Juninho. The Brazilian press had been calling for these changes in the build-up to the match, and it appeared that Parreira had buckled under the media’s pressure once more.

Had Parreira’s side exited the tournament playing in the way which they longed for, it would have been far more acceptable. But to rid his team of their identity and attacking zeal was unforgivable. If Parreira was serious about the system being unable to cope with stronger opponents, then surely, he should have considered this before setting his team up in such a way. But the French defensive unit, including sturdy centre-backs William Gallas and Lilian Thuram, were able to cope easily with a weakened attacking line-up. Parreira, despite such attacking talent at his disposal on the bench, was unable to revive Brazil’s insidious campaign.

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The main criticism which fell Parreira’s way was that he played without tactics; his team was composed of stars who were not told how to play with one another. As O Globo said in the wake of Brazil’s exit, “For a man who had 3½ years to work with hardly any pressure, who had a golden generation at his disposal and who is vastly experienced in the job, Parreira was a total disaster.”

The shameful fact for Parreira was that his side had been beaten by a team playing in the same skilful way that had made Brazil successful for so long. Les Bleus played with flair, accuracy and energy – qualities that had been synonymous with the Brazilian national team for so long. Parreira had now experienced both sides of the Brazilian sporting spectrum: success with no honour, and no success with no honour. It was thought that there was simply no possible scenario in which Parreira could ever manage the national team again.


Parreira began his coaching career with the Ghana national team, aged just 23, making him the youngest ever international football manager. In 1967, just months after beginning his role in Ghana, Parreira resigned in order to take up a place on a course in Hanover studying audio-visual coaching aids. This opportunity in Hanover led to his first chance with the Brazilian national team, as he was offered the job of fitness trainer for the 1970 World Cup.

Parreira was offered his second coaching job seven years after his first, and he accepted the manager’s role at Fluminense. The Brazilian is one of only two managers to coach five different nations to a World Cup, which highlights his rare ability to move seamlessly between cultures and continents. Though he achieved success on a global stage with his home country, Parreira admits that his greatest achievement was guiding a technically bereft Kuwait team to the Olympics, and later the World Cup.

He took up the position in 1978, 11 years after his previous international management role. During that time, Parreira had accepted a job as fitness coach of the Brazilian national team for the 1970 World Cup, as well as undertaking two separate spells at the helm of Fluminense – Parreira’s childhood club. Kuwait’s main downfall before Parreira’s arrival was that they simply did not play enough competitive matches: the season before the Brazilian became the manager, they played only four games, twice against Qatar and Bahrain.

Parreira instantly changed this. The season after he arrived, his team played almost triple the games they had in the previous year. An upturn in results was almost immediate too – in his first year in charge, Parreira’s side lost just four of the 13 games they played. The Kuwaiti players had all been promised $200,000 if they progressed to the second round of their maiden World Cup, and they began promisingly as they surprised Czechoslovakia in drawing 1-1 in both sides’ opening group matches.

Parreira’s problem was that the games which followed – against France and England – were even more difficult. And so it proved, as Kuwait lost 4-1 to France, before bowing out of their first World Cup with a 1-0 defeat to a strong England team. But the defeat against France didn’t come without controversy – Kuwait were 3-1 behind when Alain Giresse blasted the ball home past their listless defence, only for the goal to be disallowed. Prince Fahid, the President of the Kuwaiti FA, had blown a whistle in the stands, and the players on the pitch stopped playing.

After Kuwait refused to continue playing when the referee waved away their remonstrations, the Prince came down to the pitch, and eventually, the match continued, and the goal was disallowed. In retrospect, Kuwait’s qualification for both the Olympics and the World Cup was their defining success – a team with as little resources as they had would never be able to cope with the stratosphere of talent on show at these global events. During his four-year spell with Kuwait, his team won 64% of their games, a statistic which is even more remarkable if you consider that just 1000 people in the country played football at the time.

The fact that Parreira spent those four years in Kuwait – longer than any of his other management jobs – shows that the Brazilian felt a true sense of achievement that came with the challenge of guiding a less talented team to relative success. Parreira would later move onto other Asian nations later in the 1980s, after a brief first spell with Brazil in 1983. The Brazilian accepted a job offer in the United Arab Emirates in 1985, but he’d spend just three years there before switching associations to Saudi Arabia, after an unsuccessful Asia Cup campaign with the UAE in 1988.

After his replacement Mário Zagallo succeeded in guiding the UAE to World Cup qualification in 1990 (largely as a result of Parreira’s foundations), the Brazilian was approached in question for a return to the Emirati national team. Having already managed Kuwait at the 1982 World Cup, Parreira was under no illusions as to the challenge his side faced; his team had been drawn into a group with eventual winners, Germany, Yugoslavia (who would later finish fifth), and Colombia.

After such a successful qualification campaign, there was a palpable air of cautious optimism in the UAE regarding Parreira’s side’s chances in the tournament. In their first game, they faced a Colombian side featuring Carlos Valderrama – perceived by many to be his national team’s greatest player – and Freddy Rincón, amongst a host of other stars. Despite the quality of the opposition, patriotic positivity remained as Colombia struggled to break down a motivated and tenacious Emirati defence, and found themselves level at the interval.

But Colombia’s vault of talent eventually found its way past Parreira’s wisely-coached, obstinate defence, and the UAE lost 2-0. The loss was a crushing blow for a side that had begun so promisingly, and so the game that followed against powerhouses West Germany was always going to be a challenging one. Despite a 6-1 defeat at the hands of the eventual winners, the UAE did manage to score their first ever World Cup goal through the left boot of Ismail Mubarak. And after another loss, this time 4-1 to Yugoslavia, Parreira was sacked after the tournament, ending a brief second tenure with the UAE national team.

Parreira’s sacking is still a mystery. The UAE’s failures at the tournament were to be expected – their real success was in reviving the national team’s fortunes, so they had the tools to qualify. The fact that the UAE have not played in a World Cup since speaks volumes to his achievement. Having re-joined Saudi Arabia in 1998, ending a short stint in MLS, Parreira was handed the reins for the nation’s second consecutive World Cup campaign. After reaching the second round in 1994, national expectations were considerably higher than one might have expected.

Despite a solid performance in their first game, Saudi Arabia were beaten by a 70th-minute winner from Denmark’s Marc Rieper. Similarly to his 1990 campaign with the UAE, it would only get worse for Parreira. After defender Mohammad Al-Khilaiwi was sent off in the 19th minute against host nation France, Saudi Arabia were forced to play the majority of the match with ten men against a rapturous home crowd. A defeat was only made more inevitable by the quality of the opposition on show: Deschamps, Zidane, Henry and Desailly were just a few in blue attempting to destroy any Saudi World Cup dreams.

A much simpler final group game awaited – against South Africa – but Parreira was not given the chance to lead his team into it. Instead, he became the first manager to be sacked during a World Cup. Again, Parreira’s dismissal emits a fleeting sense of injustice. For a man to be brought in for a World Cup campaign, narrowly lose his first game, before being thrashed by the eventual World Champions and host nation, then to be sacked seems iniquitous. That Parreira was the eighth manager in less than four years to be sacked speaks volumes of the mentality of the Saudi Arabian FA at the time.

From his time in Ghana to the end of his career in international management, Parreira was always thought to be an erudite student of the game. Parreira realised that he had to compensate for his lack of playing experience through tactical proficiency. His worldwide reputation is that he leaves nothing to chance before a game: Parreira will read multiple technical reports, watch dozens of matches involving his opponents, and use his vault of contacts to pick up vital nuggets of information.

During his coaching career, Parreira always followed the mantra of defence being the best form of attack. When taking over a new team, the first thing he would do was organise them defensively, therefore making them more difficult to beat. This is an extremely beneficial method for the smaller nations, but when you find yourself coaching Brazil’s array of stars, expectations are slightly higher. It’s not enough to simply organise your team – you must create a brand of football that is innovative and exciting to watch, as Parreira found out in 1994.

He toyed with a more attacking outlook in 2006, but eventually turned back to his favoured tactic before his team’s most important game in the knockout stages, to no avail. Though some weaker nations capture the hearts of football fans during a World Cup, Parreira’s UAE side were unable to. A combination of the UAE’s lack of stars and Parreira’s defensive tactics meant that the success of the Emiratis reaching the global event would always be greeted by the caveat of their performances at the tournament.

One of the more notable achievements in Parreira’s career was uniting a poverty-stricken South Africa to host a fantastically successful World Cup in 2010. In a country where unemployment is high, and poverty is rife, much was made of his six-figure salary as national manager, but there was a necessity for a home team that the whole nation could support, and the South African Football Association clearly believed Parreira was the man to deliver this.

The Brazilian left his role in April 2008 to care for his ill wife. After his successor – Joel Santana – endured a horrifically unsuccessful run in which results fell as expectations rose, Parreira was asked to return to his position just over a year after he had departed. Parreira then had just ten months to build a South African side of which the rainbow nation could be proud. His task was more difficult than many thought. In a country where football is far less popular than both rugby and cricket, there was no national youth development programme whatsoever.

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With another team seemingly lacking in technical prowess, Parreira went back to what he knew best. Bafana Bafana were sent on boot camps to both Germany and Brazil to build fitness and morale, while they were set up in such a way that they would be difficult to break down defensively. After an 11-match unbeaten run heading into the tournament, spirits among the South African camp were high.

And this optimism was furthered even more when Siphiwe Tshabalala hammered the ball home against Mexico to give his side the lead and send the home crowd into raptures. But Mexican veteran Rafael Márquez equalised with just ten minutes to go, and the rainbow nation sighed as a missed opportunity flew past. The matches would only get harder, too, as Uruguay awaited Parreira’s side. A lively front-line of Diego Forlán, Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez was always likely to test South Africa, although they possessed a sturdy defence. And so it proved, as two goals from Forlán and one from by Álvaro Pereira saw the hosts beaten 3-0.

South Africa’s knockout stage hopes were in tatters, and the host nation were left to wonder what might have been, as they dominated France to take a 2-1 victory from their final group game. Parreira’s side had a far inferior goal difference to Mexico and were therefore eliminated. Though his Bafana Bafana side exited the tournament at the group stage, they captured the hearts of a nation still recovering from the international ban during the apartheid period in a similar fashion to the national rugby team 15 years earlier.

Parreira ventured into club management sporadically throughout his career, notably in four separate spells at Brazilian side Fluminense – of whom he is an avid fan – where he has coached the club to two division titles. For a man who has spent 47 years in management, it’s remarkable that he is still greeted with concerns over his quality – he only saw palpable success in one spell with Brazil.

But Parreira is a man who requires deeper thought. Though their football association expected more, taking Kuwait to the World Cup with just 1,000 football players in the country is outstanding. When Parreira took over South Africa, it seemed impossible that they would be anything other than whipping boys at the World Cup. For them to come within inches of a knockout tie against Argentina is, too, outstanding. Few managers are able to enjoy such a long career, which proves that there is something very special in the way Parreira forms and unites his teams to create a spectacle of which supporters can be extremely proud.

When you consider the amount of sides which Parreira was trusted to re-build, you can sense that there is something which doesn’t immediately meet the eye with the Brazilian. For a man who did not play professional football himself, it’s certainly fair to say that Parreira is one of the most successful managers, and one who has helped shape the tactics and preparation of international football.

BY JOSH BARTHOLOMEW