The Brazilian legend looks back on Spain 82, and one of the greatest sides not to win the World Cup...
How did the team feel going into the tournament?
When you’re well prepared, you always feel confident, wherever you are; in a school exam or on a football pitch. And that side was ready; it had been built over the previous three years and got to Spain on top of everything.
How did you feel playing a World Cup knowing your son was about to be born?
It somehow creates a different anxiety – different, but not incompatible. Because the problem wasn’t playing the World Cup, it was being away in case of any unforeseen circumstance.
Once you started beating teams well, did you assume you were going to win it?
No. Not at all. There are no assurances in football. And this is even more evident in a tournament like the World Cup. The World Cup is actually a football fair; not a proper championship. In a championship, you would expect to win the title with that side. But in the World Cup, where more than half of the matches are knockout ties, anything is possible. Merit doesn’t count.
What went wrong against Italy?
There was nothing different. We played exactly how we’d played the previous games. What went wrong was Italy scoring more goals. Incomprehensibly.
Do you ever replay that game over in your head?
Not at all. That game is part of my past. I live the present, carry on my life. I don’t even recall my son’s face when he was born!
Did you watch the rest of the tournament?
We came back to Brazil and I watched the third-place match and the final. My son was born on the day of the final.
How did you feel watching the final?
Since it’s a seasonal tournament, emotions pile up towards the World Cup – and, in my case, because it was my first World Cup. It was a new experience, much anticipated. It was frustrating not to have reached the final, especially because it was loads of fun playing for that team.
What was the reaction back home in Brazil?
Probably similar to the one we would have had if we’d won the World Cup – because that side epitomised Brazil. It may have been the last side to represent Brazil in a World Cup that epitomised the country. It was irreverent, joyful, creative, free-flowing. From that point onwards, the Seleçao became like any other first-world country national side.
Despite not winning, people still look back on Brazil 82 as one of the great teams. Is that any consolation?
If we had won, it would have been the same for me. I measure success by the experiences we live; and to play for a side like that is like dating the woman you’re in love with.
With your headband, beard and the fact that you were a qualified doctor, you became a bit of cult hero around the world. Why is that?
I come across as football’s Che Guevara, don’t I? I notice that. There’s a need, in the modern society, for people who instigate thinking, who don’t accept the status quo. There’s a fascination with people who question established ideas, like I do. I wish much more people had that attitude.
Interview by Bernardo Pires Domingues, May 2010.