Interviews

Cafu: "It's true that Milan were celebrating at half-time against Liverpool in Istanbul"

Cafu

Could he have joined Real Madrid? Will anyone ever get more Brazil caps? And what’s it like to hang with Berlusconi? The legendary ex-right-back reveals all

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Please note: This feature originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of FourFourTwo. 

You were rejected by Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos and Atletico Mineiro as a kid – why do you think they all failed to see your potential when Sao Paulo did?
Renan Santos Souza, via Facebook

Sao Paulo initially rejected me, too! Most coaches told me to come back the following week. I never gave up. I had to play for a small team called Itaquaquecetuba. Eventually, after I did well in a friendly against Sao Paulo, academy coach Carlinhos Neves spotted me. Today it's tougher for kids who don’t have a good agent. Those who do, play almost anywhere. Hard work was enough in my day.

Is it true you were a midfielder in your youth? If so, how did your switch to full-back come about?
Kian Gough, via email

I started as a winger. Then one day, Sao Paulo’s right-back, Ze Teodoro, got injured and our coach, Tele Santana, wanted me to play in that position for three games while he recovered. And that was that. I trusted Santana.

Despite our good relationship, I didn’t really enjoy being a full-back at first – I had to learn how to cross in a different way, and it took a while – but when Paulo Roberto Falcao called me into the Brazil squad in 1990, I knew Santana was right. Nothing meant more to me than playing for the Seleção.

I read that you were linked with a move to Real Madrid early in your career, but they signed your back-up at Sao Paulo, Vitor, instead. Did that irritate you? How different do you think your career would have been had you moved to Madrid at that stage?
Kingsley Irwin, Doncaster

Who knows how things could have worked out? It could have been even worse; maybe I wouldn’t be a world champion today if I had gone there at that time. Back then I was very upset, naturally. The Spanish came to talk to me, but then Sao Paulo’s chairman said he would have to resign if I left.

I was flattered to be seen as so important, but I did still want to go to Madrid. At the time, Sao Paulo were winning it all, nationally and internationally, but it was seen as more special to play for Real Madrid. It took some time for players in Brazil to think of Barcelona, Milan or Manchester United as a dream club.

When you came on as a substitute in the first half of the 1994 World Cup Final, you hadn’t played much during the tournament, had you? Were you nervous? Did you have time to get your head around the situation?
Oli Watson, Roehampton

At first I didn’t realise how big it all was, but I was still nervous. When our coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, told me, “Jorginho is injured – warm up now”, my first reaction was: “Who, me?!” Then I took a breather and told him I was ready. I was waiting for that moment. I’d stayed with the Seleção for 45 days, working my ass off. I was probably pretty annoying in the training sessions; I ran as much as I could, trying to get noticed. I used to say that I couldn’t go into battle without loading my gun first.

I also played against the USA under the midday heat in California, and in the last 10 minutes of our quarter-final against the Netherlands – at that stage it was still 2-2 [Brazil eventually won 3-2]. I was prepared. But a final is always special.

Were you glad not to have to take a penalty in the 1994 World Cup Final? How far down the order were you? Would you have taken a better penalty than Diana Ross?
Ed Marshall, Kent

I wasn’t ready to take a penalty at all – that was never a skill of mine! I was probably dead last in the order. Even Diana Ross was ahead of me in that one.

Why did you last only half a season at Real Zaragoza? Did you ever wish you could have spent more time in Spanish football?
Bruno, via Twitter

For sure. They welcomed me in great fashion. My contract was for six months, with the option for two more years. In the middle of the season I had this injury in my pubis and that stopped me from playing. I was always on the bench. When I was offered a contract to go to a tiny club called Juventude, I took it. The coach in Spain said I should stay, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to help the team much. I was feeling terrible for being there without helping out on the pitch.

Did you find it difficult to dislodge Zaragoza legend Alberto Belsue? Did the fact that he was a local hero make it tougher?
Mark Wormall, Fareham

It's tough to go to a new team, but I arrived as a World Cup winner, and I had just played in the final. I got along with Belsue. We used to have dinner together; we had a lot of fun. The respect was mutual, but the coach had the final decision. To be honest, maybe he sometimes had an advantage because he was the local hero, but in general the competition was very healthy.

Leaving Real Zaragoza for Juventude back in Brazil, then playing only a handful of games for them before leaving again for Palmeiras... how hectic was that period of your career?
Luana Martins Pinto, Sao Paulo

I couldn’t go straight to Palmeiras because of the terms of the deal between Zaragoza and Sao Paulo, who didn’t want me to come back to Brazil and play for their bitter rivals – Palmeiras had taken Sao Paulo’s place as Brazil’s winning machine. So the people at Parmalat, who were Palmeiras’ sponsors, told me I should go to one of the other teams they had links with first.

I chose Juventude because I needed to recover from my injury and going there meant I could do so closer to my home. People in Caxias do Sul, where Juventude are based, were just fantastic – I felt like a king. When I eventually arrived at Palmeiras, the adaptation was really quick. They didn’t see me as a former rival at all.

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What happened on the night before the 1998 World Cup Final in Paris? And how distracted were the team because of it?
Suzanne, via email

Ronaldo had a seizure and I was one of the first to arrive in his room. I saw Cesar Sampaio pulling his tongue out from his throat, Roberto Carlos looking desperate right next to him… it was a horrible scene that was obviously still on our minds the next day. We all thought he shouldn’t play, but the doctor disagreed. I am no doctor.

Ronaldo came into the dressing room and told [coach Mario] Zagallo that he was fine and willing to play. We were stunned, but how could we say no to the best player in the world? Maybe it would have been better with Edmundo – he was also in great shape and we wouldn’t have been so worried or distracted. But France deserved to win. They played superbly against us.

CAREER

  • 1988-94: Sao Paulo 117 games (7 goals)
  • 1994-95: Real Zaragoza 17 (0)
  • 1995: Juventude 2 (0)
  • 1995-97: Palmeiras 35 (0)
  • 1997-2003: Roma 217 (8)
  • 2003-08: Milan 161 (4)
  • 1990-2006: Brazil 142 (5)

Who was better: Ronaldo or Romario?
Carla Almeida Barbosa, via Facebook

These are two geniuses and two world champions. Romario got my attention because of his quickness of thought in the penalty box. Once you pause to think, he's already ahead of you. I suffered a lot playing against him; I was afraid to hit him too hard and give trouble to the whole team.

With Ronaldo it was different because I was already a starter for Brazil – I didn’t have to play against him so much. But he was just as special as Romario.

What was it like to play under the famously attack-minded coach Zdenek Zeman at Roma? Did you ever do any defensive drills at all, or was it all about going forward?
Aziz, via Twitter

Man, those were some wacky training sessions! But it was perfect for players who liked a tough physical workout, and I was always one of those. I was never better than when it came to physical preparation. We did do some defensive drills, but tactically they were shocking; our offside trap was set almost in the middle of the pitch. It was suicide! Zeman didn’t care and wanted us to play like that in league matches.

During training we told him we wanted to change things; we asked nicely, of course – he was the boss. We explained that the defence would be hugely exposed. That attitude made us score four, five goals in each match, but generally we’d also concede two or three despite having great defenders. The better teams knew exactly how to exploit that, but Zeman couldn’t care less – even if we were up against Juventus, Milan or Inter, he just wanted us to bomb forward.

Just how great was the Roma team that won the Italian league title in 2001? Should they have won more trophies?
Viviano Rossi, via Facebook

That team definitely deserved much more. From the early rounds of matches, we knew the 18-year title drought would end. We hammered Juventus, Milan and Inter, and beat Lazio so many times I can’t even remember. There were so many broken records. It’s hard to know why we couldn’t be as strong in the seasons that followed, but we still managed to be runners-up in 2002 and finish third in 2003. We were fighting against giants, too. The league in that era was very, very strong.

During your time at Roma you earned the nickname Il Pendolino (‘The Express Train’). When was the last time you caught a train?
Harvey Macauley, Leicester

It was exactly two years ago, when I travelled from Milan to Rome! That nickname was fair; I was very fit in those days. I could probably run as fast as the train. Almost! 

What happened when you were stripped of the Brazil captaincy before the 2002 World Cup? Were you relieved when Vanderlei Luxemburgo left and you were reinstated?
Sam Bath, via Twitter

It actually happened after Luiz Felipe Scolari arrived. I was the captain in every match of the World Cup qualifiers until Scolari took over and gave the armband to Emerson – a great player who he knew well since their days at Gremio. Scolari came to me to explain and I said it was fine; that all I wanted was to be a world champion again. He didn’t expect to hear that, and we became friends.

During every training session he would come to me and ask my opinion. We shared a lot of ideas. And then, shortly before the World Cup, Emerson got injured and the captaincy was given back to me. It was very natural. I asked Scolari not to drop Emerson – we wanted him with the group. But I lost that one; he brought Ricardinho in. It was just like a family. We discussed days off, schedules. He was very friendly off the pitch and very demanding on the pitch.

When you decided to climb on the podium to lift the 2002 World Cup, did you worry about falling off? It looked pretty precarious. That could have been embarrassing…
Naomi James, via email

For sure! It was made of glass and I was wearing my boots. It could have cracked at any moment! But I was just blind – I told Sepp Blatter and Pele to hold me up there because I was a world champion. When I felt it was steady enough, all I could think of was lifting that trophy as high as I could. It was the best moment of my life.

Which World Cup victory felt better: 1994 in the USA or 2002 in South Korea and Japan?
Matt Abbott, via Twitter

No contest – 2002. In the first I was led, but in the second I was leading. To be the captain – to be responsible for so many different things happening at so many different times – makes a big difference.

How close were you to moving to Japan before joining Milan?
Luigi Mazzanti, Rome

I was definitely going to Yokohama. I was 32 years old and thinking of the future – I was interested in one last big contract. I had a pre-contract with them and they had already sent me part of the money.

But then Milan told me they wanted me, 15 days before my presentation in Japan was due to take place. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d refused a club like Milan. I called Yokohama, explained what had happened and asked how I could send that money back. They were very understanding; they even sent me a letter to thank me for reimbursing them. I told them that Milan would pay me less money, but that the experience is unparalleled.

I expected to play for a couple of years – it ended up being five. Most people said when I arrived that I was going to play 10 matches per season; after all, they’d just won the 2003 Champions League – they were a great side. But during pre-season I was like a rocket. I didn’t go to Milan for a stroll; if I wanted to enjoy myself I would go to Japan. I stayed in the team for three-and-a-half years. When I wanted to rest, Carlo Ancelotti would say: “Nooo, Marcooo.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Milan's 2003 Champions League winners

HONOURS

  • Club: Brasileiro Serie A 1991; Copa Libertadores 1992, 1993; Copa CONMEBOL 1994; UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup 1995; Italian Serie A 2001, 2004; UEFA Champions League 2007; FIFA Club World Cup 2007
  • International: FIFA World Cup 1994, 2002; Copa America 1997, 1999; FIFA Confederations Cup 1997
  • Individual: South American Footballer of the Year 1994; FIFA World Cup All-Star XI 2002; FIFPro World XI 2005

What was the situation with you being accused of having a forged Italian passport? Was that the most difficult situation you faced in your career?
Ben Wilkinson, via Facebook

Not at all – I knew it was just because of one small detail. There was a typo in my passport. My surname was wrong. Italian Justice had some issues with Roma president Franco Sensi. Because Sensi had the passport made, this little mess appeared. I went to court, explained myself to the judge for five hours, and a week later they dismissed the case.

Is it true that a lot of the Milan players were celebrating ‘victory’ at half-time in the 2005 Champions League Final?
Louis Walmsley, via Twitter

It's true, yes. We scored three great goals against a Liverpool team that was one of the most tactically aware sides I have ever faced – we thought it was our day, and we relaxed. When they scored the first two, we felt the impact. When they netted the third we just couldn’t believe it.

It wasn’t Milan’s fault; Liverpool deserved that comeback. I have big admiration for Liverpool: maybe another team wouldn’t show so much character to get level after trailing 3-0 at half-time. Actually I realised it was all lost even before the penalty shootout started, when [Andriy] Shevchenko missed that clear opportunity right in front of [Jerzy] Dudek during extra time.

How much did revenge for Istanbul in 2005 play a part in the 2007 Champions League victory over Liverpool in Athens?
Ross Grosvenor, via Twitter

We didn’t play thinking of revenge at all. It was a very experienced team. I was 36, [Paolo] Maldini 38, [Alessandro] Costacurta 41 and Serginho 35. We knew it was our last chance to win that trophy, but we were very calm. Not many teams could play with that tranquility.

After Pippo [Inzaghi] scored with [Andrea] Pirlo’s assist, I knew this time it was ours: in the 2005 final that kind of opportunity would definitely have been squandered.

What was it like working for owner Silvio Berlusconi at Milan? When was the angriest he ever got? Or did he invite you and the Rossoneri squad to some of his parties?
Paolo Lombardi, via email

I went to one of his parties, but it was in a restaurant. He's such a character. I used to call him ‘the doctor’. He loves Brazilian players and we got along very well. He really embraced my family and me; he even wanted me to start a special academy for full-backs at Milanello. His private business is his private business. With us he was like a daddy. He knows a lot of football and had suggestions, but was never invasive. He knew how to behave.

Of all the fantastic players you played with for the Brazilian national team, which one was your favourite?
Danny Kay, via Twitter

Rivaldo. He did amazing things in 1998 and in 2002. He’s so shy, he has no idea of how fantastic he was. When I heard Rivaldo was fit before any match, I knew that was a big step towards Brazil being able to beat anyone.

Is there any player you wish you could have played with but didn’t get the chance?
Kay Finlay, Ayr

Zinedine Zidane and Diego Maradona. I did get to play with Pele in a friendly in 1990, so that’s pretty substantial compensation! There's nothing like playing with the biggest icon in our sport. I was shaking. Pele was always very generous with me.

Is it really true that you’re a fan of Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan? Are there any other English players you like the look of?
Cheekyric, via Twitter

Sure! I paid him a visit not long ago; we had lunch and took some pictures together. He's very fit and has everything required to be one of the best full-backs in the world. The English players that I like the most are those from my generation. I am a big fan of Frank Lampard – his movement is so elegant. Steven Gerrard is also a great example of character for me.

Did you ever consider playing in England during your career? Did you get a concrete offer from a Premier League side?
‘Venky32’, via Twitter

I never did. It would have been great to play in England. I would have loved to play for Liverpool, Manchester United or Chelsea.

Were you surprised to be chucked out of the Brazil dressing room last year after going in to offer consolations following the 7-1 defeat to Germany? It seemed a bit harsh!
Michael Raynor, via Facebook

The only memory from that day is the shock of that defeat. It's incomprehensible. Brazil were tactically pathetic, and Germany were tactically perfect. They took advantage of our mistakes and didn’t waste a single chance. We have a lot to learn from them – they are much more disciplined than us. But it was a match in which one team didn’t get anything right and the other got everything right. I’d never seen anything like it and I don’t think we will see another game like that any time soon.

What do you make of the current Brazil national team? Do you think Neymar makes a good Seleção captain?
Conor Riggs, via Twitter

Brazil have what it takes to be great again in 2018. Most of the team are young, but they already have plenty of experience. The shocking defeat in the World Cup has made us more aware that we need to improve tactically, and those players have it in them to do that. They are surely on the rise.

However, I’m actually against Neymar being captain. He doesn’t have the profile of a leader. We need to take responsibility off him. We have to let him enjoy himself. He doesn’t have to talk to the referee, to be the middleman between players and the coach. That's what a captain's for. He's the biggest icon in Brazilian football in 10 years, but for now he has to play, not lead. 

How long will your record of being the most capped Brazil player (142 games) stand?
Paulo Oliveira Rocha, via Facebook

It will take a while, but Neymar can get there eventually – he has three more World Cups ahead of him yet. What won’t happen quite so soon is anyone playing in three consecutive World Cup finals – that one's mine! I’m just kidding. If that does happen then I'll be there to celebrate.

This feature originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of FourFourTwo. 

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