The big interview: Cafu – "It's true we were celebrating at half-time in Istanbul... but Liverpool deserved that comeback"
When Marcos Evangelista de Morais lifted the World Cup from upon a wobbly podium at Yokohama Stadium in the summer of 2002, you can be sure one of the poorest regions of Sao Paulo was on his mind. After all, he made sure the whole world saw the words ‘100% Jardim Irene’ scrawled across his sweat-soaked match shirt as a mark of respect to the troubled district he called home during his youth.
Today, that piece of football history hangs on the wall of a refined mansion of Alphaville, one of the plushest and most serene neighbourhoods in Brazil. But, 13 years after his big moment in Japan, Cafu’s mind is still with the underprivileged. “My foundation is what really drives me today,” he tells FFT as we make ourselves comfortable in his living room.
Even at 45, Cafu looks almost as fit as he was in the three successive World Cup finals in which he played between 1994 and 2002 – a record that will be hard to break. “I am in shape because I have a lot of charity matches to play,” he says.
As any decent captain should, Cafu still speaks with authority and honesty, not dodging any questions – even if it means suggesting that close friend Neymar shouldn’t wear the captain’s armband for the Seleção…
- Full name: Marcos Evangelista de Morais
- Date of birth: 07/06/1970
- Place of birth: Sao Paulo, Brazil
- Height: 5ft 9in
- Position: Right-back
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.
Many people say you’re one of the greatest defenders ever. In your opinion, who deserves that title?
Denilson, former Brazil team-mate
"Aldair. He was skilled, his positioning was fantastic, his left foot was great, his right was just as good and he could be brutal if necessary but was very elegant, too. I’ve never seen another defender like him."
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
I was flattered to be seen as so important, but I did still want to go to Madrid
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 [laughs].
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 chose Juventude because I needed to recover from my injury and going there meant I could do so closer to my home
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.
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.
- 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 [laughs].
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! [laughs]
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
Scolari came to me to explain and I said it was fine; that all I wanted was to be a world champion again
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.