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Born: Sunday 26 July 1931, Itabirito, Brazil
Died: Friday 21 April 2006, Belo Horizonte, Brazil
After a moderately successful playing career with Fluminense, Telê Santana went on to become one of the most admired and respected coaches in the history of Brazilian football. His vibrant, attacking style of play made his teams extremely exciting to watch but his unwillingness to modify his prinicples arguably proved costly at times, most notably for his legendary Brazilian national team at the 1982 World Cup.
Telê Santana da Silva was born in Itabirito, in the state of Minas Gerais, on 26 July 1931. He received an early introduction to football due to his father's involvement with local team Itabirense. Telê displayed considerable ability as a centre-forward and after a brief spell with América in nearby São João del Rei, he earned a move to Fluminense in 1950. Turning professional a year later, it was at Fluminense that his coach decided that he was better suited to playing on the right wing.
Telê went on to spend nine years with Fluminense, during which time the club enjoyed considerable success. He won the Rio state title in 1951 and 1959 and the Rio-São Paulo Tournament in 1957 and 1960, as well as helping Fluminense to claim the 'Copa Rio', an early international club tournament, in 1952. Regularly on the fringes of the national squad, Telê was never actually selected for an international cap, largely because he played in the same position as legendary right-wingers Garrincha and Julinho.
By the time he left Fluminense in 1960, Telê had scored 165 goals in 556 games for the club, totals which still place him third in the club's history in both categories. After two years with Guarani, he ended his playing career with short spells at Madureira and Vasco da Gama before retiring at the relatively early age of 32. Fluminense always remained close to his heart, to the extent that scoring against them for Madureira reduced him to tears, and it was no surprise that he returned to the club to begin his coaching career.
Spending much of the 1960s working his way up through the youth and reserve teams at Fluminense, Telê was appointed coach of the first team in 1969. Although he demanded absolute commitment from his players, he was not a believer in winning at all costs and publicly stated that he would rather lose a game than win by cheating. His coaching style was marked above all by a belief in fair play and attractive football, which he saw as an art form.
In his first season as coach at Fluminense Telê led the club to the Rio state title, but left to join Atlético Mineiro in 1970. He immediately led his new club to the state title in Minas Gerais, as well as reaching the final phase of the inter-state 'Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa'. There they finished in third place, the title coincidentally going to the side Telê had built at Fluminense, who clinched the championship with a draw against Atlético in their last game.
In 1971, Brazil organised an official national championship for the first time and to the surprise of many, it was Telê's Atlético Mineiro side who took the title. With 1-0 wins over both São Paulo and Botafogo in the final stage, the club clinched what remains the only national title in their history. He would remain with Atlético until 1976, later moving on to Grêmio FBPA who he led to their first state title in Rio Grande do Sul for almost a decade.
After a brief spell with Palmeiras, Telê was appointed coach of the national team in the spring of 1980. Brazil had experienced disappointment at international level for much of the 1970s but with a new generation of gifted players coming through, he was seen as the man to lead them to the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The team qualified in style, winning all four of their games, and travelled to the finals as one of the favourites for the title.
In Spain, Telê's style of play came to global attention for the first time and won his side many fans around the world. With stars such as Zico, Falção, Socrates and Eder at their disposal, Brazil recovered from a half-time deficit to beat the Soviet Union in their first game and then came from behind again to crush Scotland 4-1. Another big win, 4-0 over New Zealand, took them into the second group stage where they faced Italy and fierce rivals Argentina.
Both Brazil and Italy beat the Argentinians to set up a final game decider for a semi-final place. Brazil, with a better goal-difference, needed only a draw to go through. That match would be perhaps the most significant of Telê's career. His side fight back twice from a goal down to level, but rather than settle for a draw they stayed true to their coach's attacking philosophy and paid the price when they fell behind a third time. Unable to recover, they went out of a tournament that many felt they should have won.
Although Telê came in for some criticism from the global media, many Brazilians praised him for sticking to an attacking style of play and restoring Brazil's reputation for flair and excitement that they had lost over the previous decade. Telê left the national team after the World Cup, moving to Saudi Arabia to coach Al-Ahli, but was called back to Brazil in 1985 to lead his country into the next World Cup in Mexico.
With many of the 1982 squad still at his disposal, the team were ageing but still immensely talented. They won all three group games before crushing Poland 4-0 in the Second Round, but came unstuck against European Champions France in the quarter-finals. Despite leading early on, Brazil were pegged back and missed a chance to go through when Zico missed a penalty. They were later beaten in a shoot-out, bringing Telê's second spell in charge to a disappointing end.
Returning to club management, Telê had a second spell Atlético Mineiro as well as coaching Flamengo and Palmeiras, but the greatest success of his club career came when he was appointed manager of São Paulo at the end of 1990. With a young and talented team, many of whom would go on to play in Brazil's 1994 World Cup winning side, Telê led São Paulo to both the state title and the national championship in his first season at the club.
That success was surpassed in 1992 when Telê's team won the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history, beating Argentinian side Newell's Old Boys on penalties in the final. They later went on to beat Barcelona 2-1 to take the Intercontinental Cup, with their achievements earning Telê the South American Coach of the Year award. São Paulo retained both those trophies in 1993, with wins over Universidad Católica of Chile and AC Milan.
Telê was forced to retire in 1996, aged 65, having suffered a stroke. Although he found part-time work as an advisor at Palmeiras, his health continued to decline and in 2003 he had part of his left leg amputated. Telê Santana died on 21 April 2006 at the age of 74. He is fondly remembered as one of Brazil's finest coaches, whose teams played in the way that Brazilian fans expected football to be played.
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- Published on Friday, 12 October 2012 12:29