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Born: Sunday 9 August 1931, Maceió, Brazil
After appearing in Brazil's 1958 and 1962 World Cup winning teams as a player, Mário Zagallo ensured his place in the competition's history by coaching his country in 1970, become the first player to win the World Cup in both capacities. A distinguished left-winger in his playing days, it is for his long coaching career that he is best remembered, working with both club and national sides in Brazil and overseas across a period of some 40 years.
Born in Maceió on 9 August 1931, Zagallo moved to Rio de Janeiro when he was less than one year old. He began his playing career with América before joining Flamengo in 1950, where he formed a part of the team which won the Rio state championship for three years in a row in the mid-1950s. Although playing on the left wing, Zagallo recognised the importance of tracking back to help defensively when required and it was that which made him ideally suited to a role in Brazil's 1958 World Cup squad.
Making his international debut against Paraguay a few weeks before the finals, he played in all of Brazil's six World Cup games and scored in the final against the hosts Sweden as they took their first ever world title. Although that team is often spoken of as having played a 4-2-4 formation, Zagallo's ability to combine defence and attack made it more like an early 4-3-3 at times and he was later credited with helping to define the role of the wide midfield player.
Moving to Botafogo in 1958, Zagallo won two more Rio state titles as well as the Rio-São Paulo tournament with his new club in the early 1960s. At the 1962 World Cup in Chile, he was again ever present as Brazil became only the second team to successfully defend the title, scoring their first goal of the finals in a 2-0 win over Mexico. Unlike four years earlier, he was given a more free rein to play as an orthodox left winger.
In his early 30s he suffered increasing injury problems and his international career came to and in 1964, having won 33 caps for Brazil. One year later, he decided to retire from playing altogether and moved into coaching, initially with Botafogo's youth team and then in 1966 with the first team. It was there that Zagallo won his first trophies as a manager, leading the club to consecutive Rio state championships from 1967 and the 'Taça Brasil' cup competition in 1968.
He developed a reputation as one of the most tactically astute coaches in the game, earning the nickname 'the Professor'. Having taken control of the Brazilian national team on a one-off basis in 1967, he was given the job full time shortly before the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. The pressure was on Brazil to win back the title they had lost in England in 1966. Zagallo did not make too many changes to the squad which had qualified, but stamped his own tactics on the team.
Zagallo's system allowed gifted individuals, who some doubted could play together, to work as a team. Some in Brazil thought his style was too defensive, but by strengthening at the back he could give his attacking players more freedom to express themselves. His team went on to become perhaps the most dominant in World Cup history. They won all three group games, before cruising past Peru and Uruguay to reach the final. There they crushed Italy 4-1 with one of the finest team performances ever seen, ending the tournament with 19 goals in their six matches.
Zagallo had earned a place in football history, while with their third title Brazil won the right to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy. He continued as national team coach right through to the next World Cup in West Germany, but remarkably combined the job with a successful club career. In 1971 he led Fluminense to the Rio state title, before returning to his old club Flamengo and winning the same competition with them in 1972.
Unfortunately, with the retirement of several key players Zagallo was unable to repeat his national team success in the 1974 World Cup. His team were a pale shadow of the 1970 side and after struggling through the first round, were knocked out in the second group stage by the Netherlands. He left the national team after the tournament, spending a number of years moving between a variety of jobs in Brazil and in the Middle East.
It was in the Middle East that Zagallo enjoyed his greatest successes during the late 1970s and early 1980s. A short spell as manager of Kuwait brought victory in the 1976 Gulf Cup, while in Saudi Arabia he led Al-Hilal to a league title in 1979. In 1981 he took over the Saudi national team, leading the team to success in the 1984 Asian Cup. Despite taking several more club jobs in Brazil, it was clearly in international football where Zagallo was most at home.
In 1989 he became manager of the United Arab Emirates national team, who he guided to a historic first qualification for the World Cup, although he did not get the chance to manage the team in the finals. By 1991, Brazil had been waiting more than 20 years to win another World Cup. As they looked ahead to the 1994 finals in the USA Zagallo was invited to rejoin the coaching team, working alongside manager Carlos Alberto Parreira.
Entering that tournament as favourites, Brazil finally lived up to the weight of expectation and claimed their first world title in 24 years when they beat Italy on penalties in the final. For Zagallo, it gave him the unique achievement of being involved in four World Cup winning teams. His impact on the team was recognised when following Parreira's departure, he was offered the chance to take full control of the national team once again.
With Brazil qualifying automatically for the 1998 World Cup as holders, the Copa América provided Zagallo's main opportunity to prepare his team. Remarkably, he had never been involved in the competition as a player or manager until the 1995 tournament. He almost won it at the first attempt, reaching the final but losing on penalties to hosts Uruguay, but went one better in Bolivia in 1997. Again Brazil faced the host nation in the final, but this time a 3-1 win gave Zagallo another international title.
Having also won the Confederations Cup, Brazil were strong favourites to win the 1998 World Cup. They won their group with a game to spare, before cruising past Chile to reach the last eight. A narrow win over Denmark and a penalty shoot-out against the Netherlands took Zagallo's team into the final, but their chances were ruined when star striker Ronaldo was taken ill on the eve of the match. Controversially, Zagallo selected him anyway but with their best player clearly unfit, an out of sorts Brazil lost 3-0 to hosts France.
Zagallo came in for some heavy criticism back home in Brazil, but his standing within the national set-up was undiminished. After a couple more jobs with club sides, he returned to the national coaching set-up as an assistant in 2003. He remained with the squad through to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, a remarkable 48 years after his first appearance in the tournament. Finally retiring aged 76, Zagallo remains one of the most respected figures in Brazilian football.
References (all accessed 13 October 2012):
- Published on Saturday, 13 October 2012 17:04