On the anniversary of Telê Santana’s death on 21 April 2006, FIFA.com pays tribute to a man who, although he did not win the supreme trophy, captured the hearts of fans in Brazil and around the world.
“We don’t train Brazil like we train other great teams. In the World Cup, we don’t have a single goal but two requirements. In addition to winning it, we have to offer a good game.” These words of Skin resonate in the four corners of Brazil, which then seeks the ideal candidate to take the reins of the Selection in the early 1980s.
The national team have just spent two and a half years under the command of Claudio Coutinho, captain in the Brazilian army who has never played professionally. His expertise may have earned him the introduction of cutting-edge fitness tests and even going through the NASA box, but it was not enough to quench the Brazilians’ thirst for fine football. His team certainly took third place in the 1978 FIFA World Cup Argentina ™, but by offering the stereotypical game that saw him leave the Copa America following embarrassing defeats against Bolivia and Paraguay. The time has come to replace a pragmatist with a purist. Time of Telê Santana rang.
“As soon as he arrived, things changed drastically,” said Falcao. “It became a lot more fun to play with the Selection. He understood he had smart players. He wanted us to play instinctively and not systematically. He was pushing the full-backs to attack. He did not want axial midfielders which are confined to stopping the adversaries; he wanted them to know how to make good use of the ball. He gave us the freedom to try anything we wanted to try. He always asked us to do the show. “
The most beautiful football in history
The first 14 months of the Telê Santana era are idyllic for the Brazilians, winners of their four qualifying matches for the twelfth FIFA World Cup. From February 1981, the Verdeamarelhos ten consecutive victories, including falling England in London, France in Paris and West Germany in Stuttgart in the space of seven days. In their last preparation match for Spain 1982, South American artists correct Republic of Ireland 7-0. The gang in Telê Santana is tackling the queen event with a 19-match unbeaten run. It also enjoys the support of a whole country which expects an even more spectacular triumph than that of the great Brazil of 1970.
Deflections, feints, one-two, lightning counterattacks, heelings, small bridges, goals as extraordinary as each other. Everything goes there. The Telê team play what is perhaps the most seductive football ever exhibited in the World Cup. When they first leave the second phase, the Brazilians leave no chance to their Argentinian enemies, beaten 3-1. “In all my years in football as a player, as a coach and as a journalist, I have never seen a team, no matter how good their game, not receive any form of criticism. There was always something to complain about. But nobody, I mean nobody, said bad things about us. This is because we were really playing extremely beautiful football to see. There was nothing to say against us “, Falcao recalled.
The rest, everyone knows. Brazil need a draw against Italy to reach the semi-finals. He offers another recital and scores two wonderful goals, but he also misses chances and makes some mistakes. Paolo Rossi take the opportunity and score a hat-trick. The long favorites are eliminated.
Telê returns to her post just before Mexico 1986. Here again, Brazil delighted in the group stage, before sweeping Poland 4-0 in the eighth. But in the quarter-final against France, Zico missed a penalty in regulation time, he usually so reliable in the exercise, and the South Americans end up losing on penalties.
Telê has won numerous club titles. The man from Minais Gerais led the underdogs of Atletico Mineiro to the coronation during the first edition of the Campeonato Brasileiro in 1971. It was he who pulled the strings of Grêmio when he prevented the exceptional Internacional from winning a ninth Gauchão in a row, in 1977. He was also in command of São Paulo in the breathtaking victories against FC Barcelona and AC Milan in the 1992 and 1993 Intercontinental Cups. And yet, he never won anything with the Selection. “One of my biggest regrets is not having won a trophy for Telê”, confessed Zico after the death of the iconic coach. “If there was anyone who deserved one, it was him.”
If the FIFA World Cup trophy has escaped him, that of the most adored coach in the history of Brazilian football is rightfully his. When one knows the love of this country for the spectacle, this distinction takes on almost even more prestige.