Sebastião Lazaroni: The Europeanization of Brazil
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When Sebastião Lazaroni was appointed as Brazil National Team manager in early 1989, Brazil had just lost the 1988 Olympics Final in Seoul to USSR and been humiliated 0-4 by Chile in the 1987 edition of Copa America under the tenure of predecessor Carlos Alberto Silva.
More importantly, Brazil had not won the World Cup in nearly 20 years. This despite former manager Tele Santana’s universally acclaimed 1982 squad’s brilliance.
Lazaroni had not had an illustrious playing career, yet had been a successful young manager.
He had managed Flamengo in his early 30s and then managed Vasco Da Gama.
He had just managed in Saudi Arabia prior to his appointment.
Photo from: World Soccer, January 1992(Brazil Manager, Sebastião Lazaroni)
As manager of Flamengo, he was responsible for benching former Brazil captain Socrates that led to his retirement in early 1987.
About Socrates he had said, “name and fame don’t win you games.”
This episode illustrated how Lazaroni was essentially a win at all costs oriented trainer and was not dazzled by skills alone.
Upon being nominated as National Team manager, Lazaroni sought to Europeanize Brazilian football.
Brazil’s failure in 1982 and 1986 under Santana had convinced him that ‘jogo bonita’ was not the way to win the World Cup in the modern age.
That long winless draught gave him some leeway with the bosses to implement his openly non-Brazilian concepts.
It must be pointed out that this was not Brazil’s first experimentation with European style of play.
The 1974 World Cup team under Mario Zagallo and the 1978 squad under Coutinho had tried unsuccessfully to adapt to European (i.e. more defensive) style of football.
The subsequent failures and public outcry had paved the way for Tele Santana’s open and beautiful game.
Brazil was to host the 1989 edition of Copa America. In preparations for the tournament, Lazaroni selected an experimental squad for a tour of Europe.
This was an inexperienced home-based squad with only some Portugal based players such as Branco, Valdo and Ricardo Gomes.
The results were disastrous; a win vs. Portugal (4-0) was followed by three straight losses vs. Denmark (0-4) and Sweden (1-2), during Denmark Federation’s Centenary, and a final friendly vs. Switzerland (0-1).
France manager Michel Platini even remarked that with this team Brazil were better off to not have toured at all.
These results furthermore confirmed the need for a strong defense.
For the Copa America, he was able to select his strongest squad with the exception of team captain Careca of Napoli, who needed a well-earned vacation.
Photo From: Foot Magazine, October 1989, Issue 96(Bebeto in action vs. Paraguay during 1989 Copa America)
For the Copa, Lazaroni would experiment by playing with a sweeper for the first time.
Up until then Brazil had played with a flat back four. The player chosen for the task was Mauro Galvao who did not even play the position for his club.
His other major decision was to omit striker Charles of Bahia. Brazil were based in Bahia for the first round and the omission led the local fans to turn on the National team and jeer them for all their matches,
Lazaroni’s resolve in his exclusion of Charles, once again proved that he bowed to no pressure.
This Brazil team consisted of goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel, probably Brazil’s best since Gilmar.
In addition to Mauro Galvao, the defense consisted of Jorginho, Ricardo Gomes, Mazinho, Branco and Aldair.
The midfield consisted of anchor Carlos Dunga, along with Valdo, Silas and Alemao.
The strike force consisted of Romario and Bebeto.
After a difficult first round, Brazil advanced to the second round (and Rio’s Maracana) and won the tournament by winning its three matches vs. Paraguay, Argentina and Uruguay.
Photo from: Onze-Mondial, August 1989(Brazil squad during 1989 Copa America, standing left to right: Mazinho, Taffarel, Mauro Galvao, Ricardo Gomes, Aldair, Branco, Seating left to right: Bebeto, Romario, Silas, Dunga, Valdo)
This Copa triumph was very significant since it was Brazil’s first major trophy in 19 years (1970 WC) and its first Copa since 1949.
More importantly Brazil had conceded only one goal in the entire tournament, which had given credence to Lazaroni’s defensive ideas.
Brazil’s solid display promised a good World Cup the following year in Italy. However, Brazil first had to qualify.
For the qualification, Careca was back to complement the strike force of Romario and Bebeto.
The qualification phase was marred by the controversy of both matches vs. Chile. For the first match, Romario was sent off in a hostile stadium and Chile scored their goal in a very controversial manner on an indirect free kick.
For the return leg, the tension was high on both sides. Careca scored Brazil’s goal, then the firecracker incident occurred. Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas feigned injury by the firecracker from the stands.
The Chile team left the field in protest and was eventually banned from the next World Cup.
Brazil rounded out the year by playing friendlies against European opposition.
World Cup hosts Italy were defeated on home soil, and then a scoreless tie with Yugoslavia was followed by a 1-0 win vs. European Champions Holland on Dutch soil.
Brazil did not concede any goals, but also scored very little.
Photo from:Onze-Mondial, Hors Serie 3, 1989(Aldair and Gianluca Vialli, October 14, 1989, Italy 0-Brazil 1)
When the New Year rolled around, Brazil played a high profile friendly vs. England at Wembley on March of 1990.
Brazil lost 0-1, though solid and not outplayed, there were concerns about their lack of scoring.
Pele had become one of the most vocal critics of the new Brazil, due to its defensive tactics. He remarked that Brazil is in control when they score first, but when they concede first it’s difficult for the team to get back on level terms due to its style of play.
Lazaroni would hit back at the critics by pointing out that with a football of Wizardry our boys have won nothing for 20 years.
In his mind, since the majority of the players were Europe based anyway, they should adapt to a European system.
Brazil entered the World Cup as favorites, as usual, however, from the start the difficulties were apparent.
This was not the team that impressed at the 1989 Copa America.
Bebeto was not a first choice striker at this point, having been replaced by Torino based Luis Muller.
While his strike partner Romario had been injured in March and had just made the cut, but was clearly not 100% match fit.
Brazil defeated Sweden 2 to 1 and had unconvincing 1-0 wins vs. Costa Rica and Scotland.
When criticized by the press about the defensive tactics before the Costa Rica match, Lazaroni had stated that even if Brazil wins 1-0 on an own goal in injury time, he would still be satisfied.
Which is in fact almost what happened, though the goal (which could have been described as an own goal) occurred in the 33rd minute.
During one press conference, when asked by the press about Pele’s continuous criticisms, he replied “why don’t you ask Pele to stop talking and start playing again”, before responding diplomatically that naturally everyone’s entitled to their opinion.
Brazil was drawn with defending Champions Argentina in the Second Round.
Despite completely dominating, Brazil was eliminated by a moment of brilliance of Maradona, who supplied Caniggia for a breakaway winner.
Photo from: World Soccer, August 1990(Careca in action vs. Argentina, June 24, 1990, World Cup, Argentina 1-Brazil 0)
This loss led to an expected public outcry for Brazil’s abandonment of its traditional game.
There was a demand to abandon the sweeper system and return the team to its roots.
This era is usually referred to as the ‘Dunga era’. Carlos Dunga, the tough battling midfielder, was depicted as the symbol of rough play at the expense of skill and grace.
The large number of foreign-based players was also made to be another scapegoat for the failure.
In a bid to silence and appease the critics, the Brazilian Federation appointed Paulo Roberto Falcao, who had been a technically gifted player during the Santana era.
But he was handcuffed by the Federation’s insistence of home-based players at the expense of the foreign-based ones.
In any case, Falcao, the manager, was much different than Falcao, the player and the team was just as rough and physical as before.
Carlos Alberto Pareira who led Brazil to triumph for World Cup 1994 replaced him.
Lazaroni’s two years as National Team manager are looked back with disdain, however, with closer look one sees the 1994 triumph had its roots in the 1990 squad.
The 1994 squad’s backbone was that of the 1989 Copa team: Taffarel, Jorginho, Aldair, Mazinho, Dunga, Romario, Bebeto.
Ricardo Gomes missed the trip through a last minute injury.
Despite publicly declaring that the ‘Dunga era’ was over, Carlos Alberto Pareira, not only did not discard Dunga, but also appointed him as Captain during the World Cup.
Photo from: Onze-Mondial, July 1998(Carlos Dunga, the symbol of the Lazaroni era, July 3, 1998, World Cup, Brazil 3-Denmark 2)
The 1994 World Cup team was clearly a strong defensive team, probably one of the strongest defensive Brazil teams ever and clearly influenced by European tactics.
In fact one can claim that without European influence, the team would not have triumphed in the modern age.
Since the 1990 World Cup, Lazaroni has lived the nomadic life of a manager. Mostly coaching in Europe and Asia for short stints.
Lazaroni will never be regarded as a visionary in Brazil football circles, though some credit must be given for transitioning the Brazilian National team into a new era, where almost all players play exclusively in Europe and have assimilated to its tactics.