A veteran of two FIFA World Cup competitions with Brazil, the first of them as part of the iconic team of 1982, Paulo Roberto Falcao was blessed with unique insight even in his playing days. He has developed that skill even further in his coaching career and hones it by talking to the game’s leading lights. Only recently, he spent a few days in the company of Carlo Ancelotti, who took Real Madrid to another European title earlier this year.
As players, the two won the Italian league together in 1983, as members of a famous Roma team in which the Brazilian was the main man and became known as the “Eighth King of Rome”.
Four decades on, the two continue to talk football and reflect on the modern game.
“It was great to catch up with Ancelotti,” the Brazilian told FIFA+. “We shared our experiences and talked tactics, trends in Brazil and trends in Europe. It’s always been very easy because we share lots of ideas on building play from the back and how to stay compact, for example.”
Now 69, Falcao continues to pursue a coaching career in which he has taken charge of Brazil and Japan’s national teams, as well as Mexican giants America and big Brazilian clubs such Internacional, Bahia and Sport Recife. In recent years, and aside from his old friend Ancelotti, he has spent time conversing at length with the likes of Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Luciano Spalletti.
As for the last few weeks of this year, the Brazilian will be spending them watching the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. He believes A Seleção have every chance of success now that Tite has had a full World Cup cycle in which to work with his players, in contrast to the two years he was given to prepare for Russia 2018, after taking over from Dunga in 2016.
“With the quality of players they have, Brazil should be ranked among the favourites,” Falcao said.
“They’ve got some really good options, players who are quick on their feet, forwards who can do what Tite wants them to. He’s got every type of player in that part of the pitch. Brazil have also got two quality centre-halves [Marquinhos and Thiago Silva] who can bring the ball out. Those two have got so much quality they could even play in midfield. I really have belief in Brazil.”
In picking out his other contenders for the Trophy, Falcao described Argentina and France as “very strong”, said he liked what he has seen of Germany, believed England had potential, and also named Portugal and Belgium.
“The Belgians have that motivation,” he said. “They know this might be the last chance for most of that generation to win the World Cup. They’re always dangerous opponents.”
Falcao played alongside Zico, Socrates and a host of other greats in the fabled Brazil side that graced Spain 1982, where their title dreams ended in the second round with a 3-2 defeat to Italy in Barcelona.
Falcao had the consolation of winning the adidas Silver Ball at that tournament, behind the late Italy striker Paolo Rossi. He scored three goals in the competition, finding the back of the net against Scotland and New Zealand in the group phase, and then cutting in from the left to hit a famous strike in that defeat to the Italians.
“When I travel around the world, people always remember that team,” he said.
“We didn’t win but we entertained. We played good football and we excited people. Football is all about winning, of course it is, but when you play to win you have to do it with style and entertain the fans. That’s what I also look for as a coach.”
During his playing career, Falcao was regarded as a modern midfielder capable of marshalling the defence and then making the team tick when in possession, accelerating the pace of play and getting forward to score, hence the regal nickname he earned for himself in the 1980s.
Though the term “box-to-box midfielder” is widely used in Brazilian football parlance today, the Brazilian legend pointed out that such players have been around for a long time.
“(Lothar) Matthaus was a ‘box-to-box’ player and so was (Frank) Rijkaard,” explained Falcao.
“There’s nothing new in football if you think about it. What is new is all these expressions, like ‘high press’, which is what we used to describe as ‘preventing the opposition from bringing the ball out’. As for futebol reativo (literally “reactive football”), that’s just a term for teams who sit deep and then hit on the counter. They’re just turns of phrase, that’s all. The essence of football hasn’t changed.”
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