There is no doubt that Uruguay boss Oscar Washington Tabarez has played a major role in the revival of his country’s footballing fortunes. The results he has achieved attest to that, even taking into account La Celeste’s recent setbacks in 2014 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying.
The man known as El Maestro has also won innumerable awards over his career – the latest handed to him by the Uruguayan Football Coaches Association (AUDEF) in December. Having also held the reins at clubs of the calibre of Penarol, Boca Juniors and AC Milan, the respected coach is now preparing for a new challenge: Uruguay’s second FIFA Confederations Cup campaign.
In the first part of an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Tabarez discussed the task ahead at the 2013 showpiece, changing trends in modern football and Uruguay’s long-standing footballing rivalry with Brazil.
Check out the second part of this interview on Wednesday 27 December.
FIFA.com: Oscar, can you tell us your expectations ahead of Uruguay’s first ever appearance at the FIFA Confederations Cup?
Oscar Washington Tabarez: Our objective, first and foremost, is to enjoy it. Every time an international competition featuring such important teams comes around, you hold out hopes of going as far as possible. A continental or global tournament, like the Confederations Cup, certainly falls into that category. It also shows how far we’ve come when you look back at what we went through when we first started this project [at the Uruguay helm]. It was so difficult for us to arrange an international game against top-class teams! It was a very long time, 17 years, since we’d last won the Copa America [Editors’ note: it was a 16-year gap between La Celeste’s victories at Uruguay 1995 and Argentina 2011]. That’s why, now we’ve earned the right to take part in this Cup, the first thing we need to say is how pleased we are to be involved. After that, with professionalism and a sense of responsibility, we’ll prepare to do as well as we possibly can.
You’ve been drawn in Group B alongside Spain, Tahiti and the yet-to-be-crowned 2013 African champions. What’s your verdict on this section?
We’re well aware that we’re going to face some great teams. Spain are currently setting the standard: they’re winning the biggest tournaments of them all; the way they play is the envy of everyone else and they’re having a big influence on the game at the moment. Whichever African team makes it will be a powerful side. And Tahiti deserve plenty of respect and will provoke a lot of curiosity too – let’s see what role they’ll play. It’ll come down to being well-prepared, but of course we’ll only know how well we’ve done after each match is over. And we’ve got a bit of experience of working like that: we mustn’t either get too carried away or be too negative before the competition has even started. I know that and so do this group of players.
Footballing issues aside, how else could this competition prove useful?
We’ll be going into a tournament with tradition that, even above its own importance, is also a precursor to the World Cup. And it’s not just about being able to see some of the teams that might be at [Brazil] 2014, but also getting an idea of the infrastructure in place for the World Cup. This is about logistics: we’ve already collected info about the work that’s being done, the training pitches and the various stadiums. We’ve already got a certain idea [of how things will be], but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. We’re hoping to reach the World Cup but it’s not certain yet. The qualifying phase is very tough and, after a good start, our recent bad results have made things even trickier. If our chances of qualifying are looking clearer by then [at the Confederations Cup], then yes, it will be the time to think about where we’re going to stay and train come the following year.
You can’t win all the time, what’s more Brazil have won more global competitions than anyone else!
Being drawn in a different group to A Seleção should at least delay media questions about El Maracanazo, when Uruguay clinched the 1950 FIFA World Cup by beating Brazil in the Maracana. Does the constant talk of repeating that feat bother you?
It doesn’t bother me, but I’m well aware how much football has evolved since then. There are things that happened at certain moments because, particularly during that era, the teams were on a par, strength-wise. What makes the Uruguay side of 1950 so special are the circumstances they won in, not because they weren’t as good a football team as Brazil. It’s not like that anymore, things have changed.
Could you explain a bit further? Uruguay always seem to up their game against Brazil, don’t they?
Brazil are a superpower in terms of player numbers, infrastructure and sporting organisation. We don’t have the same quantity of elite footballers, though we do have some, and that means we’re always that much more up for it when we play against Brazil. It doesn’t mean we’re any more certain of getting a result, but our motivation levels are always high against such powerful opponents. And that’ll keep being the case. But we’ve also proven and shown at both the  World Cup and the  Copa America that, with the qualities we have, we can give any opponent a tough time – providing we’re well-organised and well-prepared.
Prior to the draw, we saw you enjoying a very friendly chat with newly appointed Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. What do you think his return can bring to A Seleção?
Essentially, he brings the coaching ability he’s already proven on many occasions. And what’s more, he offers both wide-ranging experience and specific knowledge of the national team, which is a very unusual environment. It’s a difficult enough job as it is, but Brazil is where I think it’s hardest. I’ll give you an example: in the press conference, the local journalists were asking me questions about how “Brazilian football was going nowhere”. And inside I was shocked, though out of respect I didn’t show it, but I thought “no, your expectations are just too high”. You can’t win all the time, what’s more Brazil have won more global competitions than anyone else! Of course that level of supremacy can’t be maintained indefinitely, but that’s not the same as going nowhere.
Turning to the prevailing trends in the modern game, what do they depend on?
Football is becoming more global all the time, which is why other influences emerge that are linked to organisational factors. These could be economic reasons, youth-development systems or lengthy projects whose roots go back many years. Barcelona are a clear example of that. We’re all spellbound by how expressive their football is, which is the best I’ve ever seen. But it didn’t come about in two or three years, did it? Playing football like Barcelona isn’t as simple as seeing a suit you like in a shop window, going inside and buying it. Football’s not like that. In football you have to find the right material, the buttons and the right tailor, then you have the suit made and it still might not look the same [as in the shop window]. That process takes a lot of time, knowledge and preparation. I don’t know what Scolari is going to do, but I think he’ll try and get the team playing in a way that stays true to the historical roots of Brazilian football.
Do you think it’s possible to get a national team playing the same way as Barça?
Every coach has his own style and every federation their own strategy, which all stem from their own views on the game. I even think it’s good we don’t all try and copy Barcelona because, if it could be done, it’d make football boring. The fact there are different ways of playing and different schools of thought is a good thing, so we can take advantage of major tournaments like this to pit them against each other in the sporting arena and see what happens. It’s not about establishing who’s the best in the world or the best of all time, which is more of a media obsession than real life. It’s about having great footballing fiestas once in a while, such as the Confederations Cup and, it goes without saying, the World Cup.