Maturity is the quality Sao Paulo coach Paulo Autuori is emphasising most as his players prepare for the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005. Like a mantra, the coach repeated the word over and over again during an exclusive interview he gave to FIFA.com.
Autuori readily acknowledges that as the competition draws closer the onus on his boys to bring the trophy back to Brazil for the first time in 12 years is weighing heavily.
"Everyone knows how prestigious this competition is and what it would mean to win it," he says. "We are aware of our responsibilities, but we're not letting the pressure get to us. It is an honour to represent Brazil and South America and the players realise this. We must be mature."
Autuori cannot be accused of over-confidence and he is only too aware of how difficult it will be to win the FIFA Club World Championship: "Sao Paulo are a good team, but nowadays no team can be underestimated, whether they come from Asia or Africa, or anywhere else in the world. It's the 90 minutes on the pitch that will determine who is the best side."
The Brazilian is preparing assiduously for the tournament, attending games involving possible opponents and drawing up his tactics. He looks set to start with the same side that won the Copa Libertadores in June against another Brazilian side, Atletico Paranaense with the possible addition of striker Grafite, who has made a full recovery following knee surgery.
Time to rest
Guaranteeing a good performance on the other side of the world in a different time zone and climate will be no easy task. In order to give the team the best possible chance of acclimatising, Sao Paulo arrived in Tokyo on 7 December, a full week before their opening fixture on 14 December against the winners of the match between the Asian champions, Al Ittihad, and the African champions, Al Ahly.
However, the coach does not believe that the differences they will encounter will ultimately hinder their chances of lifting the trophy: "Whoever harbours ambitions of winning the title will have to overcome all manner of problems, but the greatest obstacle will be encountered on the pitch itself."
Autuori has already contested a Toyota Cup in Japan. Back in 1997, when he was in charge of the Belo Horizonte-based club Cruzeiro, he took on the UEFA Champions League winners Borussia Dortmund, having signed two veterans of Brazilian football especially for the match. Bebeto and Donizette, both over 30 at the time, were vastly experienced at international level. However despite these two star signings, Cruzeiro were unable to emulate the success of Sao Paulo, winners of the trophy in 1992 and 1993, and were beaten 2-0 by the Germans.
Autuori, wisely, has not drawn comparisons between his two trips to Japan: "Every game is different. I believe that the way in which we have prepared for this tournament has been spot on."
The fact that Japanese supporters, who saw Brazil triumph at Korea/Japan 2002, will in all likelihood get behind his team is a further source of encouragement for Autuori, who was in charge of the Peruvian national side until the beginning of 2005.
"The Japanese fans have forged a real bond with Brazilian teams," he adds. "They saw Sao Paulo produce dazzling displays in lifting the trophy twice back in the early nineties. This should obviously mean they will have a greater affinity for us and their support could be crucial."
Mature words indeed. If Sao Paulo's players take after their softly spoken coach, the world title could, once again, return to Brazil.