Few footballers have matched the feats of Peru’s most famous footballing son Teofilo “Nene” Cubillas. His ten goals in three FIFA World Cup™ finals (70, 78, 82) rank him sixth on the all-time scorers’ list. And in a 20-year career, which has taken him from Lima to Fort Lauderdale, USA via Portugal and Switzerland, the midfield genius won many more hearts and accolades - without picking up a red card! The soft-spoken Peruvian, who will share his vast knowledge as a member of FIFA’s Technical Study Group (TSG) at this month’s FIFA Confederations Cup France 2003, chatted to FIFA.com from his home in sunny South Florida.
FIFA.com: How has the game changed since your playing days?
Teofilo Cubillas: There are huge differences between when I was playing and now. The biggest being, when I was playing, teams everywhere played to win. Now it seems that most teams play simply not to lose – and there is a big difference. Football was more attacking in my day, more offensive; this is not the case today. Sometimes we would have four or five forwards racing up the field! Now, though, usually you only have two, or even one. We created many, many chances and tried to entertain. Now too many matches finish 0-0, and that is not good for the game.
And with the FIFA World Cup, do you see big differences between then and now?
It has changed in so many ways. In my first finals (1970) there were only 16 teams, and everybody was there to win. All of the teams were very strong. Now you have 32 teams, and it is a totally different environment. It seems only half of the 32 are there with hopes of actually winning the tournament – the others are there to have fun, gain experience and try to make a splash. The number of teams today really makes the World Cup a different kind of competition.
You played in three separate finals, what would you say is your greatest FIFA World Cup moment?
That would have to be 1970, in Mexico, sure. We played against Brazil and lost 4-2. Of course, it would have been nice to win, but to play against the greatest team of all-time was a pleasure and an honour I will always keep close to my heart. Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Gerson – these players were all there for Brazil, and it was absolutely magnificent – this I will always treasure.
b>Who is the player that impresses you most today?
The players today are different. You do not have the same level of talent. In my day, it was hard to pick out one ‘best’ player because there were so many. Now it is also difficult to choose, but because there are so few instead of so many. Ronaldo is a great player and I have seen (Zinedine) Zidane play some brilliant football and do some spectacular things with the ball.Also - though I wouldn’t call him the best - Landon Donovan (US international) is a tremendous player. He is a great talent and has fabulous skills. I like to watch him play very much. I think he will only get better as a player, and that is good for football.
Do you think the US is slowly becoming a world power? Has the football culture in the States improved?
Football in the United States is becoming better and better – there is no doubt about that. Though the MLS crowds have still not increased a lot, the last World Cup was a great moment for the States. Still, there is a lot of competition with the other sports here, but they are moving in the right direction. Every year there are more and more young people playing football in the United States.
What are your feelings on the state of the game in your native Peru?
Peru is going through a difficult moment and it saddens me. It has now been five consecutive World Cups without a Peruvian team. We still produce great players like (Nolberto) Solano, (Claudio) Pizarro and many, many others. But when it comes to the team concept and organisation we have big problems. Our clubs usually go out of the Copa Libertadores in the first round and to add to our problems, the other smaller nations in South America – like Venezuela - are quickly becoming more competitive.
I think with the right coach, the right direction and the right mentality, Peru can really tap that great potential and individual ability they have. The players are there, the skill is there, but something is missing. The game is not so much about one brilliant player anymore, but 11 v. 11. The collective approach is very important, and you must have 11 strong players of one mind on the field. There are no Peles to tip the scales anymore!The current coach may have better luck. I know him and he is a very hard worker. P>Do you think Europe has surpassed South America in footballing terms?
Europe is much stronger than South America at the moment – there is no getting around that. But it is important to remember that many, many South Americans are playing their football at the top Europeans clubs and helping to make the continent’s football as strong as it is.
The general mentality in Europe is much stronger, much more professional. In South America, it seems that clubs and players don’t look far enough ahead, but in Europe the level of professionalism is outstanding. Sometimes I watch Peruvian club games on TV and it looks like they are going maybe 10 kilometres per hour, but in Europe they are going 90 all the time!
Who would you say is the greatest player of all-time?
For me, this is an easy question: Pele. He is my hero, and having had the opportunity to see him at his best and play against him, I am very confident that there has never been a player quite like him. When I played against him at Alianza (Lima) and he was with Santos I could only say, (pause) ‘oh my God!’ Pele was the complete player. Maradona was tremendous – and he won a World Cup all by himself. But Pele was perfect, and a true gentleman.
You spent three years playing for Porto, did you have a special feeling when they won the UEFA Cup this year?
I was so happy to see Porto win the UEFA Cup. I won no trophies in my three years at the club, but the people in the city loved me and they love their football so much. I just can’t wait to go and visit my old friends in Portugal next year (Euro 2004).
(Porto midfielder) Deco is a fabulous player, and Portugal produces some of the most exciting players in football.