At 66, Carlos Alberto Parreira would have been forgiven for staying away from club coaching, given all the toil, travel and pressure that this entrails. The man who guided four different countries to FIFA World Cups™, and who will forever be associated with the Brazilian national team he led to victory at USA 94, had not experienced the demands of club management since 2002, when he left Corinthians a hero after delivering the Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo and Copa do Brasil glory.
What drew Parreira back into club football this month was the chance to coach not just any team, but the one closest to his heart: Fluminense. It is the club he has followed through good times and bad, from the joys of leading them to the Brasileirao in 1984, to the lows of life in the country's third tier in 1999. Indeed, it was then, with the Tricolor das Laranjeiras facing the worst crisis in their history, that the coach last came to their aid, steering them to the Serie C title and promotion. Such was the significance of that honour to his beloved Flu that Parreira has claimed it meant as much to him as winning the FIFA World Cup.
The current Fluminense squad is one the coach is mightily impressed with, despite the loss of several key players who helped the club to runners-up spot in last year's Copa Libertadores. "There's no doubt that Fluminense have one of the best squads in the country," said Parreira, who can count on Thiago Neves (back with O Fluzão after stints with Germany's Hamburg and Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia) and the man whose transfer this season from Lyon was only eclipsed by that of Ronaldo to Corinthians, striker Fred. That is also a reunion of sorts, with the three-time Ligue 1 champion having been named in Parreira's Seleção squad for Germany 2006.
"Having icons like Fred is fundamental to Brazilian football. We need players like him that can win games for you and be decisive. He's a player of the highest order and I'm convinced he could compete for a place in the current national team. Fluminense can help Fred wear the Canarinho shirt again, and he can help us achieve great things."
Parreira's confidence appears well founded, too, with Fred firing home two goals on his debut against Macae at the Maracana. "We needed a genuine penalty-box predator, and in him we clearly have one," he added.
After three and a half years at the Brazil helm, during which time he claimed the Copa America 2004 and the FIFA Confederations Cup 2005 crowns before the disappointment of a quarter-final exit at Germany 2006, Parreira accepted the position of South Africa coach in January 2007. He remained in that post until April 2008, but after almost a year away from the game he could resist its charms no longer.
"I once spoke to a psychologist about our need to feel some pressure in life. The adrenaline that comes with being back at work is doing me a world of good. I'm starting again from scratch, although I know that, given my experience, expectations will be even greater this time," admitted the coach at the press conference to announce his return.
Following that statement, one of the journalists asked the Brazilian if 11 months out of coaching would take its toll and make his work harder. After pausing for a couple of seconds, Parreira answered his interrogator with a show of supreme confidence and a question of his own: "Have you ever heard of someone forgetting how to ride a bicycle?"