Ze Roberto’s individual gifts earned him a place in the Brazil side and spells with some of the world’s biggest clubs, among them Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Now in the twilight of his career, the veteran midfielder is enjoying life in Qatar, where he is starring for Al Gharrafa.
Winding down after an intense training session, Ze Roberto gave an exclusive interview to FIFA.com to discuss his time in Spain and Germany, new challenge in Qatar and his country's chances at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com: Ze Roberto, you’ve had a long career. What’s brought you to Qatar for a new challenge at Al Gharrafa?
Ze Roberto: Well, I’d been receiving offers from Qatar for the last five years, but I’d always turned them down because I was very happy where I was, in the Bundesliga. Lots of things have changed since Qatar was named host of the 2022 World Cup. Interest in the game has grown here over the last few years, infrastructures are better and clubs have improved. They’re attracting some big players now, which has raised the standard of the league. Before taking a decision I spoke to my friend Juninho [Pernambucano], who played for Al Gharrafa and couldn’t speak highly enough of his time here. There was no way I could turn down the offer after that, especially as I was looking for a new challenge. I think this is going to be a very rewarding experience, even for someone of my age. I’ll be doing what I can to help my club and Qatari football as a whole, and right now I’m very happy here in Doha.
You played in Spain and then in Germany, where you appeared for three clubs. Can you tell us about your experiences in both leagues and the differences between them?
Even though I wasn’t with Real Madrid for very long, I still learned a lot and won La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup. I really enjoyed living in the city too. After that I went to Leverkusen and reached the Champions League final, where we were beaten by my former club. I moved on to Bayern Munich and won a number of major titles before being sold to Hamburg. And while I was in Europe I also went back to Brazil for spells with Flamengo and Santos. The focus in Spain is on individual qualities and attacking football, and that’s why they go to every effort to buy great players. Things are more strict in Germany and there’s more discipline both in terms of tactics and fitness. The majority of clubs don’t make big signings, except for Bayern Munich, which is why they dominate the league and reach Champions League finals. My feeling is that German clubs should spend more on transfers to make the championship more competitive, and to try and reach the top and stay there.
When you played for Brazil, they usually finished champions or runners-up in tournaments. What was the secret of their success back then?
The team was gradually overhauled after winning the 1994 World Cup and the young players that came in were able to draw on the experience of the older players. That created a special kind of chemistry in the team, which helped us go on and win more titles, such as the Confederations Cup and the Copa America. We also reached the Final of the 1998 World Cup, and then made up for losing that by winning at Korea/Japan 2002. We stood still after Germany 2006, and our failure there should have resulted in radical changes in the build-up to the South Africa World Cup. The team continued to rely on individuals, though, and the results were there for all to see. Lots of things have changed since then. Some big players have been discarded to make way for a new team in the run-up to the next World Cup, to be played on home soil.
Is there a danger of there being too much pressure on the national team, to the extent that they won’t be allowed to lose?
Yes. Brazilians have got football in their blood and have been dreaming of the world title since the day the country was awarded the 2014 World Cup. Back in 1950, we passed up a great opportunity at the Maracana, a disappointment that everyone wants to put behind them. There’s no doubt the team will have a huge amount of pressure on their shoulders for the simple reason that Brazilian people are never happy with second place.
How do you think Brazil are shaping up for 2014?
I feel the best is yet to come. There have been a lot of changes and an ambitious rebuilding plan was put in place last year, with talented youngsters such as [Alexandre] Pato, Neymar and Ganso all coming into the side. Brazil is still a breeding ground for great players, as we showed by winning the U-20 World Cup last year. We need time to strengthen the team, which is going to grow and develop, and if everything goes as planned, I’m sure they’ll live up to the fans’ expectations. The players need to gel now and play more internationals so they can work on their weak points and develop their strengths. If they keep doing what they’ve been doing up to now, I’m sure they’ll be a competitive outfit and I’m sure we’ll see the Trophy coming back to Brazil.