A legendary midfield duo for Brazil in their day, with their displays at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™ particularly memorable, Paulo Roberto Falcao and Toninho Cerezo also enjoyed glory days as a double-act with Italian side Roma. Now, some 30 years later, the pair are set to meet up again this Sunday in the city of Salvador, in the Brazilian state of Bahia.
The difference is, however, that Falcao and Cerezo – 58 and 56 respectively – will be pitting their wits against one another. Indeed, the former is at the helm of Bahia and the latter in charge of Vitoria, who are set to clash in the Ba-Vi classico, one of the country’s most fiercely contested derbies.
Despite the white-hot rivalry, as well as the points at stake in the hunt for Baiano state championship glory, the ex-team-mates are determined not to ruin their friendship for the sake of 90 minutes. “We’re really close friends,” said Cerezo, with Falcao adding that “he’s truly a great mate of mine, like a brother. We could never be enemies, even when we’re on opposing sides.”
Going back to Spain 1982, where A Seleção dazzled their way into the second phase only to fall to a decisive 3-2 defeat to eventual winners Italy, Cerezo subsequently joined Falcao at Roma, where they coincided between 1983 and 1985. In an era when the capital club were battling for supremacy with a Michel Platini-inspired Juventus, the Brazilian middle-of-the-park pairing helped Roma win two Italian Cups and reach the final of the 1983/84 European Cup – having won Serie A in 1982/83, just prior to Cerezo’s arrival.
A succession of injuries and complications resulting from a knee operation caught up with Falcao, however, leading to him hanging up his boots when at Sao Paulo in 1986, at the age of 32. And though he had taken part in that year’s FIFA World Cup in Mexico, he was unable to recapture anything close to his best form.
Cerezo, for his part, would continue his playing career for over ten more years and added a host of medals to his collection. Particularly glittering was his time at Sampdoria, where he was key to the club’s first and so far only Scudetto win in 1990/91 and their run to the 1991/92 European Cup final, and later a trophy-laden spell at Sao Paulo.
On the bench or in the commentary box
Fittingly for a Brazil team whose fluid, eye-catching and intelligent play at Spain 1982 earned them admirers across the globe, members of that Seleção have continued to exercise an influence on the beautiful game long after calling time on their playing careers.
Zico, for example, played a vital role in the restructuring of Japanese football, enjoyed coaching success at club level and is now back working with a national team, in his bid to guide Iraq to qualification for Brazil 2014. Junior tried his hand at coaching and is now an experienced commentator, while the late great Socrates also remained involved in football via the media, where his unique way of seeing the game always shone through.
Falcao, for his part, kicked off his coaching career at the very top when handed the Brazil job in 1990, and was already in his third year as a head coach – by now at Internacional – when Cerezo was still busy pulling the strings for a Sao Paulo team winning a second successive Toyota Intercontinental Cup in 1993. In between Brazil and Inter, Falcao was at the helm of Mexican giants America, though after following his time in Porto Alegre with the Japanese national-team post, he moved away from coaching into the media, where he worked as a commentator and columnist for some of Brazil’s biggest outlets.
That was until the cut and thrust of competition drew him back in, with Falcao returning to Internacional in 2011 amid much fanfare, only to resign after the club’s elimination from the Copa Libertadores by eventual finalists Penarol.
“I spent 16 or 17 years working in the radio, TV and the press and I felt the need to start working in football again,” he said, when quizzed on why he returned to the dugout. “I was in a very comfortable position, but I wanted to get back into life at pitchside. I’m really enjoying myself at the moment and I’m very motivated to be part of this new era at Bahia.”
Cerezo, meanwhile, took his first steps on the coaching ladder at Vitoria in 1999, before spells at seven other clubs, including successful sojourns with Japan’s Kashima Antlers and Emirati outfit Al Shabab. Now once again at Vitoria, the supremo has been charged with guiding O Rubro-negro Baiano back into the Brazilian top flight.
New surroundings for Falcao
Also an iconic former player for Atletico-MG in Minas Gerais state, which borders Bahia state, Cerezo is clearly well familiar with the Baiano football scene. Falcao, in stark contrast, is far more used to the surroundings of Rio Grande do Sul state, far further south, and it remains to be seen whether he still wears his trademark suit in the stifling heat of his new home region.
“I can’t wait to see him trying to work with the sun beating down on him here,” said Cerezo with a smile. “He’s going to have to come out wearing an enormous Mexican sombrero.”
Joking aside, such is the mutual respect between the erstwhile team-mates that Cerezo was also keen to sign off by wishing Falcao well in his new assignment: “Paulo deserves to be happy because of everything he’s done for the game and because of the kind of guy he is. It means a great deal to be working at our age and I’m sure he’s going to be very happy here. I am, so why shouldn’t he be?”