When he returned to Brazil in late 2009, to sign for Corinthians at the ripe old age of 36, it was not hard to picture Roberto Carlos playing on forever. Supremely fit and performing to a typically high standard, he seemed to have many years of football left in him. This August, however, he finally called it a day after enjoying a farewell stint captaining Anzhi Makhachkala.
Now a sporting director with the big-spending Russian Premier League club, the incombustible Brazilian still takes part in training sessions and is preparing the ground for his next career move - one that will take him into coaching. Discussing all this and more, he spoke exclusively to FIFA.com:
FIFA.com: Roberto, what expectations can we have of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™?
Roberto Carlos: Things have really been helped on the pitch by the arrival of several quality overseas players in the league and by the mindset [Fabio] Capello has brought as national coach. Then there’s the fact that the country has a very strong economy and is doing very well right now. Obviously everyone knows Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but Russia’s got other great cities too and it’s got the infrastructure, railways and everything else. I think it’s going to be one of the best-organised World Cups yet.
Tell us about your job as sporting director. Is it something you intend to do long-term and make a career of?
I’ve been travelling with the team and working side-by-side with the coaches, but I’m still taking part in training sessions out there on the pitch. It’s a new life, one that I’m enjoying a lot. We’re coming to the end of 2012 though, and I need to get my coaching licence. It’s great to be a director and take on the responsibilities that come with it, but my business is down there on the touchline. That’s what I want.
Mano Menezes recently told FIFA.com that working with great players like you and Ronaldo at Corinthians was an important step on the road to becoming Brazil’s national team coach. What was so special about working with him there?
It was a great experience because he taught me a lot: how to handle players, how to talk to the big stars. He looked on it like a friendship, but he was always responsible about it too. Mano didn’t need Roberto Carlos and Ronaldo to get to the national team, and he knows very well how to deal with that kind of situation. I remember him coming up to us and being very straight from day one. He said he needed our help to do his job, and from that point on everything worked just fine.
You experienced the highs and lows of representing your country, like winning the FIFA World Cup in 2002 and suffering defeat and all the pressure that comes with that. Do you think the things that happen in a FIFA World Cup shape a player’s career?
Every Brazil team that competes in a major tournament, especially the World Cup, is defined by what they do there. Obviously, playing for A Seleção is a massive boost for anyone’s career but at the same time the margin for error is very small. I played for the national side for more than a decade and yet a lot of people remember me for one goal we let in, one goal that was supposedly my fault (France’s winner in the quarter-finals at Germany 2006).
What do you make of the transitional process Mano has been overseeing with the Brazil team? Do you think there’s too much responsibility on Neymar, as some have been saying?
Every team needs leaders, but not just one or two. You need a few of them, like we had in the 2002 team. Mano knows that and he’s not going to heap all the responsibility of leading the team on Neymar. It’s for the likes of Thiago Silva and Kaka to do that. All Neymar has to do is play football, not worry about being a leader.
You played against him when he was just starting out. Are you surprised by his rise to stardom?
I first met Neymar when he was 14, when he came to Spain to have a look around at Real Madrid. You could definitely tell then and from watching videos of him that he could play a bit. I think his family is the reason he’s made light of all the hype and come on so well. Sometimes talent’s not enough if you don’t have your head screwed on properly and people you can trust around you, like I had, and like Ronaldo and Kaka have had.
You made the left-back position your own for many years in A Seleção, at a time when there was plenty of competition around. There’s been a bit of a vacuum there since you left, though. Why is that?
Throughout my Brazil career there were always an awful lot of options, most of them very attacking players like Ze Roberto, Serginho, Junior, Athirson and Felipe. I think leaving at an early age for Inter Milan helped me. I played a lot in defence there and that helped me become a more complete player. The quality of the competition was really high too, though I honestly think it was all a bit of a coincidence that we found someone to take the position full-time after an initial struggle to fill it. Sometimes you have a lot of options and sometimes you don’t. We’ve got Marcelo now. He’s got a lot of quality and I hope he makes the position his for the next ten years.
Marcelo is also compared to you when he plays for Real Madrid, where you were a legend. What was it about your game that fans enjoyed so much, even the fans of Sao Paulo rivals Palmeiras and Corinthians?
I think the fans could see I had a lot of fun with the ball, so much so in fact that I was still playing every match by the time I got to 38 and 39, even when I was at Corinthians. I only missed games when Adilson [Batista] wanted to rest me (laughs).
One of your strongest suits was your shooting. When did you realise you had a gift for hitting the ball hard and is there any piece of advice that stuck with you throughout your career?
I’ve always had that power in my left foot, ever since I was a little boy. The key thing was that lot of people taught me a lot about what to do with it, people like Otacilio [Goncalves], [Vanderlei] Luxemburgo and [Carlos Alberto] Parreira, though it was Luxemburgo who taught me the most. He played as a fullback too, at least he told me he used to play, though I’m not sure if I should believe him or not (laughs). When I was starting out, I’d get to the byline and almost always try to shoot on goal. Vanderlei taught me to how to position myself, to look up and see what was going on in the box, cross the ball, and choose the right time to get forward.
As someone who’s only just retired are you aware that you’ll go down as one of the greatest left-backs of all time?
Don’t say that. Think about the likes of Nilton Santos, Junior and Branco. They were all great teachers and a great inspiration for me. I’m flattered when people say that and I’m happy with the career I’ve had, but I honestly see them as different class.