Way back in the late summer of 1985, Brazil were wowing the footballing world on their way to winning their second consecutive FIFA World Youth Championship (now the FIFA U-20 World Cup). Bossing the show from the centre of the park for the Seleção in the former USSR was Paulo Silas do Prado Pereira, who marked the start of a glorious career by also taking the adidas Golden Ball for the tournament's best player.
Twenty-three years later and Silas is once again causing a stir in the Brazilian game, this time as coach of humble outfit Avai from Santa Catarina province. The 43-year-old former midfield maestro led the club to a third-place finish in Brazil's second division, Serie B, in his first season as a coach, returning Avai to the top flight after 30 years away.
"Of course the 2009 season will be a lot more difficult for us and we'll be under much more pressure, with it being the first division," the man voted the second division's coach of the season told FIFA.com. "But when I decided to turn my hand to being a head coach, this is just what I dreamed about. It's a responsibility that I'm happy to have."
"The only thing I wasn't expecting was to hit these heights in my debut year. It's very satisfying," says Silas, who started out on the coaching trail as an assistant to his friend and former Sao Paulo and Brazil goalkeeper Zetti at Parana Clube, Atletico Mineiro and Fortaleza.
Wealth of experience
As he prepares his side for the new challenges ahead, Silas can draw a vast amount of experience from a playing career that included no fewer than 17 clubs in six countries. After three years at Sao Paulo, where he won three state championships and the 1986 Brazilian league title, Silas' wanderlust led him to spells in Portugal (Sporting Lisbon), Uruguay (Central Espanol), Italia (Cesena and Sampdoria), Japan (Kashiwa Reysol and Kyoto Purple Sanga) and Argentina (San Lorenzo), among others.
Aside from his world U-20 title with Brazil, he won the Copa America in 1989 with the Seleção as well as appearing at the FIFA World Cup™ finals in 1986 and 1990. "I was fortunate enough to have some excellent coaches over the course of my career. I learned a lot from people like Tele Santana and Marcello Lippi," says Silas of his many coaching influences.
"But I think that the one who made the biggest impression on me was Cilinho (Otacilio Pires de Camargo), who blooded me in the Sao Paulo first team. He wasn't scared about losing his job: he didn't make concessions and he stuck faithfully to his plans. That's the kind of mentality I tried to bring to my work with Avai this season."
The mild-mannered strategist's performance at the Avai helm has won him the hearts of the home faithful whose only claim to fame, prior to this season's feats, was having former tennis star Gustavo ‘Guga' Kuerten as a supporter. Indeed, the three-time French Open winner was at the Estadio da Ressacada in his hometown of Florianopolis when the Leão da Ilha (Lion of the Island) clinched promotion, Kuerten going onto the pitch to congratulate each and every one of the players before enthusiastically joining in the celebrations. "Guga hasn't left us alone all year long," jokes Silas. "He comes in after training every week to play dominos with the lads."
Despite his promising start to his time as a head coach, Silas knows that he and his team must not get ahead of themselves. "Our first aim in next year's Brasileirão is to avoid dropping straight back into the second division," says the Avai supremo, before ending the interview with a shot across the bows of the country's big boys. "But who's to say that we can't pull off a surprise in Serie A, just like we did in Serie B?"