Even the most cursory glances at Luiz Felipe Scolari’s CV is enough to confirm he has spent much of the last two decades far from his native Rio Grande do Sul. From several stints in the Middle East to more than five years at the helm of the Portugal national team, interspersed with successful spells in a number of other Brazilian states with the likes of Palmeiras and Cruzeiro, it would be fair to say that the current Seleção coach has done his fair share of travelling.
Yet at the mere mention that FIFA.com wished to chat to him about Porto Alegre and Rio Grande do Sul for the latest in our series of interviews in which famous Brazilians talk about the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ host cities and their memories of the competition, his voice softens and warms. Speaking affectionately about his home state and the Gaúchos who are synonymous with it, Felipão highlighted the warm and welcoming nature of its people - something which will be greatly appreciated by those visiting the state during Brazil 2014.
FIFA.com: What is your earliest childhood memory of the FIFA World Cup?
Luiz Felipe Scolari: That’d be when I was ten years old, in 1958. To this day I can still recall the World Cup matches on the radios in Rio Grande do Sul. You could hear the commentaries from quite a distance on those old transistor radios. I was already big into football, although back then we had no images – you just had to imagine how the likes of Vava, Zito, Pele and Garrincha were. You also had to visualise how the action unfolded. For example, the commentator might say,“he fired off a shot but it went inches wide'. Nowadays, you might have the same shot, but everyone can see that is actually flew four or five feet wide. (laughs) Back then it was more about your imagination.
What about the infamous defeat in the 1950 edition. As a child do you remember your parents saying anything about it?
No, no. I was only born in 1948. However, my father loved football and played for amateur clubs, and I’m told he was a very good player. That said, he never encouraged me to get more involved in football - he kept his thoughts to himself in that respect. You see, at that time, football was regarded quite differently. I only started playing football in the streets when I was nine or ten, even though in the town of Passo Fundo where we lived, there was a pitch in front of our house that would later became my second home.
As a Gaúcho, what would you recommend to someone attending Brazil 2014 games in Porte Alegre, either in the city or in surrounding area?
Well, away from the capital, anyone who has the chance to explore the Serra Gaucha (highlands region) should do so. It’s like a mini-Europe in terms of the customs, its towns and even its population which, for the most part, have European roots. The area encompassing Gramado, Canela, Caxias and Bento Goncalves is very pretty and, in a way, strongly resembles parts of Europe. As for Porto Alegre itself, the city has so much to offer. I wonder what it will be like for visitors to stroll around the Cais do Porto (port and quayside) – that will be beautiful, as well as the old part of the city centre. It’s a very welcoming city. Moreover, the customs we have in Rio Grande do Sul are very striking – for example the way we welcome our visitors. We Gaúchos are very traditional but very warm and affectionate. Anyone who gets the chance to visit Rio Grande do Sul will really love it.
It’s funny you should talk about that melting pot of cultures, as one of the state’s promotional campaigns goes by the title: Aqui todo mundo se sente em casa (Here, everyone feels at home) precisely because of this diversity….
Well it’s true. We have a population of people who for the most part are of German and Italian descent, and that influence is very marked. The Germans settled near the rivers, with the Italians more in the highlands. The former with their tradition of flower displays in the cities, and the latter with the vegetable gardens in the interior. You’ll find areas where almost everyone speaks those languages. That’s very typical.
In general, the people of Rio Grande do Sul are fiercely proud of their local traditions. Would that be the case for you too?
Yes indeed, as our customs are very notable. For example, in my household I was not the kind of person to talk non-stop about my home state or say it was the best place in the world. However, I feel pride and satisfaction when my two children talk of Rio Grande do Sul and say, “Ah, but there it’s so good”. We Gaúchos have one particular trait: almost all of us know the state anthem and also sing it. You don’t see that everywhere. Furthermore we have a lot of regional customs that we value, such as the sense of camaraderie and the tradition of gathering a family to drink chimarrao (an infused beverage also known as mate in other parts of South America). That’s a very Gaúcho thing to do.
You came back to Brazil to coach Palmeiras in 2010 after seven years abroad. Given that the country changed a great deal in that period, did you notice many differences on your return?
Yes, for example I saw changes in the economic situation, which I think improved, especially for certain segments of the population. That was noticeable. Indeed I observed that in a civic sense and in the social progress of some classes. To my mind, there has been good work done in these last 15 or 20 years.
In your opinion, does the 2014 FIFA World Cup have the potential to help in this respect?
Yes, I believe it does. The World Cup can serve to bring improvements to the entire country. These improvements should have been made many years ago but are only now being implemented – if not fully then at least in part. I’d like to see those kinds of improvements in practice so as to bring future benefits to the population, benefits that those same people could scarcely have imagined.