Jardine: Daniel Alves’ eyes lit up

  • Andre Jardine, only 41, will coach Brazil at the Tokyo Olympics

  • He has named 38-year-old Dani Alves in his squad

  • Jardine discusses A Seleção’s bid for back-to-back golds

A 20-year-old civil engineering student skipped a few lectures to watch an old friend try and realise an Olympic fantasy at Sydney 2000. Andre’s hope of a football career may have ended when he was released by Gremio, but his former team-mate Ronaldinho headlined a Brazil squad assigned to an exhaustive wait for a first Men’s Olympic Football Tournament gold.

Despite a palatial free-kick from the No7, A Seleção lost 2-1 to Cameroon in the quarter-finals, and Ronaldinho’s Olympic dream was finally ended in semi-final defeat at Beijing 2008. Unimaginably, Ronaldinho will now be the one watching and cheering as Andre goes for Olympic gold. Andre Jardine spent those engineering lectures daydreaming about football, and after admirably working his way up the ranks, he was appointed Brazil’s U-23 coach in 2019, at the age of just 39.

Another Brazilian in his late-30s was the talk of the internet today – and it was Jardine’s doing. Daniel Alves, the most decorated footballer in history, was, at the age of 38, named in the his country’s squad for Tokyo 2020.

FIFA.com caught up with Jardine to discuss that shock inclusion, Paulinho’s uber-emotional reaction to being called up, the quality of Gerson and Bruno Guimaraes, Brazil’s hopes of Olympic gold and wanting to finally get one over on his old friend, Ronaldinho Gaucho.

FIFA.com: There was so much uncertainty over who would go. When did you finalise the 18-player squad?

Andre Jardine: To be perfectly honest, this morning, at the last minute. We got to the CBF headquarters really early. We had some uncertainties over whether certain players would be available. Just in time, we managed to finalise the list.

Can you tell us how Daniel Alves going to the Olympics came about?

The moment we lost Emerson , who’d been a really important player for us, to the senior Seleção – he took Daniel Alves’s place for the Copa America – he became a really strong option. He’s a leader, a winner, he has bags of charisma, he’s greatly respected by all Brazilian players. He’s a huge example for this generation of players we have. And, curiously, he’d never played in the Olympics, so we thought it was the perfect marriage. He’ll be an example within the squad and he’ll be a leader on the pitch. And talk about a player who has desire to become a champion… he doesn’t have such a triumphant curriculum for nothing.

When you got in a contact with him, what was his reaction?

It was the best reaction possible. Daniel loves the Seleção. He’s given a lot to the Seleção for many years. He’s a symbol of the Seleção. Without doubt we caught him by surprise and his eyes lit up! We could tell just how happy he was. He immediately said he was at our disposal, that he wanted to give his all to help us.

You mentioned that you thought of him when you lost a right-back. Do you plan to use him at right-back?

Daniel has this versatility in his arsenal. This fits in perfectly with the way we play. I really like to use fullbacks in different functions – as holding midfielders, as attacking midfielders, as wingers. Without doubt over the course of the competition we will be able to take advantage of this.

What do you think of Gerson and Bruno Guimaraes?

Two spectacular players. Two senior Seleção players. They are players Tite rates very highly and has on his radar. Without doubt they’ll play for the senior Seleção in the future but for now, they’re ours and that’s a great privilege. To have players of the calibre of Gerson and Bruno is huge for us. They’re incredible players, have a great understanding of the game, experience and they can control games, which is very important.

Did any of the players pester you about going to the Olympics?

(laughs) So many! So many of them couldn’t hold back from saying how much they wanted to go. Matheus Cunha (laughs), he’s a crucial player for us but he was really worried because of the injury he had. Paulinho was really emotional. The video he posted on social media, it shows just how badly he wanted to go to the Olympics. Bruno Guimaraes always made it very clear his dream was to play in the Olympics. He’s been going on about this for a long, long time. Matheus Henrique is another. And others who didn’t get called up were always asking about it – unfortunately there wasn’t enough room to take everyone I’d have liked to.

Did you speak to any of the players personally today?

I spoke to some of them – by text message, by WhatsApp – congratulating them. They were thanking me. We have a really close relationship. It was moving seeing Paulinho’s reaction. He’s had a really difficult year with the injury. For everything he’s given to recover from surgery, to get himself fit and give himself a chance of going to the Olympics – and that can’t have been easy – he was really emotional. Paulinho has been emblematic of how much this generation of players wanted to go to the Olympics.

Brazil will play Germany, Côte d'Ivoire and Saudi Arabia.

I think they are very tough opponents. Germany It’s a global classic – it’s been the Final of the World Cup, the last Olympics. They’re always really strong – at youth levels all the way up to the senior team. They have just won the European U-21 title, so that just shows the quality of young players they have. Ivory Coast have a really strong tradition at youth levels – U-17, U-20, U-23. They’re really strong physically. They have quality players who are really fast. And Saudi Arabia have come on a lot. Their organisation has improved and they have given trouble to bigger national teams. They’re a team that we’ll have to be very cautious with in order not to slip up. It’s a wide-open group. Anything could happen.

Who do you think are Brazil’s biggest rivals for gold?

Several national teams could win it. I’d put Japan among the big favourites. Argentina also – they have a great team, great players. Germany, Spain and South Korea all have very good teams too. And there are always teams who take everyone by surprise and fight for the title.

How confident are you in Brazil’s chances?

We have great Seleção, a team that lives up to the standard of representing Brazil. The CBF takes this competition very seriously. We’ve been working really hard for two years. The majority of the players have been with us since the start, fighting for places, playing in friendlies, participating in our preparations. We’ll arrive at the Olympics with the feeling that we are in the best possible shape to go for gold.

After not making it as a footballer, you began studying for a degree in civil engineering…

I played at youth level for Gremio. I played alongside Ronaldinho Gaucho, but I didn’t turn professional. I was always very good at mathematics, so I went to study civil engineering, but, in truth, my head was always in football. Then I discovered this passion for coaching. At 21, 22 I was already sure I wanted to be a coach. Thereafter it was a really long journey – futsal, football, Inter, Gremio, Sao Paulo. Its been over 20 years of hard work. I think I deserve to be where I am because of what I’ve achieved, all the players I’ve helped break through. I think I’ve had a really beautiful trajectory and I want to cap it with a gold medal.

What was it like to play with Ronaldinho?

It was incredible. A real privilege, a real experience. Ronaldinho did things at ten years old that professionals can’t do now. It’s all very vivid in my memory. In terms of talent, he was way, way, way above others. He’s one of the greatest players in football history. I’m very proud to say that I played with him and that he’s my friend. It was amazing to see him go from being ten, 11, 12, 13, 14 into the best player in the world.

Ronaldinho is Brazil’s most-capped player at U-23 level, but he never won Olympic gold. Would it be good to have that bragging right?

I wasn’t aware of that. Finally I could have something over Ronaldinho! (laughs). But seriously, so many outstanding Brazil sides were unable to win Olympic gold and this is a source of great motivation for us. We want this title badly.