When Marcos Paquetá first stepped into the international football arena, he was a virtual unknown. But a combination of hard work and title glory at this summer’s FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland means the Brazilian now commands the deepest respect in the world of youth football. Three months on, and Paquetá is set to coach Brazil's U-20 outfit at the forthcoming FIFA World Youth Championship UAE 2003. Before heading out to the Emirates, he gave FIFA.com his views on this fresh challenge, and the differences between the two age categories.
The tournament is just around the corner. How's the squad shaping up?
We're not at our best yet because we only have 16 players at our disposal. A lot of our guys are tied up with their respective teams in the sprint for the Brazilian first and second division championships. It's an awkward situation, but in the meantime we're working on our defence. I know that once in the opposition's half I can count on explosive, gifted players who are all perfectly capable of swinging a match.
Are you counting on taking Robinho and Diego, the two Santos stars?
I intend to pick them because I want to go to the United Arab Emirates with my strongest squad. Only time will tell if Santos let them go or not. I'm also hoping to have players from Cruzeiro and Palmeiras. If I can't count on them, then I'll turn to other lads who also have bags of skill. My players have their heads firmly screwed on.
How did the tournament's postponement affect Brazil?
I'd say it's worked against us. Exceptional circumstances have meant the tournament coincides with the decisive stages of our national leagues and that complicates matters as far as preparation goes. I don't have all the players in one place yet.
You replaced Valinhos as U-20 coach recently. Has that had an effect on the team's preparation?
Not really. I already knew the players from a tournament we played in Toulon this year. They're a well-knit group who know how to have fun while they work.
That's a familiar trait of Brazilian sides. How do you explain the phenomenon?
It's just in our nature. If we Brazilians go to work with a smile on our faces, just imagine what we're like when it comes to playing football! As far as we're concerned, football is fun. We don't see it as an obligation. That's why we have to work on the team's mental preparation for the competition. Right now, we're organising sessions with the squad psychologist, who is the same woman who was with the U-17 boys in Finland. We can't leave anything to chance.
What do you know about your rivals in the first round?
I can't say we know much about Canada other than a few snippets we’ve picked up here and there on how they play together as a team. The Czech Republic are a tough side with a crisp, neat playing style and are raring to go. Australia have really come on as an international force. We can't underestimate anyone, though - I think the Czech Republic will be the team to beat.
Who are your tips for the title?
(Laughs) That's a tough one! Spain have a very good team and Argentina are always in the running. Brazil and the Czech Republic are in with a chance too, as are England. Then there could be some big surprises, such as Mali.
What's the difference between being at the helm of the U-20 side and the U-17s?
There's a big difference. In Finland, the lads I had were very young and relatively inexperienced. I also spent a long time with them before the competition. In the U-20 side, the players are all professionals with international experience and lots of first division games behind them. Sadly, it's more difficult to get them together in time.
Are you afraid people and the press will compare the two teams?
No. People have to understand that they are two completely different teams. The side that were crowned champions in Finland didn't have an outstanding player who shone above the rest. The philosophy was to work as a team, to give it your all, whereas these footballers have been playing in the Brazilian first division for two seasons and are very, very talented. They're match winners.
In Finland you described yourself as an educator. Does your role change with the older players? b
No. Being an educator transcends players' ages. It has to do with the way I work. It's important to coach a footballer's character to make sure he fits successfully into the team.