Carlos Alberto Parreira is a living, breathing monument to football, whose long and distinguished career is inextricably linked to the FIFA World Cup™. His is a lifetime of cherished football memories, but the 64-year-old Brazilian is still looking to add a few more as he settles into his new challenge of leading 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts South Africa in the tournament on home soil.
Parreira's eyes drift off and his mind wanders to what seems miles away when he is asked about the magical qualities of the FIFA World Cup. "The FIFA World Cup nowadays is the biggest show and event in the world. Nothing compares to it, not even the Olympic Games," he enthuses.
"The World Cup deals with emotions, where you will see people laughing, crying, young and old. It's an opportunity for countries to get together as a nation and a chance to see the passion and love for football they have. It's a tournament with Davids and Goliaths, where sometimes the little guys can beat the big ones. And the marvels of the big world of television bring every moment to your home 24 hours a day," adds Parreira.
Memories of Jules Rimet
Parreira's FIFA World Cup experience began in Mexico in 1970 when, at 26, he was the fitness trainer of the legendary, victorious Brazil team featuring the likes of Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino, Gerson and Carlos Alberto - men whose names are firmly cemented in the pantheon of the game's greats. Thereafter, he coached the Seleção to their first world crown in 24 years at USA 1994, and was also in charge when Brazil were knocked out in the quarter-finals at Germany 2006. In addition, he also took Kuwait to the 1982 finals, the United Arab Emirates to the tournament in 1990, as well as Saudi Arabia in 1998.
Parreira has officially been in charge of the Bafana Bafana for just four months now, but he has already been bowled over by his adopted country's many charms. "South Africa's a paradise. It's a wonderful place with facilities which could compare to any place in Europe. South Africans are very similar to Brazilians in their behaviour, happiness and enjoyment of life. We have the same climate and the same taste for dancing.
"I feel very comfortable here, most at home. It's an amazing country. People don't realize how beautiful it is. You have the bush, the mountain, the greenery, the sea and the wild animals. Tourists will love it, there's lots to see and do," says Parreira of his new home.
So, with the added lure of the FIFA World Cup being held there in three years time, it was not a difficult decision for Parreira to assume the South African reins. "The key point was that it's the country that's going to promote the World Cup who wanted a Brazilian coach. Any coach in the world would be honoured to get this invitation," says Parreira, who in his time in South Africa has already visited a Zulu village, been to the famous Soweto, had an audience with the iconic Nelson Mandela and collected many of his beloved African arts and crafts.
South Africa ready
Many sceptics have, with little justification, questioned South Africa's abilities as 2010 hosts, but based in the country on a daily basis Parreira has a good vantage point from which to make an informed judgment.
"I will use the words of Danny Jordaan and say 'make no mistake, the World Cup will be a success'. I'm living here and I know South Africa's going to deliver. The country's doing well in the sense of infrastructure, roads and building work. The World Cup has become so well organized and administered by FIFA, which is doing wonderful work. For the World Cup nowadays you have perfect stadiums, facilities, transportation and ticketing and in South Africa it will be an African World Cup, but a good one. When I see the construction, the stadiums they are rebuilding and the good ones that are already in place, I have no doubts," affirms Parreira.
As for the young Bafana Bafana team he has been rebuilding after a lean period, he has begun identifying the emerging talents and moulding them with some of the side's veterans such as Blackburn Rovers' Aaron Mokoena, Arminia Bielefeld's Sibusiso Zuma and Nasief Morris of Panathinaikos.
Games against world champions Italy, Scotland and the USA have already been confirmed for this year, and more top quality teams are being targeted to give his team more experience. While he is not willing to disclose too much on his goals for the hosts on the pitch during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, one thing he wants from his players is attitude.
"I'm looking for a team who will trust in its potential and who will have a winning spirit. Playing in the World Cup at home, that winning spirit will be so important," concludes Parreira.