People say that double-cross is a normal thing in the world of football. I prefer to believe that it´s only a drop (maybe a storm) of reality in that thought in Brazil or in the rest of the world.
In 1984, I had a great experience coaching Vasco da Gama, a club that I have enormous respect and admiration as a professional. I had the necessary freedom to take decisions with Calçada as a firm president and Mano as football director, someone that I will never forget for his exemplary behavior when political forces were demanding a new manager. He called me to talk about it. He was a real honored good man!
It was not for chance that Vasco, even ´´invited´´ for CBF to dispute the Brazilian championship, because of the bad campaign in the previous Rio State championship, was second placed in the national tournament, won the Rio Cup, and still had two players as greatest scorers: Roberto Dinamite (the current president) and the bright Arturzinho.
It was a pleasure to watch that team play always prioritizing attack. My first thought was and still is the unstoppable wish to score, with total freedom, inside an established tactical system, without losing the individual creative capacity of each player.
These results and also América´s 82 and 83, when we won the Rio Cup and a tournament in Tarragona, Spain, I was nominated by the late Giulite Coutinho that was CBF´s president in those days to work in the Iraqi Football Federation. The football organizations was presided by Saddam´s oldest son, Uday Hussein.
In 1985, I signed a contract, took my brother Antunes as assistant coach, joining to experienced men as the fitness coach Lancetta and Mr. Jorge Vieira, the coach of the last title of América as Rio State champions in 1960.
I have many stories about this experience in Iraq. Some good, others not so good. But the final result was the most important: learning and growing morally and ethically. I still can remember the qualification for the 1986 World Cup and the Asian Cup title, as the Iraqui Supercup for Al-Rashid, as good results in the field. Other Brazilians joined us later as the current Brazilian national team´s doctor José Luiz Runco, the fitness coach Saldanha and the masseur Zé Antonio, hired some months after we came in there.
Besides all great stories I have lived in there, one of them will be forever on my mind, because of the unexpected behavior of the president Uday Hussein. However, it´s necessary to understand the problems I had to face before being surprised.
It was a sunny Sunday in Baghdad, and the Iraqi Supercup was being disputed in a classic match, a tournament ´´invented´´ by Uday Hussein, because our opponent won the national championship of that year. Both teams entered in the field and waited for the president to hear the Iraqi national anthem. The motorcade came in great speed rounding the stadium´s field with a black Rolls-Royce in front taking the president. The securities led him to a glass VIP room in the center of Al-Rashid Stadium. He sat in a chair that looked like a throne.
Armed men surrounded him, and Uday Hussein also had his ´´protection´´ in his belt. The game became almost a war since he came to the stadium. And the war almost happened, but I acted to stop it. I had some troubles because of my attitudes on that day, but no regrets. For honor, fear and political pressure, we had to win in front of Uday Hussein and our fans.
There are players´ testimonials in the movie feature that I watched that if they had a bad game, they suffered psychological and physical torture. I could not prove it when I was there, but I noticed that, when one of the players was away, he came back with his hair shaved and visible marks of scratches and wounds in the body.
But, let´s go back to the game!
The full stadium was not a reason to intimidate our opponent that had Iraqi´s best player in the team: the midfielder Sensaid that had great technique and wisdom. His passes and leadership made them the favorites. When they were dominating the game, however, we scored, ending the first half in advantage, without noticing before the nervous face of Mr. Uday.
Going back to the second half, our team was still being dominated by the opponent´s best game and the tactical system well trained by their coach. However, we had a competent and lucky goalkeeper that had to balls exploding in his goalposts. The result was still 1 x 0. Then, our interpreter Salam Salim that talked Spanish and some Portuguese got a call and started to run in the field from the bench to the glass room where it was the president. An almost comic scene if it wasn´t dramatic and frightening for him. I realized that a ´´message´´ was about to come though Salim. He said to me in low voice.
- The ´´Man´´ ordered you to take Tanaka (10) off and put someone else in his place.
And I immediately had an answer:
- You can go back there and say to the president take care of the administrative part of the Iraqi football that I will continue to give orders in the field. And more... You can also say that our number 10 will not leave the field and he will score the second goal.
He didn´t go, but send me a message by phone. The world conspired in my favor and Tanaka really scored the goal that confirmed our victory.
Besides 2 x 0 for us, it had more to happen in the game, because our captain Adnam Darjan was expelled. Thinking about the opponent´s reaction, the glass door was opened once more and Uday demanded that the game was ended and both teams left immediately the field. The referee was still stopped in the middle field and the players were going away. I entered the field screaming for the game be restarted. After all, it was a football game and not a political demonstration.
For my safety and satisfaction, the guidance was accepted; the game took its course and ended with a 2 x 0 scoreboard to our team with all players fraternizing after the end. They showed high and touching sportsmanship.
Vanity and revenge are common features among dictators and, since that day, Mr. Uday did not spoke to me again and left me out of the technical reunions of the football department. But he allowed me to keep working in the field as responsible for the club and the national team. An inconsistency decision that I didn´t try to understand, but I kept working.
The World Cup was near and I hoped to go for the first time in the most important competition in the world. But I was stabbed when the very experienced and competent Brazilian coach Evaristo de Macedo was hired. Not for him, of course, but for the reasons presented to me to expose my point of view and deliver my decision.
And, it happened this way...
After some months out of the technical reunions and without talking to the president, during a beautiful training day, in the same stadium that I didn´t follow the wrong ideas of the president, once again a motorcade came with the black Rolls-Royce in front. I confess that I was apprehensive, because I understood that the authoritarian manifestation had a target. And I was not wrong. I was in trouble. However, I had the obligation to face the situation with the head up.
The ´man´ got out of the car with his securities looking seriously at me, and he came in my direction with a serious face, but very calm. My head up was almost in his knees, but I watched him full of anxiety, because a World Cup and my career were at stake. I felt like David against Goliath.
He greeted me politely and said:
- We are hiring a new coach to a duet with you in the World Cup and I would like to know your opinion about our intention.
I answered that I was grateful for his sincerity about the theme but I could not work with another coach, even in a World Cup, because I was left aside in important moments of the preparation.
- We can increase your salary when you finish the current contract before the World Cup.
I thanked him again, but I kept my initial point of view. Feeling the negative answer, he had another proposition:
- So, we want you to be the responsible for training youth players and promises of our football, offering the triple of what you earn.
Closing the conversation, I said that I was coming back to Brazil when my contract was over and I thanked Iraq and him, of course, for the opportunity of expanding my knowledge and helping the development of the players that worked with me. I suggested that the money he wanted to pay me could be used in health and education for the Iraqi people.
I thought twice before saying this last phrase, but I was surprised for his affective reaction. He turned his back to me, went to the car and came back with an enormous case in his hands. And he said:
- This is a present to your wife and you can say to her that she has a great man by her side, brave and with high moral character!
I believe he exaggerated, but I confess that I was relieved and proud. He stretched out his hand and gave me a long compliment, smiling for the last time for me, because I never saw him again until the end of my contract and my exit from Iraq. Everybody knows what happened next: Iraqi invaded Kuwait, the army was defeated and American actions in the region ended with the death of the Hussein´s clan, including Mr. Uday.
Being recognized was the greatest gift that I could receive in Iraq, especially for a man considered as a executioner, but, in a rare moment of lucidity, he showed that even the dictators have a heart, when they want, above greed for power and fanaticism.
The power of love could overcome the political power!
Copyright © 2004, Zico Participações.
The total or partial reproduction of Zico Official Website's content for commercial purposes is forbidden.