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I want to tell you a story about a radio. Later today, I will select 23 players to represent our country at the World Cup. For me, it is a big honor, but also a big responsibility, because I know what this day means to the players and to the country. But before I make my selections I want to explain what this job means to me. To do that, I must start with a story about a radio. Because when I was a child, the radio was not a just a little black box. To me, it was magical.
Perhaps I am showing my age, but when I was a growing up my family did not own a television. My mother and father were farmers from very humble means, and when I was three years old they moved from the roça to the city to try to give us a better life. My father took a job at a winery and my mother worked as a seamstress. I remember I used to say to my mother, “I want a soda!” And she would say, “O.K., be patient, Ade! You’re going to get it.”
Two or three days would pass, and then I would come home from school and she would have a soda waiting for me. In those days, a soda was a real luxury. It was not until later on in my life that I realized that she would stay up until three in the morning stitching clothes in order to earn the extra money to spend on treats or a new pair of socks for her children. It probably took her four or five hours of hard work just to get the money for one soda.
I didn’t understand her sacrifice. To me, the soda appeared like magic. And my mother was the magician.
My father was a bit different. He was very direct. When he said something, he always looked you right in the eye. There’s an expression in Italian that describes him perfectly. They like to say, “He walked down the street with his hat-flap up!” He was not a person who liked small talk. Actually, I remember we would all be sitting around the dinner table, and he could look at you and signal that he wanted you to pass the bread just by raising an eyebrow. No words! Just one little look and you knew exactly what he wanted. Our connection was football. That’s all we talked about.
I remember during the 1970 World Cup, the whole country stopped to focus on the matches. I was nine years old. I would sit in front of the radio with my father, and we would listen to the magic of football. It was like the matches were a dramatic story being told to us. It was a kind of art, in my opinion. It was like a painting or a great novel. Brazil would be on the attack, and he would paint a picture in our minds with his words. This is not to say that watching football on television is bad. But it is a very different experience. There is less mystery. Less imagination. When the radio was all we had, we hung on every word.
I vividly remember listening to the semifinal match against Uruguay. It is part of my emotional memory, because Brazil was losing for most of the first half. The whole time I was sitting in front of the radio, creating the winning goal with my imagination over and over again. Of course, just before the end of the half we heard the emotion rise in the announcer’s voice, and we knew something was happening: “Tostão … Clodoaldo … Clodoaldoooooooooooooooo!!!!!!”
And it was such an unbelievable moment for me, because of course we were overcome with joy. But I was also in disbelief. I could not comprehend the picture. Because as the announcer described it, Tostão made the pass and then Clodoaldo came and scored the goal. I asked myself, “How could Clodoaldo have scored? He’s a deep defensive midfielder!” And then I asked myself, “How could Tostão leave the grand area to give the pass? He’s a striker! How this could work?”
“Tostão … Clodoaldo … Clodoaldoooooooooooooooo!!!!!!”
The next morning, I read Professor Ruy Carlos Ostermann’s analysis of the game in the newspaper, and I was able to recreate the goal in my mind. The picture became more vivid, more beautiful. Honestly, I do not remember when I actually saw a video of the goal for real. For me, and for millions of other Brazilians who did not yet have the luxury of television, the story was already told in our minds. And it was the most beautiful story ever told.
It’s funny, even when I was a child, I would always read Professor Ostermann’s columns about the tactics of Grêmio, and I would think, “Wow, that’s interesting. I wonder what the manager is going to do?”
And then later in life, I actually became the manager of Grêmio, and of course I was still reading Professor Ostermann’s columns, and I would think, “Wow, that’s interesting. I wonder what the manager is going to do?”
In truth, I never dreamed of being a manager. Like every other boy in Brazil who was marked by the ’70 World Cup, I dreamed of wearing the yellow shirt for the national team. Unfortunately, that was not my fate. I had to undergo seven surgeries on my knee. At 27, my career was over, and I was still a young man. And a young man who still lived for football. So I went down the path of coaching.
It is hard to believe that I’ve been doing this job for nearly 30 years. A manager’s story, like the story of a player, is unpredictable. Eight years ago, I was sitting in our apartment in Abu Dhabi, managing Al Wahda FC, when I got the phone call that changed my life. Andrés Sánchez rang up and asked me to come back to Brazil and manage Corinthians. I told him that I wasn’t sure I could do it.
My wife loved our life in Abu Dhabi, and my daughter had already taken the pre-tests to begin school there. We had a beautiful life with not too much pressure. It was perfect, really.
So, of course, I said to my wife, “Well …”
And she said, “Oh come on, don’t try to fool me! I know you’re gonna go back!”
She knew what was in my heart. I was on the plane back to São Paulo a few days later. I remember being on the flight and saying to myself, “Wow, you’re going to manage Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, two legends. This is an incredible honor.”
The first few months were a terrific experience. But then we had a simple qualifying match for the Copa Libertadores against Tolima in Colombia … and it turned out not to be so simple. We lost the match and failed to qualify for the tournament, which is simply unacceptable for a club like Corinthians. And I remember looking up into the reflectors after the whistle and thinking, This is it. You are finished.
Mauro Horita/AGIF via AP
When we arrived back home in São Paulo, some people had invaded the training center and smashed all of our cars with bricks, and they were threatening the players. It was a scary moment, because they were not true fans. They were merely vagabonds and thieves who did not understand the human nature of football. We got inside the training center, and there was a moment I will never forget. One of our goalkeepers, Raphael, stood up and spoke to in front of everyone. He said, “We are not thieves. We are human beings. We work hard. We have families. They cannot do this to us.” And he started weeping in front of the entire team. It was an incredible moment, because he was so vulnerable, and the emotion was so real.
I stood up and said, “Don’t worry, Raphael. We will overcome this.”
In truth, I was not so sure. I remember driving home with my back windshield smashed, thinking to myself, Will I even have a job tomorrow?
It is perhaps a miracle that Corinthians stood by me under so much pressure. Just one year later, my wife and I were sitting in our kitchen in São Paulo having a glass of wine. It was four o’clock in the morning, and we had just returned home after winning the Libertadores trophy.
I don’t know why, but I asked her, “Do we deserve this?”
And she reminded me of everything that we had been through —not just the attack at the training center after the Tolima disaster, but also the many sacrifices that she and the children had made over the years. And just at that moment, we heard this noise outside. We went to the window, and some Corinthians fans were standing on the street below, singing my name.
It was surreal. It thought to myself, Man, a lot can change in just one year!
That night, I held the Libertadores trophy in my arms, and I broke down in tears. Some people might wonder how football can bring a man to tears. I can tell you that the reason is not about the game itself. The reason is much deeper than that. It’s about your family.
The emotion of football is impossible to describe to someone who has not lived it. For example, when Brazil was playing Germany at the 2014 World Cup, I was watching the match with my wife in our apartment. When Germany scored the goal to make it 4–0, my wife broke down in tears. I asked her if she was okay, and she said that she couldn’t help but cry, because she was putting herself in the shoes of the manager’s wife. She knew what it meant not just for the players and the staff, but also for their families.
After the 7–1 defeat, I believed that I might be the next manager of Brazil. I expected that it could be my time. When I was not selected for the job, I will be honest … I was frustrated, pissed off, very sad. However, during that time, I thought of my mother. She was a fighter. Whenever our family struggled, she always worked harder. She sewed until her hands were brittle so that whenever I wanted a soda, it appeared like magic. Her example was my inspiration.
For a week after the decision, I cried. After that, I went to fight. I knew I had to go outside of Brazil to study tactics if I was to expand my mind and my philosophies. So I got on a plane and left the ghosts behind me. There were two extremely important people I learned from during my sabbatical who I would like to thank: Mr. Ancelotti and Mr. Bianchi.
Mr. Ancelotti was extremely kind to me when I went to Madrid. I stayed there for a week, and he explained to me his philosophy for attacking with a 4-3-3 but defending with a 4-4-2. He shared the data he collected on the players, the training philosophies, the strategic planning. For me, this was like going to the candy shop. For the past three World Cups, I have kept very organized notebooks on tactics for every single match. My wife thinks it’s a bit crazy, but it’s just my passion. Some people like to read history books or do the crossword. Me, I like to write down formations and tactics. So to have the opportunity to discuss how Mr. Ancelotti worked with Ronaldo and Isco and Sergio Ramos was extremely illuminating for me.
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
When I visited with Mr. Bianchi at Boca Juniors, it was a different kind of discussion. We had lunch together, and of course we’ve had many battles against one another over the years. And, I will never forget, he said to me, “Your Corinthians team was very strong from the mental point of view. Because we Argentinians know that when we provoke the Brazilians, you get unbalanced. And I have to say that Corinthians was not like that. You were very focused.”
I stored that in my memory bank. When I returned to Corinthians to resume my work there, my mission was to adapt and reinvent myself. I did not want to be the manager I was when we won the Libertadores. Back then, we were very balanced and consistent, but our main creative force was related to Paulinho’s infiltration from outside the box. Paulinho is such a special and unique player. There’s a joke among the players on the Brazilian team: Whenever we’re practicing crosses into the box, our forwards say, “Okay, Professor, we’ll do our best to get the ball, but we know that no matter what happens, Paulinho is going to arrive from nowhere and score the goal!”
When I returned to Corinthians, I wanted to try attacking with more speed. So when we won the league in 2015, it was a very proud moment for me, because we did it by playing the beautiful game. I had Jadson, Renato Augusto, Elias, Ralf and Bruno Henrique at their best, and they were playing the game with pleasure.
That season, I had a realization that perhaps things happen for a reason. When I was not called upon for the Brazil job in 2014, it was heartbreaking for me. But in truth, maybe it was for the best, because it gave me the opportunity to go back to school and keep learning.I was frustrated, pissed off, very sad. However, during that time, I thought of my mother. She was a fighter.
In June 2016, the Brazilian federation called me to come meet with them. When they offered me the national team job, at first it was an overwhelming emotion. But then the reality of our position in the qualifying table set in, and I knew that if we lost the next match against Ecuador that it would be a crisis. To be honest, I went into the time machine and I had memories of what happened when we failed to qualify for the Libertadores. And I thought, Man, imagine what will happen if that’s Brazil and the World Cup. What if that’s your legacy?
The next morning, I woke up and I really say to myself, “I’m not going to take the job. It is not the right time.”
But then I had some time to reflect, and I thought about my mother and father. I thought about the image of my mother at the sewing machine at three in the morning. I thought about how I used to sit by the radio with my father, listening to the national team. So I said to myself, “Okay, you fought for this. Your mother and father fought for this. Now you have a chance to make your dreams come true.”
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune
So I accepted the job as a great honor and great responsibility. On my first day, I took a lesson from my father. Of course, I love to talk about tactics and strategy, but I really believe that the most important step was to call every player on the phone and talk to them personally. I originally wanted to go meet with each of them in person so that I could look them in the eye, as my father would have done, but it was impossible with so many Brazilians playing all over the world.
I remember I called Marcelo, and I’ll never forget his words. He is such a special creative talent, and I didn’t understand why he wasn’t playing. I asked him, “What’s going on? Are you injured?”
And he said, “Listen, Professor, ever since I was 17 years old, I have been with the national team. First with the base categories. Then with the senior team. But still, every single time I am called on, even now, my family is so, so happy. It is an honor to play for Brazil. If you call on me, I will be on the plane no matter what.”
I called Dani Alves and Neymar — and everyone who really knows those two players understands how huge their hearts are, and how much they care about representing Brazil. For me, those phone calls solidified an idea that I had in my mind, which was that we had to create a good working environment where we were all fighting for one another.
When we all convened before the Ecuador match, one of the first things we did was show the players a video from a basketball game, if you can believe that! It was from the NBA Finals when Cleveland played Golden State. And this one play was so beautiful to me, because LeBron James passes the ball to Kyrie Irving, and Kyrie takes a tough shot and misses it.
But what does LeBron do? He is the superstar. You might expect him to be clapping his hands, saying, “Why did you take that shot?”
Instead, LeBron was super focused. He fought to get the rebound, and then what did he do? Did he take it and shoot it himself? No, he passed the ball right back to Kyrie, and Kyrie scored.
I told my players, “This is the kind of atmosphere we need here to be successful. Everyone fighting for one another, even the stars.”
That match against Ecuador really brought us all together. The first half was extremely tense. We couldn’t score, and it brought me back to the ’70 World Cup semifinal, when I was sitting in front of the radio, creating the goal in my mind over and over. When Neymar finally scored the penalty, everything was smooth after that, and we won 3–0. I don’t think we have slowed down since that moment.
After the match, we were all in the changing room, and the players came close together and we started to pray to God. And I noticed that some of the staff and even the security guards were leaving the room, and I said, “No, this is for everyone. Let us all pray.”
Everyone came together to pray, even the security guards. That was an incredible moment of emotion for all of us.
Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images
Now that we are a month away from the tournament, I must make some very difficult decisions. I know that I cannot select every player who is deserving. For example, we have three left backs who deserve to be on the plane, but only two spots. We have to choose the players who will give us the best chance to win, regardless of who is most “deserving.” To make this even clearer: In 2012, Jorge Henrique did not deserve to play the in Club World Cup final for Corinthians against Chelsea. Douglas and Romarinho were playing more at that time. But the team needed a player of his characteristics to win that particular match, so I had to make a very difficult decision.
Of course, when you are making decisions that affect people’s World Cup dreams, it is a huge weight, but I hope that there can be peace and understanding with who is chosen today.
I know what my father would say if he were here. He would surely tell me, “You must let the young boys play!”
For some reason, he always complained that the older players were too slow. If you were over 27 years old, my father had no belief in you!
He would say, “The old guys are like turtles! The younger players are more agile, more electric! Play the young ones!”
Surely if he was around to see the way Dani Alves plays and trains and dances around the dressing room at age 35, he would change his mind.
After my father passed away, my mother told me something that he had said when I started coaching. He never spoke these words to me, because that was not his way of talking to his sons. But one day he said to my mother, “Ade will be one of the greats.”
That meant more to me than any trophy I have ever won.
I wish that he could be here to see his son at the World Cup.
Only God knows what will happen in Russia, but I hope that all of Brazil will be united behind us. I know that television has changed things for this generation, but I would like to believe that when we are playing our matches, there will still be millions of Brazilian kids sitting in front of the radio, creating the winning goal in their imagination, over and over and over again.
It worked for me in 1970. It was like magic.
To watch the full video interview with Tite, click here.