Mario Zagallo was one of the most influential figures in the history of football, winning four FIFA World Cups with Brazil in different roles. He was the first person to win the World Cup as both a player and a manager, and the only one who did each more than once. He also holds the record for World Cup finals with six participations. He died on 5 January 2024 at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of great achievements and memories.
Zagallo as Player: A Tireless Winger and a Two-time Champion
Zagallo was born on 9 August 1931 in Atalaia, Alagoas, and moved to Rio de Janeiro with his family when he was eight months old. He started his football career at Flamengo, where he played for seven years and won four state championships. He then joined Botafogo, where he formed a formidable partnership with Garrincha, the right winger. He won three more state titles and one national championship with Botafogo.
Zagallo made his debut for the Brazil national team in 1958, and was part of the squad that won the country’s first World Cup in Sweden. He played as a left winger in a 4-2-4 formation, but often dropped back to help the midfield and defence, allowing Pele and Garrincha to shine in attack. He scored one goal in the tournament, in the 5-2 win over France in the semi-final.
Four years later, Zagallo was again a key member of the Brazil team that defended the World Cup title in Chile. He scored two goals in the competition, one in the 2-0 win over Mexico in the group stage, and one in the 3-1 win over Czechoslovakia in the final. He formed a lethal trio with Pele and Vava, who scored four goals each in the tournament.
Zagallo retired from international football in 1964, after earning 33 caps and scoring five goals. He also retired from club football in 1965, having played 332 matches and scored 76 goals in his career.
Zagallo as Manager: A Master Tactician and a three-time Champion
Zagallo started his managerial career in 1966, when he took charge of Botafogo. He won two state championships and one national championship with the club, before being appointed as the Brazil manager in 1967. He inherited a talented squad that included Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivellino, and Carlos Alberto, and led them to the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.
Zagallo adopted a 4-3-3 formation, with Pele as the central striker, Jairzinho and Rivelino as the wingers, and Gerson, Clodoaldo, and Piazza as the midfielders. He gave his players freedom and creativity to express themselves on the pitch, and encouraged them to play with flair and joy. He also instilled a strong sense of teamwork and discipline in the squad, and made them believe in their abilities.
Brazil won all six matches in the 1970 World Cup, scoring 19 goals and conceding only seven. They beat Italy 4-1 in the final, in what is widely regarded as one of the best performances in World Cup history. Zagallo became the first person to win the World Cup as both a player and a manager, and lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy for the third time for Brazil, which meant they could keep it permanently.
Zagallo continued as the Brazil manager until 1974, when he led the team to the fourth place in the World Cup in West Germany. He then coached several clubs in Brazil and abroad, such as Fluminense, Flamengo, Kuwait, Al-Hilal, Vasco da Gama, Saudi Arabia, Bangu, and United Arab Emirates. He won several titles with these clubs, including the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in 1981.
In 1994, Zagallo returned to the Brazil national team as the assistant coach to Carlos Alberto Parreira, his former fitness coach in 1970. He helped Brazil win their fourth World Cup in the United States, after beating Italy on penalties in the final. He became the first person to win the World Cup in three different roles: as a player, a manager, and an assistant coach.
Four years later, Zagallo was the Brazil manager for the third time, and took the team to the 1998 World Cup in France. He had a young and talented squad that featured Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Bebeto, Roberto Carlos, and Cafu. Brazil reached the final, but lost 3-0 to the hosts, in a match that was overshadowed by Ronaldo’s mysterious illness before the game.
Zagallo retired from coaching in 2001, after a brief spell with Flamengo. He remained as a technical coordinator for the Brazil national team until 2006, and was involved in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, where Brazil won their fifth title under Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Zagallo the Legend: A pioneer and an Inspiration
Zagallo is widely regarded as one of the greatest footballers and managers of all time, and a pioneer of the game. He was one of the first players to play in a hybrid role between a winger and a midfielder, and one of the first managers to use a 4-3-3 formation and a fluid and attacking style of play. He was also known for his tactical flexibility, his motivational skills, and his superstition.
Zagallo won numerous individual awards and honours in his career, including the FIFA Order of Merit in 1992, the highest honour awarded by FIFA, for his contributions to football. He was named the ninth greatest manager of all time by World Soccer Magazine in 2013, and was inducted into the Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2014.
Zagallo influenced and inspired many players and managers who followed him, such as Zico, Socrates, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Neymar, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Tite. He was also admired and respected by his peers and rivals, such as Pele, Garrincha, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, and Diego Maradona.
Zagallo died on 5 January 2024, at the age of 92, in Rio de Janeiro. He was the last surviving Brazilian player who participated in the 1958 World Cup final. He was mourned by the football world, and remembered as a legend, a genius, and a king. He left behind a family, a legacy, and a motto: “You’ll have to kill me to take me out of here.”
Mario Zagallo Achievements
- As a player: World Cup (1958, 1962); Taça Bernardo O’Higgins (1959, 1961); Taça do Atlântico (1960); Rock Cup (1963); Taça Oswaldo Cruz (1958, 1961, 1962);
- As a manager: World Cup (1970); Rock Cup (1971); Taça Independência (1972); Rous/Umbro Stanley Cup (1995); Pre-Olympic (1996); Copa América (1997); FIFA Confederation Cup (1997);
- As a technical coordinator: Copa Amizade (1992), World Cup (1994), Copa América (2004), FIFA Confederation Cup (2005) and Carlsberg Cup (2005);
- As an assistant coach: World Cup (1994);
- As a manager of Kuwait: AFC Asian Cup runner-up (1976);
Zagallo was also awarded the FIFA Order of Merit in 1992, the highest honour awarded by FIFA, for his contributions to football. He was named the ninth greatest manager of all time by World Soccer Magazine in 2013. He was inducted into the Brazilian Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2014.
Zagallo influenced Brazilian football in many ways, as he was a pioneer and a master of the game. He was one of the first players to play in a hybrid role between a winger and a midfielder, and one of the first managers to use a 4-3-3 formation and a fluid and attacking style of play. He also showed tactical flexibility, motivational skills, and superstition. He won four World Cups with Brazil in different roles, and inspired many generations of players and managers who followed him. He was a legend, a genius, and a king of Brazilian football.
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