The wide forehead creased into several furrows reaching almost the top of his head. The eyes grew big as he tried to make a point. The thin film of white hair fluttered softly in breeze but while talking about a 56-year-old love affair, Mario Jorge Lobo Zagallo didn’t really care.
Zagallo, who turns 75 on August 9, has a heart problem and was in hospital for long. But get him to talk on the World Cup and the old wolf seems as excited as Theo Walcott. It is the leitmotif of numerous interviews with journalists whose curiosity this small and crinkled man with glasses seeks to satisfy.
Zagallo was a steward during the 1950 World Cup, a winner with Brazil in 1958 and '62, as a coach in 1970, and as an assistant coach in 1994 and a runner-up in 1998. He was a coach when Carlos Alberto Parreira played for Brazil and became his assistant in the US, 24 years later. The role reversal continues here too though, officially he is the technical coordinator.
"Parreira is Zagallo's protege and pays a lot of heed to his technical analysis and observations," a Brazilian journo explained.
Zagallo is happy at playing France on Saturday. "I was supporting France against Spain. I wanted to play them," he said, in the mixed zone soon after alighting from the team bus. And it has a lot to do with obsession with the number 13.
Zagallo loves that number because his wife "was devoted to St Anthony of July 13." The former inside forward with Brazil apparently registers his new vehicles at the small village of Espiritu Santo so as to have 13 on their number plates.
He even lives on the 13th floor and is convinced that Brazil won in 1958 and 94 because the last two digits add up to his magic number.
Fear of 13 or triskaidekaphobia thus is beyond the comprehension of the first man to win the World Cup as player and coach. "France vs Brazil in Portuguese written next to each other has 13 letters," it didn't take El Lobo (the wolf) long to work out the good tidings.
Questions about the 1998 final were inevitable and Zagallo didn't flinch. "This is not a revenge match. These are different times, different years. In 1998, Ronaldo had a great start to the tournament and a terrible finish. For (Zinedine) Zidane, it was just the opposite. This time both are playing very well. It will be an interesting duel between them.
"But yes, whenever Brazil play France, the 0-3 verdict will be there at the back of our minds. It has left a bad taste in the mouth. That gives this match a different spice." Given France’s authoritative show against Spain, this sure could be the first among equals in the round of eight. Jean-Pascal Arigasci, a veteran football writer with Quest-France, said he hadn’t seen France play this well in two years. "France traditionally play poorly against small teams.
"They need to be spurred by the opposi tion. We had a terrible qualifying campaign and the first made our two games here only fears greater. But against Spain, France showed its true self af ter a long time. They can beat Brazil. My only worry is whether the team will recover in time from the hard, bruising game against Spain. There are a few old chaps in the squad," Arigas ci said.
But the man already pre served for posterity by a bronze statue at the Maracana, seemed quietly confident of Brazil making it to the semi-finals.
"For me there is only one country which can win six World Cups... France played at their best against Spain but we are improving," he said.
From being an amateur with Americas to an important mem ber of this contingent of millionaires, Zagallo is the link be tween football’s then and now. That has a lot to do with his abil ity to evolve — he was medio who prowled on the left side and loved to attack before becoming a coach who realised defensive solidity wins. He found place for Pele, Gerson, Rivelino and Tostao to play together in 1970 when Joao Saldanha couldn’t.
Zagallo added experience to the 1962 squad. He is adding some to the class of 2006 now.