Brazilian football legend and multiple World Cup winner Mario Zagallo dies at 92

'The Professor' was the first person to win the FIFA World Cup as both a manager and as a player

By Reuters

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Four-time World Cup winner Mario Zagallo holds the Jules Rimet (R) and FIFA trophies as he poses for photographers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in March 2003. = AFP
Four-time World Cup winner Mario Zagallo holds the Jules Rimet (R) and FIFA trophies as he poses for photographers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in March 2003. = AFP

Published: Sat 6 Jan 2024, 12:30 PM

Last updated: Sat 6 Jan 2024, 1:13 PM

Mario Zagallo, who won four football World Cups for Brazil as either player or coach, including the 1970 side considered by many to be the best ever, has died, according to a post on his official Instagram account on Saturday. He was 92.

A tough and talented left winger, Zagallo played on the team that won Brazil's first World Cup in 1958 and he kept his place in the side that retained the title four years later.

In 1970, he coached a Brazil squad that featured all-time greats like Pele, Jairzinho, Rivellino and Tostao - one that many consider to be the greatest national team ever to play the game. They won Brazil's third World Cup in Mexico.

Zagallo was nicknamed The Professor by his players throughout his coaching career, due to his tactical awareness and commanding presence on the bench

This 1998 file photo shows Brazilian national soccer team coach Mario Zagallo during the World Cup final against France in which Brazil lost 0-3. - AFP
This 1998 file photo shows Brazilian national soccer team coach Mario Zagallo during the World Cup final against France in which Brazil lost 0-3. - AFP

That made Zagallo the first person in the sport to win a World Cup as both a player and a manager.

Later, he was assistant coach to Carlos Alberto Parreira when Brazil won their fourth title in 1994 in the United States.

His Brazilian fans loved him for his idiosyncratic personality and unapologetic nationalism. He liked to say he was born with victory at his side and was rarely shy to challenge those who said his teams were too defensive.

One of his most famous outbursts came after Brazil won the Copa America in Bolivia in 1997. His team were unfancied but when the final whistle went, an emotional Zagallo, his face red thanks to the rarified air of La Paz, screamed into the television cameras: "You're going to have to put up with me!"

Portrait of Brazil's national soccer team coach Mario Zagallo taken in June 1970 during the Soccer World Cup.  - AfP
Portrait of Brazil's national soccer team coach Mario Zagallo taken in June 1970 during the Soccer World Cup. - AfP

The phrase is still frequently repeated by Brazilians in all walks of life celebrating vindication.

Zagallo was also known for being highly superstitious and believed the number 13 brought him luck. He liked to coin phrases that contained 13 letters, he got married on the 13th of the month, and once even joked he would retire from the game at 13:00 on July 13, 2013.

Accidental footballer

Nicknamed the Old Wolf, Mario Jorge Lobo Zagallo was born on Aug. 9, 1931, in Maceio on Brazil's impoverished northeastern coast. His family moved to Rio de Janeiro before his first birthday and it was there he fell in love with football.

His first dream was to be an airline pilot but he was forced to abandon that due to poor eyesight. Instead, he studied accountancy and played football in his spare time with local side America, then one of the biggest clubs in the city.

"My father didn't want me to be a football player, he wouldn't let me," Zagallo said in an interview published by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). "Back then it wasn't a profession that was respected, society didn't look kindly on it... That's why I say football came into my life by accident."

Zagallo started off as a left midfielder, wearing the No. 10 shirt, which back then, before Pele, had not yet assumed the significance it has today. But intuition told him he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"I saw it would be hard to get into the Brazil side wearing the No. 10 shirt as there were lots of great players in that position," he said. "So I moved from left midfield to left wing."

He also moved from America to Flamengo, where he won three Carioca state championship medals. The latter half of his career was spent at city rivals Botafogo, where he won two more state titles.

His first World Cup came in Sweden in 1958, where he started all six matches and played alongside Garrincha and Pele, who was then just 17.

"I was 27 and Pele was 17," he said. "That's why I say that I never played with him, but that he played with me."

Four years later in Chile he was champion again, but he only guaranteed his place after making some tactical alterations. Zagallo would hang back to help mark the rival full back and when his side won the ball he would roar up the wing. It was unusual for forwards to help out in defense and he is credited with changing the way wingers played the game.

Mexico 1970

As coach, Zagallo led a string of Brazilian clubs, but he made his mark when he was drafted to replace the controversial Joao Saldanha as Brazil coach just months before the 1970 Mexico World Cup.

Brazil's form had been erratic and they were not fancied, but Zagallo pulled the star-studded team together, capping a tremendous show with a memorable 4-1 triumph over Italy in the final.

Zagallo stayed on until 1974, taking Brazil to fourth place in West Germany, but it was a disappointing performance that was followed by spells managing clubs back home and national sides in the Middle East.

He was an assistant to Parreira in 1994, when Brazil won their fourth title, and in 2006, when they were knocked out in the quarter-finals. And he was in charge in 1998 when Brazil lost 3-0 to hosts France in the final after star striker Ronaldo was hit by convulsions just hours before the match.

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The 2006 denouement was a tough one for Zagallo, who had been unwell in the lead-up to the tournament. He was clearly finding management a strain, and retired from the game.

Always ebullient and ever popular, he did not disappear from public view, though, and often appeared on television, at gala awards and helping out at the CBF.

He married in 1955 to Alcina de Castro and remained with her until her death in 2012. The couple had four children.


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