Despicable People and the World Cup (Part 3)


Editor’s Note:

These articles were originally published by us as one article. We have split the original into four articles for ease of reading. We think it timely to remind readers, especially now, that football’s greatest tournament has been subject to political exploitation by despicable people previously. It is fitting that despite his interference Francisco Franco never lived to see Spain become the dominant force in football – consecutive European Championships and a World Cup – let alone benefit from it. There must be no return to such exploitation of the world’s most popular sport.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 8th 2008)

A Tortured History

Couple Posing on the Stairs

Brasil endured a brutal right-wing dictatorship from 1964-1985. President João Goulart was overthrown by his military led by Field Marshall Humberto de Alencar Castello Branco on March 28th 1964. Castello Branco was himself replaced by Artur da Costa e Silva three years later. Facing opposition he closed the Congress – Castello Blanco had banned previous political parties and replaced them with just two – and increased censorship.

His dictatorship saw a rise in repression that would reach its zenith under his successor – General Emílio Garrastazu Médici, who took power in October 1969. Médici increased the use of repression, including torture to defeat a guerrilla insurgency, which was crushed,1 but strong military government continued. Médici was the most repressive of Brasil’s dictators. He was replaced in 1974 by General Ernesto Geisel, who began a slow transition to democracy.

Meanwhile, the repression and censorship continued. The last of the military dictators was General João Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo. He declared amnesties for those convicted of political or related crimes from 1961-78, but mismanagement of the economy rendered his governm, ent very unpopular. Glorious failure at the World Cup in Spain in 1982 didn’t help either. And the amnesties would later become very controversial.

Both Geisel and Figueiredo were integrally involved in Médici’s government. Consequently, they share responsibility for the censorship and repression that occurred during his dictatorship and continued when they were in power, despite the slow transition to democracy. Figueiredo tried to retain power, but elections were eventually held which were won by Tancredo Neves.2


Clash of Peronalities

The dictatorship was brutal, but only Médici got to utilise World Cup success for his own ends. It coincided with Brasil winning the Jules Rimet trophy outright as they were the first team to win it three times and therefore had earned the right to keep it for ever. It was a triumph that occurred in spite of Médici, not because of him, but that did not stop the dictator basking in the glory of the triumph.

Médici interfered shamelessly with preparations for the World Cup in México. João Saldanha was an unusual appointment as national coach in 1969. Although he was a former player, he then became a journalist and frequently criticised players: coaches and administrators. He also joined the Communist Party. However, he had some coaching experience. In 1957 he took charge of his former team, Botafogo, and steered them to the state championship. He returned to journalism.

Tired of media criticism the then President of the Brasilian FA João Havelange3 appointed Saldanha, who replaced World Cup winning coach Aymoré Moreira. Saldanha proved an inspired choice. In six matches in charge he won all of them, but he was his own man, which did not please the country’s dictator one bit.

View of Rio


Médici had his favourite players; especially the striker Dario José dos Santos – popularly known as Dadá Maravilha4 – and the dictator demanded that Saldanha choose them in the squad for the World Cup. Saldanha rightly refused. He is reported to have said, “The President chooses his ministers; I choose the squad”. Being a communist didn’t endear him to Médici either.

Saldanha was sacked and replaced by Mário Zagallo.5 Such interference was contrary to FIFA’s Charter. It was not the first or last time this level of interference by government in football was not acted upon. Zagallo proved more amenable to Médici’s interference. Dadá Maravilha was selected, but despite being Médici’s favourite, he could score as well. His career should not be remembered solely for Médici’s interference, but it did occur and FIFA should not have tolerated it even if that meant the loss of Samba football and one of the great World Cup teams.

Zagalloʼs Approach

Maravilha was clumsy and slow, but knew where the goal was. Only national legends Pelé and Romário have scored more goals in Brasilian football than him. Zagallo knew that he had no choice but to pick the striker – not a complete liability, but as Saldanha had proved Maravilha was far from indispensable. He was a bit player at best at that stage and even the great Pelé had to prove his fitness and worth.

Nevertheless, Maravilha was confined to the bench by Zagallo in México for the majority of that World Cup. The team won in great style in spite of Médici’s interference, although Pelé later claimed that Zagallo had to be persuaded by the players to play the free-flowing attacking football that Brasil is remembered for, such as the fantastic team goal scored by Carlos Alberto Torres in the final against Italy.


1 Its leaders Carlos Marighela and Carlos Lamarca were killed and the guerrilla campaign was defeated by 1974.

2 There was an outpouring of national grief when Neves died before he could take office. José Sarney was sworn in as Brasil’s first civilian President for twenty-one years in March 1985. Despite never taking the oath of office Neves is still considered a former President of Brasil.

3 Havelange later became President of FIFA. He was succeeded in that capacity by Joseph Sepp Blatter.

4 He was a popular player, both with journalists and fans too, particularly because he could be relied on for a catchy quote, such as: “I do not play football; I score goals,” or “Two things I don’t how to do: miss and play soccer.” Dadá Maravilha was the top scorer in the Brasilian Championship in 1971 and 1972 with Atlético Mineiro and again in 1976 with Internacional. He played professional football for more than twenty years.

5 As a player Zagallo thrived on the left of Brasil’s attack and won World Cup winners’ medals in 1958 and again in 1962. He became the first person to win the World Cup both as a player and coach in 1970 and was involved in their next success twenty-four years later as assistant to Carlos Alberto Parreira. He tasted defeat as coach in the final in 1998.



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