Tuesday 25 August 2020, 09:29

Taffarel: It was a joy to watch Maradona

  • Taffarel discusses Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Neymar

  • The Brazilian weighs in on the world’s best goalkeepers

  • He raves about Gheorghe Hagi and the Galatasaray fans

“Taffarel was magnificent against Arsenal, but you feel he’s going to have to produce the game of his life for them to have a chance here.”

Real Madrid were fresh from 3-0 floggings of Barcelona in La Liga and Valencia in the UEFA Champions League final. Taffarel would be, so thought TV pundit Trevor Brooking and the masses, picking the ball out of his net from Raul, Luis Figo and Co repeatedly in the UEFA Super Cup. Twenty years ago today, however, the veteran goalkeeper was infallible, Jardel scored twice past a 19-year-old Iker Casillas and Gala completed an implausible continental double.

In part one of our interview with the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ winner, and now goalkeeping coach for Galatasaray and Brazil, Taffarel discusses those halcyon days by the Bosporus, his time at Parma, the weekend’s UEFA Champions League final and Neymar, as well as revealing who he considers the best goalkeeper in the world and the best player he has ever seen.

FIFA.com: You played competitive volleyball as a kid. Can you tell us how you got into football? Taffarel: Volleyball was my first sport. I loved it and was good at it. I played volleyball practically every day. Football was something I’d play with friends now and again, on a weekend if I had the chance. If there had been a chance to play [volleyball] professionally, I would have loved it, but football was a more plausible career. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get the opportunity to play volleyball [professionally] because, at 1.82m, I couldn’t have gone very far (laughs). I started playing football seriously when I was 18. I got a trial at Internacional and passed. It was a really, really old age to start, I had to learn so much, so quickly, but I was very fortunate to get an excellent goalkeeping trainer – the Paraguayan Benitez. He taught me everything. I believe playing volleyball helped me – my reflexes, positioning – but my career is indebted to Benitez because to start at 18 and make it was a real challenge.

You became the first foreign goalkeeper to play in the Italian top flight. How did that feel? I was really happy, really proud. Firstly, because Italy is the land of goalkeepers, it has so many great goalkeepers. Secondly, because each team could only have three foreigners, so they had to be really selective. I went with Tomas Brolin of Sweden and Georges Grun of Belgium, two great players. So for me it felt fulfilling, an amazing dream. It was a great time to be at Parma, but after a couple of years they signed [Faustino] Asprilla. He was fast, skilful, a goalscorer, another great player, but he took my place because you could only field three foreigners. It was an excellent signing for Parma, but bad for me personally.

You were also at Galatasaray during a really memorable time in the club’s history. Arsenal were the big favourites to win the UEFA Cup final in 2000, but your heroics helped Galatasaray win on penalties. What do you remember about that? I remember every bit of it. We had a great team. Every player was really good, we had a good coach. Our foreigners were excellent – Hagi was Hagi, and we also had [Gica] Popescu and the Brazilian Capone. Arsenal were powerhouses in Europe, but we went into that game very confident, fearless. If we’d have gone out there in fear, Bergkamp, Henry, Petit, Vieira, Overmars, Kanu would have torn us apart. Obviously they put a lot of pressure on us, but we defended really well, had our moments, it went to penalties and, thank God, we won. It was a triumph that went down in Galatasaray history. And we deserved it. It wasn’t a game in which Arsenal played badly. They tried everything they could, couldn’t get past us, and we played well. It’s something the players and the Galatasaray fans are very proud of.

And then you upset Real Madrid 2-1 in the UEFA Super Cup… It was Real Madrid, one of the biggest clubs in the world, full of superstars. But our feeling was, ‘Let’s go and give it to them’ – 11 against 11, neutral venue in Monaco. I think we were much better than Real Madrid that day and it was obviously a great feeling to have beaten such a great side in the way we did.

You mentioned Hagi. What did you think of him? A magnificent player. Someone who really deserves to be placed among the greatest players in history. I’ve never seen a player shoot like him – the accuracy, the power. His vision and passing were on a different level. He wrote a really beautiful story at Galatasaray, as he did at other clubs. He meant a lot to us players, he was fundamental to our success, and I think the supporters consider him one of the best players to have ever played for Galatasaray.

What were the Galatasaray supporters like? Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. They make a huge difference. When the team needs them, they’re always giving them motivation. When you play away, they’re always with you. You have to see it to believe it – you feel like you’re playing at home. I’ll never forget an away game in Dortmund in the UEFA Cup. Everyone knows the Dortmund supporters are passionate, but there were more Galatasaray fans than Dortmund fans! It was incredible, it inspires you a lot. And you can always hear them!

Speaking of European football, what did you think of Paris Saint-Germain-Bayern Munich? I think the two best teams got to the final. Paris came very well prepared, but I think Bayern had something extra in terms of their play and their set-up. I cheered a lot for Paris because of the Brazilians who play there. I really wanted Neymar to win this Champions League and, consequently, The Best FIFA [Men’s Player] award. But it’s just one day. I really hope in the future he can win this award and be considered the best player in the world. But I thought it was a good football game, well thought out and well played. It wasn’t easy for anyone, but Bayern capitalised upon their chance. I think Bayern were deserved winners.

What do you think of Neymar? A great player. He plays the game in a beautiful way. He’s an incredible dribbler, sets up goals, scores fantastic goals. He’s very important for us. We really hope he can be at his best and help Brazil win another World Cup. He’s a superstar.

Who do you think is the best goalkeeper in the world right now? It’s Alisson. FIFA themselves gave him The [Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper] award. And it was fully deserved. He has immaculate technique, he’s a big-moment goalkeeper, he’s been playing really well and helping his team get results. It’s his time. After Alisson I think there are a lot of great goalkeepers – Ederson, [Marc-Andre] Ter Stegen, [Thibaut] Courtois, who I rate very highly, [Jan] Oblak.

Who’s the best player you’ve seen in your life? Maradona. I’m a big fan of Maradona. The way he played was such a pleasure to watch – the way he fought for his team on the pitch, his incredible technique. His team-mates loved to play alongside him. I remember Careca raved about him.

Do you think he was better than Lionel Messi? If you say anything against Messi, you need a bullet in your head. Look at what he does for Barcelona. His statistics are astonishing. He’s a phenomenon. But I don’t like to make comparisons. Both had their own time. Maradona was the best and now, without doubt, Messi is the best in the world. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been on a different level for years. They play in a different era, football has changed, so I don't like to compare, but it was a joy to watch Maradona.