Sunday 07 June 2020, 08:03

Cafu: Ronaldinho was almost unmarkable

  • Cafu raves about Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Taffarel and Zinedine Zidane

  • He predicts big things for Neymar and Trent Alexander-Arnold

  • Brazil legend discusses lifting the FIFA World Cup Trophy

‘The Express Train’ has reached the half-century stop on the birthday track. Indeed Cafu, the only man to have appeared in the FIFA World Cup™ Final thrice, hiker of the Trophy at Korea/Japan 2002 and Brazil’s most-capped player, today celebrates turning 50. caught up with the exhilarating, inexhaustible former right-wingback to discuss the likes of Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Zinedine Zidane, Neymar and Trent Alexander-Arnold, coaching aspirations and what he would have become had he remained an attacking midfielder.

You’d only made two short substitute appearances at USA 1994 before you were thrown on to mark Roberto Donadoni 21 minutes into the Final. What went through your head when Carlos Alberto Parreira summoned you from the bench? While I was sad for Jorginho, at the same time I was really happy to have the opportunity to play in the Final of the World Cup. It was a sensational moment. I was prepared. I had prepared myself mentally and physically to play in the World Cup Final in case something happened.

How did it feel to become a world champion?

There was immense happiness, the sensation of work being accomplished, of being a champion. We went back to the hotel and everyone celebrated. Some were with their family, others with their friends. Some went out for dinner, others to a bar. We were all overcome with happiness. It was sensational.

Who did you think was Brazil’s most important player at that World Cup?

Brazil played well. I think how we played as a team made us world champions. But Taffarel was really, really good. He played really well throughout the tournament and he saved a penalty in the World Cup Final, so for me he was the most important. Aldair and Marcio Santos played really well too, Romario and Bebeto scored the goals, but for me Taffarel was incredible.

Romario and Ronaldo exceptionally scored 34 goals between them for Brazil in 1997, firing them to the Copa America and FIFA Confederations Cup titles. What did you think of that double act?

(Gasps) One of the greatest double acts in football history. No doubt whatsoever. Two extraordinary players who went so well together.

France got the better of Brazil in the 1998 Final, but what do you think would have been the outcome if you’d played ten times?

I think France would have won five and we’d have won five. We were both in great form at that World Cup. We were two great sides. We were both strong all over and had game-changing players. I think it would have been five wins apiece.

One of France’s was Zinedine Zidane, who ended Brazil’s World Cup dream at France 1998 and Germany 2006. What did you think of him?

One of the best players I’ve seen – technically, physically. He had an exceptional vision of the game. His ability to think, to react, to improvise was impressive. He always positioned himself intelligently. He was outstanding.

In the changing room before the Korea/Japan 2002 Final, did you manage not to think about the France 1998 decider?

Honestly, we didn’t think about ’98. Our professionalism came through. We were experienced players and we were focused on Germany.

How did it feel to lift the Trophy?

Sensational. What a moment! It felt amazing to have fulfilled our mission. The feeling of knowing the whole world was watching me lift the Trophy was indescribable. The happiness of knowing I was making my relatives happy was incredible. Being a world champion is out of the ordinary.

Ronaldo had barely played for two years before Korea/Japan 2002. Did you honestly believe he could do what he did in the Far East?

Ronaldo had an incredible capacity to recover from injury. We never doubted what he was capable of. He’s one of the greatest players ever, a one-off. A phenomenon. His nickname says it all.

You played as an attacking midfielder earlier in your career. How do you think your career would have gone had you stayed in that position?

(laughs) It’s impossible to know! It would be interesting to know. Maybe I’d have been the best player in the world, but maybe I wouldn’t have had as good a career as I did as a fullback. But I loved playing in midfield. In midfield you always have a sight of goal, you’re always participating in all the plays.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is being compared to you. What do you think of him?

He’s a sensational player, a rare talent. If he keeps playing the way he has been he will be regarded as one of the best players in the world. He has the potential to win [The Best FIFA Men’s Player] award. He’s technically brilliant, he has so much quality. He has a Brazilian style of play. I love watching him play. And playing in such a great team will help him grow.

You were nicknamed ‘Il Pendolino’ in Italy. How did you have so much energy and stamina?

Firstly, it’s a great pleasure to play football. I love football. I love what I do. When you have the pleasure of being out on the pitch, running is easy. Secondly, I always tried to improve my physical fitness. I wanted to be the best footballer I could be and also in the best shape possible.

Over your career, which opponent did you find most difficult to mark?

Ronaldinho Gaucho. He was so unpredictable, he could do things you couldn’t even imagine. He was almost unmarkable.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have monopolised The Best FIFA Men’s Player award for over a decade. Who do you think has been the better player?

We’re talking about the two powers of world football. They’ve been at the top for 15 years. One has won six awards, the other five. It’s so hard to pick between them. They’re both magnificent players.

Who do you foresee taking over as the world’s best player?

Neymar. I think Neymar has everything to be the best player on the planet.

Do you think Brazil will regain the Trophy at Qatar 2022?

I think so. I’m very optimistic when it comes to the Seleção. I’m certain that Brazil will have a great World Cup. We have Neymar, a lot of other good, experienced players and a number of talented youngsters coming through.

Finally, have you thought about becoming a coach?

After 2022, I think so. I’m an Ambassador for Qatar 2022, so beforehand it won’t be possible. But afterwards I can think about maybe becoming a coach – it’s not certain. It would be good to pass on the experience I gained through many years in football.