By Ken Pendleton – CORVALLIS, OR (Mar 24, 2006) US Soccer Players - Before the 1958 World Cup final, Sweden manager George Raynor felt confident that his side would get the better of Brazil. There was no doubting that the South Americans had all the talent in the world, but Raynor felt that they lacked composure: “If the Brazilians go a goal down, they’ll panic all over the place.”
Sure enough, in the fourth minute, the better part of the Swedish team played a part in a pitch length move that culminated in Gunnar Gren, their 38-year-old field general, feeding Nils Liedholm, who waltzed by two defenders before striking the ball firmly into the right hand corner.
Raynor, however, was dead wrong. This Brazilian team, unlike its predecessors, was very well prepared and made as sturdy as they come. Didi, Brazil’s field general, grabbed the ball, walked slowly back to the center circle, giving his teammates time to compose themselves, and calmly told them that, “It was nothing, guys. Now let’s get into these gringos.”
History justified Raynor’s skepticism about Brazil. In 1938, they took their semifinal against Italy for granted. The left out many of their best players and were so certain that they would best Italy that they booked all of the trains from Marseilles to Paris, where the final would be played.
They lost two to one.
In 1950, before they played the final match against Uruguay in front of nearly 200,000 fans at the Maracana, the mayor of Rio congratulated them on their forthcoming victory: “You Brazilians, whom I consider victors of the tournament … you player who in less than a few hours will be acclaimed champions by millions of your compatriots … you who have no equals in the terrestrial hemisphere … you who are so superior to every other competitor … you whom I already salute as conquerors.”
They lost two to one.
In 1954, the problem was not hubris, but diffidence and naiveté. Brazil reached the quarterfinals, but was visibly in awe of its opponents, the seemingly unstoppable Hungarians. The Brazilians fell behind by two goals in a matter of minutes, exposed because they were so committed to going forward, had two players sent off, and played their part in a horrific brawl after the match.
After a similarly troubling incident occurred after an away match against Austria two years later, João Havelange, then the president of the Brazilian Commission on Sports, was determined that the team they brought to Sweden ’58 would be more mature and better prepared: “There is no point in sending out a team that is only physically prepared. They must also be mentally fit.”
To that end, Havelange hired a team of specialists, medical doctors and psychologists, to compile, “a highly detailed, very secret report on every single potential member of the national squad.” He hired a scout to travel around Europe to analyze future opponents and sent an advance party to find suitable hotels.
Players were prohibited from bringing musical instruments on planes and were told they could not smoke while they were wearing official apparel. He also made them sign a lengthy conduct oath and greatly limited their access to the press, family members, and women. One hotel even agreed to replace 28 of its female staffers for the duration of their stay.
The medical doctors discovered that the majority of players had intestinal parasites, several were anemic, and one had syphilis. Thirty-three members of the preliminary squad had a grand total of 470 bad teeth, and many of the players had to have several removed.
Havelange’s most revolutionary idea, however, was to make use of a team psychologist. Dr. Hilton Gosling felt that he could determine which players were most up to the mental task by conducting a series of psychological tests. Most famously — or is it infamously? — he thought intelligence and maturity could be measured by how well players could draw pictures.
He concluded that that the then 17-year-old Pelé “is obviously infantile. He lacks the necessary fighting spirit. He is too young to feel aggression and respond with appropriate force. In addition to that, he does not possess the sense of responsibility necessary for a team game.”
A harsher assessment still was directed towards Garrincha, an extraordinarily talented, but allegedly equally flighty, right winger. He did not even fill out the form correctly, tallied only 23 out of a possible 138 points, which, according to Gosling, meant that he was not qualified to be a bus driver, and had absolutely zero aggression.
Gosling was not the only one concerned about his lack of maturity. He was constantly accused of “pointless demonstrations of his undeniable talent as a dribbler” and was generally considered “impervious to instruction.” During a warm up match against Fiorentina, he had dribbled the better part of their defense and had the goal at his mercy, but decided to wait for the first defender to return so he could send him the wrong way a second time. He succeeded: the poor fellow flew past him into the post before Garrincha walked the ball into the net and immediately popped it up into his arms. The fans and even his opponents applauded wildly, but his teammates were furious: They thought he was being childish and the captain, Bellini, let him know, in no uncertain terms, that such showmanship was inappropriate: “This is the World Cup, for f*#k’s sake,” he said at the time.
Brazil’s selectors, especially manager Vicente Feola, had a dilemma. Their preparation for the World Cup had all been geared towards micromanagement and leaving nothing to chance, but Garrincha was the kind of player who threw the best laid plans entirely aside. During one team talk, one manager realized that Garrincha’s mind was entirely elsewhere, and simply conceded that, “You will do whatever you want.”
Feola realized that, and, as we shall see, these concerns greatly influenced when and how Brazil used him during this tournament.