Lula declares three-day national mourning for Brazil football great Zagallo

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Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has declared three days of national mourning for four-time World Cup-winning football legend Mario Zagallo, a day after his death at age 92.

Zagallo, who played alongside Pele in Brazil’s 1958 and 1962 World Cup-winning teams and later won the trophy as a coach, died on Friday of multiple organ failure, said the Barra D’Or Hospital in Rio de Janeiro, where he had been treated for a series of health problems in recent months.

Lula led a flood of tributes to the man known as the “Old Wolf”, who coached Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning side starring Pele – considered by many the greatest team in history – and served as assistant coach when the “Selecao” repeated the feat in 1994.

“He was one of the greatest football players and coaches of all time,” Lula said in a statement.

“Courageous, passionate… [he] leaves a lesson of love, dedication and the will to overcome for our country – and for world football.”

Messages also poured in from around the football world.

“Zagallo’s influence on football, and Brazilian football in particular, is supreme,” said FIFA chief Gianni Infantino.

Infantino called the diminutive left winger a “tactical genius”, underlining his role in four of football powerhouse Brazil’s five World Cup titles – more than anyone in history.

“He will be remembered as the Godfather of Brazilian football and his presence will be sorely missed… The story of the FIFA World Cup cannot be told without Mario Zagallo,” Infantino said.

‘As important as Pele’

The only other men to win the World Cup as both player and coach are Franz Beckenbauer of Germany (1974 and 1990) and Didier Deschamps of France (1998 and 2018).

Current and former players also paid their respects, including Brazilian World Cup winners Ronaldinho, Romario, Bebeto, Taffarel and Cafu.

“Thank you for everything, Professor!!! Rest in peace,” Ronaldinho posted on Instagram, alongside a photo of him and Zagallo.

“He’s as important as Pele,” Romario told journalists.

“Today is a sad day for football.”

Zagallo’s 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 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 number 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 number 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.”

Pele, left, embraces Mario Zagallo after the latter was appointed coach of the Brazilian national football team, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in March 1970. Zagallo reached the World Cup final a record five times, winning four, as a player and then a coach with Brazil [File: AP]

A country in mourning

The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) said a minute’s silence for Zagallo would be held at upcoming matches.

Many of Brazil’s top-flight clubs also paid tribute, including ones where Zagallo played or coached, such as Rio de Janeiro teams Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco.

A public wake for Zagallo will be held from 9:30am (12:30 GMT) Sunday at CBF headquarters in Rio, officials said, followed by a burial at the Sao Joao Batista cemetery, the final resting place of some of Brazil’s most famous citizens.

Beloved in Brazil for both his football heroics and outsize personality, Zagallo is remembered for his warm humour, deep superstition – he swore by the number 13 – and combative passion for the game.

His death comes at a difficult moment in Brazilian football, which is still mourning the loss of Pele just over a year ago.

Brazil sacked national team coach Fernando Diniz Friday after the “Selecao”, playing without injured star Neymar, suffered a string of losses in World Cup qualifying, including a humiliating 1-0 home loss to archrivals Argentina in November.

The CBF has meanwhile been embroiled in a messy legal battle over its leadership and has struggled to find a new coach, with Real Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti turning down the role.

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