Brazil and football have always been synonymous. Brazil stands for the beautiful game and its players excel virtue of technical superiority, tactical refinement and natural improvisation. The history of Brazilian football at international level is rich and illustrious: five world cup wins have provided numerous legends such as Leonidas da Silva, Garrincha, Pele, Zico and Socrates, and unforgettable moments.
The international perception, then, is that the Brazilian team is often a simple ensemble of eleven very talented individuals, who instantly gel as a team and need not much of a preparation. In that sense ‘o jogo bonito’ is a myth: Brazil’s style of play does exist, but it’s foundation should be construed in terms physical preparation, more than anything else.
In 1958, Brazil prepared for the World Cup in Sweden like never before. The Brazilian delegation included Paulo Amaral for physical preparation, but also a cook, a dentist and even a shrink. Brazil’s innovative and rigorous approach yielded a first World Cup title. In 1962, Brazil repeated its feat as Amarildo excelled in the absence of the injured Pele. But, a year later, Belgium trashed the defending world champions in Brussels, 5-0.
The humiliation against Belgium was interpreted as a glitch, but the disastrous elimination in the group stage of the 1966 World Cup clearly demonstrated that Brazilian football was outdated. The European sides were physically superior. While the Brazilian players innately possessed more skills, they too needed to be fit. So Brazilian football took a new direction, one in which physical preparation would be of utmost importance.
The 1970 Brazil team as such was a product of its time in the sense that his world view was technocratic. Everything needed to be measured. Everything had to be controlled. Claudio Coutinho and Carlos Alberto Parreira, both instrumental in the preparation for the 1970 World Cup, always had a clipboard in hand. They were technocrats. They had no background in football, but in physical education. This scientific approach was a reflection of ambition of Brazil’s military dictatorship to outwit the Europeans, and a portray of Brazil as a nation on the rise.
The advancement of Brazil’s physical preparation truly began during the World Cup qualifiers in 1969. Then-coach Joao Saldanha was not a man of science, but he did realize the importance of a decent physical preparation in Brazil’s quest to reclaim the World Cup in 1970. Saldanha organized the training sessions in line with ‘Planejamento Mexico’, a book rooted in the tradition of Mexican biometeorology and cardiology prior and after the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.
Brazil’s preparation for the 1970 World Cup was, without doubt, the most scientific in international football at the time. The most intense physical preparation also resulted in the most superlative football the planet had ever seen. Carlos Alberto Torres’s strike in the final against Mexico remains arguably the finest goal in history, it was a collective goal with personal touches.
In football folklore Clodoaldo started the move preceding Torres’s goal, but it was Tostao, who recuperated ball possession. He, as Brazil’s front man, had tracked back deep into his own half in the dying minutes of the game. He embodied Brazil’s fitness.
In later World Cups Brazil continued its extensive physical preparation programs, but never managed to reproduce such exuberant football again. More and more, Brazil started to produce bulky midfield players, whose main function was to destroy.
So, ironically, the best physical preparation, and best football, in 1970 signified the end of Brazil’s ‘golden age’, and would create a counter product later.