Mario Zagallo, Brazil’s World Cup winning player and coach, dies at age 92

Mario Zagallo, who won two World Cups as a player, one as a coach and another as an assistant coach for Brazil, has died. He was 92.

The first person to win the World Cup both as a player and a manager, Zagallo is for many Brazilian football fans synonymous with patriotism, grit and glory.

The only person to ever win four World Cup titles was also the last living member of Brazil’s starting team in its first championship victory in the tournament in 1958.

Zagallo died late Friday night of multiple-organ failure as a consequence of multiple comorbidities, Hospital Barra D’Or in Rio de Janeiro said in a statement. Local media reported he was hospitalized after Christmas.

Brazilian football confederation president Ednaldo Rodrigues said in a statement in the early hours of Saturday confirming Zagallo’s death that Zagallo “is one of the biggest legends” of the sport. The funeral will take place Sunday at the confederation’s headquarters.

“We offer solidarity to his family members and fans in this moment of grief for the departure of this great hero of our football,” Rodrigues said. Several Brazilian clubs where Zagallo played and coached also expressed their sorrow for his death.

File picture of Pele with Mario Zagallo after the latter’s appointment as coach of the Brazilian national football team, in 1970
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Zagallo’s social media channels called him “a dedicated father, a loving grandfather, a caring father-in-law, a loyal friend, a victorious professional and a great human being.” “A gigantic hero. A patriot that leaves us a legacy of great achievements,” the text added, without giving more details about Zagallo’s death.

One of the most charismatic and superstitious figures in Brazilian football, he also was known for his fondness of the No. 13 and constant use of the phrase “You will have to put up with me” — voiced loudly at critics.

He said 13 was his lucky number because it carries the last two digits of his birth year: 1931. He always highlighted any link, however coincidental, between 13 and his football successes.

Zagallo played a role in nearly every major chapter in Brazilian football history, from its first World Cup title in 1958 to the tournament it hosted in 2014. Former Brazil coach Tite visited him to hear his advice before taking the team to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Sen. Romário Faria, the former Brazil striker who famously spent most of his career at odds with Zagallo, said on Saturday the man nicknamed “Old Wolf” has “the same importance of Pelé” for his nation. The 1994 World Cup winner openly criticized Zagallo for leaving him out of the 1998 tournament for medical reasons.

Two-time World Cup winner Cafu, who played for Zagallo in the 1994, 1998 and 2006 editions of the tournament, said “he was not only a coach, but a friend, a father, a companion who taught me a lot.”

“That image of joy and commitment will remain,” he told TV channel GloboNews. “We love the national team so much, and when we speak about Zagallo it is about the national team.”

Zagallo was Brazil’s forward when it won the World Cup in 1958 in Sweden and 1962 in Chile, and one of the first players to act as a false winger, playing between midfielders and strikers.

He stopped playing professionally in 1965 and began his coaching career with Rio club Botafogo the following year.

Named national team coach in 1970, just before the World Cup in Mexico, he inherited a squad that included Pelé, Jairzinho, Gerson, Roberto Rivellino and Tostão. Brazil crushed Italy 4-1 in the final, becoming the first three-time champion.

He also coached Brazil in 1974, but without Pelé, the team finished in fourth place.

Zagallo was assistant coach to Carlos Alberto Parreira when Brazil won the 1994 World Cup in the United States, again beating Italy in the final. Parreira many times said he felt as if the team had two coaches, such was Zagallo’s influence in his squad.

And he was back at the helm four years later for the World Cup in France, when Brazil lost 3-0 to the hosts in a final marked by striker Ronaldo’s unexplained convulsions before the game. Zagallo was criticized for letting Ronaldo play.

“He was cleared to play by the doctors,” Zagallo said. “Anyone in my position would have done the same thing. I wasn’t going to be the one keeping him from playing in a World Cup final.”

His final coaching role with the national team was as Parreira’s assistant in 2006. Brazil was a pre-tournament favorite to win its sixth World Cup title in Germany. But the squad led by Ronaldinho, Kaká, Ronaldo and Adriano fell to France in the quarterfinals.

“The story of the FIFA World Cup cannot be told without Mário Zagallo,” the governing body’s president Gianni Infantino said in a statement. “He will be remembered as the Godfather of Brazilian football and his presence will be sorely missed by everyone in the game but especially here at FIFA.”

Zagallo’s feat of being a World Cup winner as player and manager was later matched by Franz Beckenbauer with West Germany (1974, 1990) and Didier Deschamps with France (1998, 2018).

He began his career as a striker with Rio’s America and later also played for Flamengo and Botafogo, one of the few Brazilian clubs which rivaled Pele’s Santos in the 1960s.

Zagallo was hospitalized for 22 days in August of last year due to a urinary infection. Upon his return to his home in Rio, he was filmed in a wheelchair.

“We are stronger than ever!,” he said then in a posting on his social media channels, which ended in his career motto. “You will have to put up with me!”

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