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1974: José Medeiros interviews Alfredo Di Stéfano

Author: Isaque Argolo | Creation Date: 2022-01-14 00:21:05

Data providers: Isaque Argolo.
Important, in football, is the ace
José Medeiros | 31/08/1974

With the authority of one of the greatest players in the world, at all times, and with a respectable record in more than a decade as a coach, Alfredo Di Stéfano is surprised to learn that South American football intends to establish its new conception of game from the Dutch style, which for him, did not present anything new. His ideas are here and they are worth analyzing because they come from a man who has lived European football for many years. He also talks about the Brazilian National Team, which in his opinion had players, but did not have a team.

At 48 years old, 13 of which as a coach, Alfredo Di Stéfano confesses that he is stunned by the the direction that South American football intends to take after the World Cup. Not that he considers that the World Championship has not offered good lessons, but simply because, in his understanding, there is a great deal of confusion and, especially, Brazilians and Argentines do not know exactly what they saw good and what they need to change:
Di Stéfano: They talk in the style of Holland, but after all, who won the Cup was West Germany, right?
— But it was Holland that, in a general sense, showed news...
Di Stéfano: Holland have always played like this, based on speed. This cannot be considered a novelty. Only this time they managed to form a great team, which added technical strength to their playing dynamics.
— Before, there was a lot of talk about 4-2-4, 4-3-3 and other numerical schemes. Holland ended it...
Di Stéfano: I do not agree. Holland played in 4-3-3. There were four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards. Do you know Kaiser? (he refers to Ajax's starting left winger, whom Rinus Michels left in reserve to start Resenbrinck). He's a good player, but he didn't play because with him, the team would be in a 4-2-4. So Michels used De Jong, who is a point guard, when he needed to replace Resenbrink. In my opinion, Holland had a great team and their players played every 90 minutes, with speed and commitment in marking. This is basically what Brazil and Argentina lacked.
— And how do you explain that Dutch football suddenly exploded in the world, with Ajax and the national team achieving the vice-championship in the world. Could it be that the game scheme was not fundamental in this event?
Di Stéfano: A great team is made with great Players. Every great team was the result of a privileged generation. River Plate of the 1940s was; the same with Honvéd, the Hungarian national team of the 50's, Santos, from the Pelé era, Benfica from 60 to 66. Now, if you bring together great players, you will inevitably have a great team. But even a great timoeperde, make no mistake.
— So, it can be concluded that the scheme of the game is not fundamental...
Di Stéfano: What I mean is that the scheme must be made according to the player's characteristics and not adapt the player to the scheme. A football player is not a robot to do things as the coach wants. He does what his characteristic determines. I mentioned the Kaiser, he would never be a left winger like Resenbrink; Michels knew this and didn't cast him.
At this point, Di Stéfano takes command of the dialogue. It is tacitly agreed that he must present his ideas, without interruption:
Di Stéfano: There are many mistakes in the evolution of tactical development in world football. It was said that Brazil had been world champion twice (58 and 62) playing in 4-2-4, but played in 4-3-3, because Zagallo was a withdrawn left winger. And nothing changed in 70, although the dynamics were a little different. Well, with a team where you have Pelé, Gérson, Tostão, Jairzinho, privileged players, the coach cannot create anything, he improves at one point or another and lets it happen. In the 40's, River Plate had an exceptional team, the best I've seen play, and coach Renato Cesarini didn't impose tactics or systems. The team played in 4-2-4, which was always said to be a Brazilian creation. But it was a scheme imposed by the characteristics of the players. And over time River Plate showed natural 4-3-3 tendencies. In principle, Rossi and Moreno played in midfield and in front Muñoz, Pedernera, Labruna and Lostau. But Pedernera, little by little, moved further back. It was a natural procedure. But anyway, it was a respectable team, because all its components knew how to play. I saw other great teams, but none of them were the result of mysterious tactics. Vasco, of Ademir, Jair, Chico, was wonderful. What did it matter if they played 4-2-4 or 4-3-3?
— You admit, then, that Holland is an outbreak, it will pass soon.
Di Stéfano: I can't say, although that's my prediction, because they may have other great players in the making. But Ajax, without Cruyff, drecreased a lot and, without Neeskens, should fall even more, although they continue to play in the same way as they won the European title three times. On the other hand, Barcelona are now a respectable team. But it's not just because of Cruyft, because his midfield, with Asensio Marcial, is excellent and Michels makes everyone play all the time.
— You insist on this point - everyone must play all the time...
Di Stéfano: The 11 who run wins. This is the great truth of football.
— But you said that the important thing is talent...
Di Stéfano: Yes, but what good is it for you to know how to play if you don't play. The Argentina team in the cup had good values, but two played and the others watched. In the Brazilian team there was also this, but not in the Dutch, Polish or German. This is where European football is ahead of South American football. Everyone plays, even if they don't have the ball. The South American players ask for the ball, the Europeans stand to have the right to receive it. But it doesn't depend on whether the team plays in 4-3-3 or 4-2-4, you know?
Di Stéfano is very careful with what he says. He is provoked to say which was the best in a three-player relationship: Pelé, himself and Cruyff. He goes off on a tangent. But it is difficult to analyze the behavior of Argentina and Brazil in the World Cup.
— Argentina was very bad in Germany, wasn't them?
Di Stéfano: No, the seventh place they got was very good. I didn't expect so much from a team whose players gave clear demonstrations of not having the incentive to play.
— What was the problem?
Di Stéfano: Lack of money. The Argentine player is very poorly paid. Just think about playing abroad. In Germany, it was every man for himself. Also, they had very little time to train.
— Do you see any possibility of forming a great team for 78?
Di Stéfano: I think so, because there is good human material. The technical quality of the Argentine player is naturally appreciable, as it happens in Brazil. The important thing is to keep them in the country and make a salary policy according to their value, so that they play with joy.
— And Brazil in the World Cup, what did you think?
Di Stéfano: I would not like to talk about Brazil, so as not to criticize. I'm a coach like Zagallo and I have to respect ethics...
— We understand, but in general what do you think?
Di Stéfano: I think Zagallo couldn't form a team. He knew what he had, but he couldn't do what he wanted. He had players, but he didn't make a team. This happens sometimes.
— Didn't you find the Brazilian team very defensive?
Di Stéfano: The Brazilian team simply didn't have a game plan. It was good at times and very bad at others.
This conversation with Di Stefano takes place at the Hotel Plazza, while Sporting's players are having lunch. Afterwards, he will meet with the team to outline game plans with Vasco. He picks up his suitcase, which when opened turns into a miniature football field, with red and white magnets, and shows that it's time the journalist let him work. But there's still a chance for one more question, almost a review of his ideas, in general.
— In short, you think that South American football should look for its own paths without copying anyone, right?
Di Stéfano: Right, because European football itself has already realized that it cannot copy the South American one. What cannot be dispensed with, here as there, is that everyone plays all the time, with tight marking and speed. This is indeed essential.
— But Menotti (coach of Huracan, from Buenos Aires, Argentina national team base) thinks that European speed is bullshit...
Di Stéfano: He's a romantic...