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Tim Vickery column

Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

At the start of the season few would have predicted that Avram Grant would be in charge of Chelsea in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. But when it comes to shocks, his opponents have the edge.

Fenerbahce coach Zico
Zico is enjoying success in Turkey with Fenerbahce

Fenerbahce are the surprise team, Zico the surprise coach.

For all his greatness as a player, there was nothing in Zico's coaching CV to suggest that he could lead an assault on the top prize in the European game.

In Germany 2006, his Japan side were something of a shambles - and the fact that Zico, after so much time spent in the country, still needed a translator to communicate with his players did not show him in his best light.

He may not have demonstrated much commitment to the Japanese language, but it would be very unwise to leap to the conclusion that Zico is lazy. A strong work ethic is one of his defining characteristics.

Those who strain too hard to force a comparison between Brazil and South Africa tend to assume that because Zico is white he was born in affluence.

In fact, he grew up in the working-class suburbs in the north of Rio de Janeiro, just down the road from where Ronaldo, one of his staunchest fans, was to spend his childhood. He was the son of a Portuguese immigrant, which explains the origin of his nickname.

His real name is Artur, but rather than "Arturzinho" - the normal Brazilian way of saying "little Artur," he was "Arturzico" - a Portuguese form.

That basic immigrant drive to sweat his way to a better future is part of Zico's make up. It was how he built up his body to play top-class football. It was how he became the leader of an outstanding Flamengo team.

And it is now there in his desire to put himself on the line and stick his team-sheet on the wall rather than putting his feet up or doing media work.

Just as dangerous to Chelsea's hopes is a Brazilian who will not even take the field - physical preparation specialist Moraci Sant'anna.

Tim Vickery

But the Brazilian contribution to Fenerbahce's success is not a solo story. In his quest to win the Champions League Zico can count on resources that were not available to him when he was in charge of Japan.

First he has a phalanx of top-class Brazilian players - and honorary Brazilians such as towering Uruguayan centre-back Lugano and neat Chilean midfielder Maldonado, both of whom spent time in Brazil.


The great left-back Roberto Carlos is there, but the most important is Alex, a left-footed attacking midfielder of terrific talent and intelligence who is one of the nearly men of the Brazil national team.

He has won over 40 caps, but, haunted by a reputation for disappearing from games, he has missed out on World Cups.

The current campaign with Fenerbahce must go some way towards making up for some accumulated frustrations.

And just as dangerous to Chelsea's hopes is a Brazilian who will not even take the field - physical preparation specialist Moraci Sant'anna.

Brazilian football has long taken physical preparation very seriously, but their work in this field really took off at the start of the 90s, when Brazil's economy opened up and they could import machines and paraphernalia from the USA.

Now the specialists could scientifically measure the results of their exercises, and what they could measure they could manage.

They could draw up individual training schedules, taking into account that some of the squad had played too much football, others not enough.

Roberto Carlos
Roberto Carlos has contributed to Zico's success at Fenerbahce

It was all in evidence when Brazil ended their 24-year wait by winning the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

The heat was extreme, and Brazil were the only side fit enough to maintain a balance between attack and defence. Their physical preparation coach was Moraci Sant'anna.

The 2002 World Cup provided further evidence of Brazil's supremacy in this area.

Everyone who had played the European season looked like they were wading through water - apart from the Brazilians, who were full of gas.

From that point it was just a matter of time before European clubs took a chance on Brazilian physical preparation specialists as well as star players.

So, will the surprise side with the combined force of Zico, Sant'anna, Alex, Roberto Carlos and co. prove too much for Chelsea?

You can put your questions to Tim Vickery every week on the World Football Phone-in on Radio 5 Live's Up All Night programme from 0230 to 0400 GMT every Saturday. You can also download last week's World Football Phone-in Podcast.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

Having watched Italian club football for the last few years, I have been really impressed with Mancini at Roma. It seems he can play anywhere from right-back to left wing, and he seems to be very effective in whatever position he is selected.

What I cannot understand is why hasn't he played more for Brazil? With the exception of Kaka he clearly is the most talented Brazilian in the Italian League. Is there any reason for him to be continually overlooked?
Ben Taylor

They had a look at him when they took an experimental side to the 2004 Copa America.

He was playing right-back at the time, and they quickly discarded him because they were looking for a player to run the touchline and keep the pitch wide, where he was happier cutting in.

The problem that he's had since is that he wants to be considered as an attacking midfielder, and the competition there is very fierce. He's now entitled to think that he's done enough to deserve a call-up, but now there's a new problem - with the build up to the Olympics younger players are likely to get the nod.

I was watching the highlights of the Copa Libertadores the other night and I expected a huge gulf in class between the teams from the more football renowned countries in South America (Brazil, Argentina and Mexico) and the teams from the other South American countries.

This does not seem to be the case in every match. I just wanted your opinion on how teams from these ''minnow'' countries compare to those of the more football renowned countries?
David Shields, Glasgow

So far the only club through to the knock out stages is...... LDU from Ecuador!

The Libertadores is a real test, especially because of the difficulties of playing away. So far we've had just 10 away wins to 36 by the home sides.

This year the Mexican sides have been disappointing, and we haven't seen that much from the Argentines. As I suspected before the kick-off, the Brazilians look a cut above (they've lost just 2 matches in 17).

But we'll have to wait for the knockout rounds to draw definitive conclusions.

see also
Kazim-Richards goes to Fenerbahce
15 Jun 07 |  Sheff Utd

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