This story originally was posted in BigAppleSoccer.com Feb. 6, 2005
By Michael Lewis
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad & Tobago — Midway through the second half of his recent 2-0 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, Azerbaijan coach Carlos Alberto kicked the side of the team dugout after a player missed an easy scoring opportunity.
Carlos Alberto’s reaction certainly was out of character, not one of the patient captain of 1970 World Cup champion Brazil or the calm, collected central defender of Cosmos championship teams.
“Every game,” he later said with a laugh of his reaction. “Not just today.”
But that’s part of the growing pains of directing a struggling national team.
Yet, someone with the soccer pedigree of Carlos Alberto in Azerbaijan seems so unlikely.
When the job offer came a year ago the 60-year-old soccer legend worked for the Brazilian Football Confederation and the city of Rio de Janeiro.
“Azerbaijan?” he asked. “What is Azerbaijan?”
He learned it was an oil-rich country on the Caspian Sea created from the former Soviet Union. He took on the challenge of a country whose best known international soccer personality was linesman Tofik Bakhramov, who allowed Geoff Hurst’s controversial game-winner to stand in the 1966 World Cup final.
Carlos Alberto called his first game, a friendly in Israel “terrible. The impression of the team was the worst. We lost 6-0, but it should have been 10. I told Marcello (Campello, assistant coach), ‘What are we doing here?’ ”
But Azerbaijan has made progress.
Entering its March 26 World Cup qualifier in Poland, Azerbaijan (0-2-2, two points) is tied with Wales for fifth place in the six-team European Group 6. Azerbaijan has allowed only four goals, second to England (three).
Azerbaijan has made progress under Carlos Alberto, who admitted the program still has a long way to go.
Entering its March 26 World Cup qualifier in Poland, Azerbaijan is tied with Wales for fifth place in the six-team Europe Group 6 with a 0-2-2 record and two points. Carlos Alberto likes to point out that Azerbaijan has allowed only four goals, second best to England (three goals) in the group.
Still, Carlos Alberto, 60, been satisfied with the team’s progress.
“Before they don’t make points, they don’t score goals,” he said during Azerbaijan’s two-game series in Trinidad & Tobago in January. “They suffered 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 every game. Now we draw against the Welsh. We draw against Northern Ireland. We should have won both games. The team has played well against England. We lost 1-0, but at least it was a draw game. The game was very equal.”
One of his goals is to change the team’s mentality.
“We have to celebrate wins, not losing, 1-0, to England,” he said. “Everybody’s happy. We understand. But we have to change. After one year, we are here and everybody’s happy. We have a lot of things to do.”
Carlos Alberto brought in new players and changed captains, naming 23-year-old sweeper Rashad Sadigov instead of a veteran.
“People came to me and said, ‘What’s happened?’ and talked about the tradition of Azerbaijan,” he said. “For them, the oldest player is the captain. I ask them ‘With your tradition, what do you win until today?’
Carlos Alberto has no delusions of grandeur of playing in next year’s World Cup.
“Not now, 2006. Maybe 2010,” he said. “We need more people [coaches] to help and give 100 percent to the players and team. Not to make the make World Cup, but to be at a higher level, to improve.”
Impressed Azeri officials offered him a five-year contract.
Carlos Alberto said he would agree “if they accept my conditions. I need very good conditions to bring my family to Azerbaijan. . . . It’s not only money.”
So, how did a Brazilian legend wind up coaching a team in oil-rich Azerbaijan, a football federation that is only 11-years-old?
In January, 2004, Carlos Alberto was sitting by his pool at his house enjoying life when a friend of his agent phoned him. The friend said he had received a fax, asking the Brazilian great if he was interested in coaching the country’s national team.
“What is this?” Alberto asked. “Azerbaijan? What means is Azerbaijan?”
“It is a country,” his friend replied. “They have chosen you to be the national coach.”
“I said, “I don’t know.’ At that time I was working for the Brazilian Football Federation and I was working for the city of Rio de Janeiro — Rio Sports Foundation. It was a good life. But I said, ‘Let me think about it.’ ”
He did and within a week, Carlos Alberto was in Azerbaijan along with assistant coach Marcello Campello. They flew into Baku at four in the morning, greeted by several high-ranking officials from the Azerbaijan Football Federation.
Regardless what transpires with Azerbaijan, Carlos Alberto already has secured his place in soccer and World Cup history.
While overlapping on the right wing, the Brazilian fullback fired home a long-range shot for an emphatic goal to put an exclamation point on the 1970 World Cup in a 4-1 triumph over Italy in the final.
“Not only the goal, but how the team built up the play,” he said. “Six-touch from Rivellino, to Jairzinho to Pele to myself.
“Until today, people will remember my goal. Some people don’t remember who scored second goal. Who scored third goal? But the fourth goal, everybody knows the fourth goal.”
“This is good for me,” Carlos Alberto added with a smile. “Sometimes we do good business because of the goal. In Brazil, some kids did not see me play. They see the goal and they know me.”