World Soccer: You’ve worked in a lot of countries. Do you find it easy to settle in?
Carlos Aberto Parreira: I wouldn’t say that. When you consider the problems of coming to a new country and having to learn its way of life, the culture, traditions, even the tricks – it is always difficult.
What about the different style of football in South Africa?
The way they play in this country is too much about direct football, what you might call “fight-ball”. I always knew it would take a certain amount of time to change the football culture.
Do you have enough access to your players?
No national coach ever has enough access to his players. The problem here is that sometimes we get the players only two days before a game, and then we don’t always have the overseas-based players. We even have problems with some of the local players. Even if there is a game when we have both sets of players, they do not arrive at the same time. There is a struggle going on between the League and the national association.
What about the standard and preparation of players in South Africa?
I think they have to organise things here much better, though, of course, it cannot be done overnight. If this country wants to get back to being one of the best sides in Africa, it is going to have to organise youth leagues. Now I realise this is the strength of Brazilian football. In Brazil you could see players such as Ronaldinho and Kaka and Alexandre Pato, who has just gone to Milan, were already going to be big players when they were still only 16 or 17. In South Africa the players mature much too late. Our best “young” player at the moment is Teko Modise from Orlando Pirates, but he is already 25.
What is going wrong?
It’s the structure. They do not have the under-15 and under-18 leagues you find in other countries. So if we decided we wanted to build the team around the youth players where would we go to find them? Football here has the money. This is one of the best-organised leagues in Africa.
But too many of the clubs don’t care about youth teams and youth training. They can afford to buy players from elsewhere, but the ones that they bring in are not top players. It’s not expensive to bring in a player from, say, Zambia. But the foreign players here are not the best models for the young players.
Can anything be done in the short term?
It’s too late for anything to be done to help me in preparing the national team for the World Cup. We are talking about a strategy for the next 10 years, with proper youth development. But I am afraid that unless something drastic happens then all the money coming into the game here will not be used effectively.
Have you tried to persuade officials to make changes?
The top division clubs here are allowed to have five foreign players. I suggested that, at least for the next two years, they should make three the maximum, so that more local players could have a chance to get into the teams. It’s all down to having the right infrastructure. It’s no good just going to the provinces and giving people a ball and letting them get on with it however they like.
So what is your ambition for the national team, given that South Africa are World Cup hosts?
My main task, more important than the African Nations Cup, is to build a team to do well at the World Cup, to get to the second round. That is the minimum. That is what all the host nations who have not been top teams have managed – such as Mexico in 1986, the United States in 1994 and Japan and South Korea in 2002.
How do you plan to achieve that?
The challenge for 2007 to 2008 is to assess all the possible available players. In the coming year we will add any further players who excel in the League. Then by 2009, when we host the Confederations Cup, we will trim the squad to those whom we believe should be with us for the World Cup.
Do you intend to play all your pre-World Cup friendlies in South Africa?
We have already invited Brazil and Portugal because we need games against strong teams. I don’t care about results or if we drop down the FIFA rankings. I do care about the players learning from these games – I’m sure they can learn. Some people want the Brazil game here because next July 18 will be a big celebration for Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday. But, honestly, we will play Brazil in Europe if that’s how it works out.
How do you view the development of African football in general?
If you look back over the past 10 or 20 years it is clear that African football started to make significant progress on the world stage only when the players started moving to the big leagues in Europe such as France, England, Germany and Spain. Look at the majority of non-European teams now who go to a World Cup. Most of their players are with European clubs. They are not naive any more. They know how to defend, to use the latest tricks. Look at team shapes and formations – they are mostly the same. Then, the basic rule of football applies: that the good players make the difference. Look at the game between the United States and Brazil at the last World Cup; it was a good game but in the end Kaka made the difference, so Brazil won. That is the beauty of football. Ultimately skill, technique and quality will always make the difference.