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Roberto Carlos: Real Madrid a happy team under Zidane


Roberto Carlos flashes a smile when asked what it was like to lift the FIFA World Cup™ in the first ever tournament on Asian soil in 2002. “I didn’t lift it,” the Brazilian legend told www.sc.qa. “I cradled it like a baby.”

A winner of four La Liga and three Champions League titles with Real Madrid, the former Madrid left-back Carlos was in Qatar to visit the offices of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, touring Al Wakrah Stadium site, as well as the Aspire Academy and Aspetar sports hospital in Doha.  

Carlos had plenty of positive words about former team-mate and Madrid’s new coach Zinedine Zidane, saying the Galácticos  had re-discovered their happiness under the Frenchman and would go on to win “big titles again because of Zidane’s winning mentality.”

Talking about Europe’s top sides, Carlos labelled his compatriot Neymar “the best player in the world at this moment”. He also revealed his ambition was to coach the Brazilian national team one day before  adding that Qatar’s compact hosting plans and unique infrastructure developments would make 2022 “the best World Cup of all time.”  

Roberto, we wanted to start with a look back at your career, where you enjoyed so much success with Brazil and Real Madrid. What memories do you cherish the most?

Being a football player is the ultimate thing for Brazilians as we live football 24 hours a day. Just getting into a club is very difficult, as there are a lot of players and so many children want to play for the big clubs and the Brazilian national team. I had the luck, the ability and was capable enough to be a good professional and fulfil my dream of one day playing in Europe and at a World Cup. I spent 11 years at Real Madrid and 16 years with the Brazil squad. I think that of all the moments I’ve experienced, those were the best. From when I started in Uniao Sao Joao [in Araras, Sao Paulo state] in 1988 until I finished my career in football I learned so much. I don’t have any regrets, everything I dreamed of became reality.

One of your compatriots and friends, Neymar Jr., is making a big impact at Barcelona. Do you see him as the best player in the world at the moment?

At this moment, yes. When there’s a vote of best players in the world, they always do the top three. But I think you could make a Ballon d’Or for the Best Keeper, the Best Right-back, Best Left-back, you could have eleven Ballon d’Or awards and decide the 11 best players of the season. Neymar at this moment, in my opinion as an ex-player and now coach, has improved very fast. He went to Barcelona, adapted very quickly and now he’s the third-best player in the world. I think in a very short time he will be number one because he’s progressing very fast. When you go to a club you have to adapt to the club, the country, food, but not Neymar. When Messi was out, Neymar took on the responsibility for the team and is playing spectacularly well.

Do you think those three Barcelona strikers are the best frontline ever?

Well, you’ve got Cristiano from Real Madrid too, [Gareth] Bale at Madrid, [Antoine] Griezmann at Atlético de Madrid. I think that in football in general there are great strikers about, not just Neymar, Messi and Suárez. Madrid have [Karim] Benzema too, who’s a great striker. You could make a selection of them.

Looking at your former side Real Madrid, how do you see them since your former team-mate Zidane has taken over?  

Zizou, as a player, there’s no need to speak about him much. Everything he did he did well. The [coaching] experience he gained with Castilla is important, but working with the [Madrid] first team is different. He has started very well. He has people around him who are intelligent and will help him a lot. All I can say to Zizou is to wish him the very best of luck and to do the same as a coach as he did as player, because he was phenomenal. He always earned victories, titles and triumphs. That’s Zizou’s mentality.

Do you think that with Zidane, Madrid can win as many titles as they did when you played together with him in the ‘Galácticos’ team?

I’m sure that will happen, that Zidane will win big titles with Madrid. In La Liga they’re doing very well, in the Champions League Madrid are playing really well. Madrid have to get back a little to what we were before. Forget what’s been going on. In the present under Zidane players need to be a happy team, a team that has fun on the pitch, shows they’re friends, that listen when Zizou talks, that understand what Zizou wants. Most importantly the fans of Real Madrid need to have patience, as Zidane has just arrived. He has to build his team, build it around the players he trusts and from there will come titles. 

Winning the World Cup [in 2002], the first World Cup held in Asia - do you think that defined your career?

Look, I was in the [senior] national squad from 1991. I was on the shortlist of the 26 players to go to the USA World Cup [in 1994], but [Carlos Alberto] Parreira said I was still very young and that he already had Ronaldo in the squad. In ‘98 we got to the Final, which we were very close to winning against France, only to lose the game 3-0. Then in 2002 came one of the biggest moments of my career, winning the World Cup with Brazil, a country where the fans are very demanding, where they want you to win all the time. For me that was the ultimate moment from everything I experienced with the Brazil team. 

Right now, is there a free-kick taker like you?

I think maybe Cristiano Ronaldo, but he hits the ball differently. I used to take free-kicks with the outside or inside of my foot, but Cristiano hits it more with the instep which makes the ball dip a lot. So, in my opinion nowadays Cristiano is one, but who else is there? There aren’t many who take good free-kicks. When I was in Delhi [coaching Delhi Dynamos], I worked on dead balls a lot with my players in training. But taking them is difficult, not everyone has enough quality.  

After your playing career, you’ve been successful as a coach too. What are the next steps for you? 

In my future, if I do things right, I’m sure there’ll be clubs interested in having Roberto Carlos as their coach. I’m a modern coach, in terms of my training style. I’m learning a lot, I watch lots of training sessions, follow lots of leagues from around the world. I’m taking things little by little. My goal is to be Brazil coach one day. To get there I have to make history at clubs. I started well in Turkey, started well in Russia, did a good job in India and now I’m coming to the most important part. We’ll see what clubs are interested in me, I’ll think things over, talk things through with my family. But up to now, everything’s going as I’d thought it would. 

Has anything surprised you in Doha? 

I think that in general, the warmth of people and the politeness. It’s a country that’s different, with a lovely culture, a respect from people to other human beings. Genuinely, everything here has impressed me. Talking about the people, everybody here is very warm, very much like us Brazilians. They are always happy which I think made the biggest impression on me.  

In the 1980’s and 90’s there was a very famous [Brazilian] coach called Evaristo [de Macedo], who achieved a lot for Qatar. Do you look to follow in his footsteps one day?

First of all, as a Brazilian, I’m very proud to have played for my country and represented my country in other parts of the world. Evaristo came here and did an incredible job. Everyone talks very highly of him and I’ve had a similar story in all the countries that I’ve been in, where I’ve always managed to show people that they can grow. What I want, if I get the opportunity to come and live here, is at the very least to make people understand that I’m not coming just to work. I’d be coming to learn, to teach and win. That’s my idea. 

You’ve also been to the Al Wakrah Stadium, where you were the first player to kick a ball on the pitch level. How did that feel?

It was great. Having first seen pictures and a model of the stadium, it’s impressive - an incredible stadium. To then go there, be in the centre of field, with it still in construction, to be the first football player to step on to where the pitch will be will hopefully bring a lot of luck to the stadium. That stadium will always be in my memory, as it was an incredible moment. I’ll be making a mental note to make sure I can go to all the games. It’s very simple, to go from one stadium to another – you can get to see two, even three games per day. So, I’ll organise myself to make sure I’m a part of it.