Belfast Telegraph

Carlos Alberto: The night I went toe-to-toe with Brazilian icon over Northern Ireland

By Steven Beacom

Carlos Alberto. The name conjures up television images of the 1970 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy and his glorious goal.

It followed the move of moves which started in Brazil's half and ended with Pele passing the ball into space for the onrushing Alberto to rifle a low right-footed shot into the net, earning his side a 4-1 victory in Mexico.

Minutes later, captain Carlos, gleaming with pride and smiling from ear to ear, was holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy.

I grew up spellbound by those iconic moments.

More: Carlos Alberto inspired Brazil's greatest ever team to glory

You can imagine then how thrilled I was to meet and interview Carlos Alberto in 2004 before his Azerbaijan side were due to play Northern Ireland in Baku in a World Cup qualifier.

Full of life and full of fun, there was no sign of his famous fiery temper as he happily chatted away in English about THAT goal, playing in THAT Brazilian team and his admiration of our own superstar George Best. He was a joy.

Post-match was different. After a dreary 0-0 draw on a poor pitch against Northern Ireland, he walked into the press room and, fuming that Azerbaijan had not won, unleashed an astonishing attack on Lawrie Sanchez's side.

"I'm tired of playing s*** football teams like Northern Ireland," he blasted.

"They do not play football the way it should be played. It is like volleyball or basketball."

Gone was good cop Carlos. The bad cop had arrived and was laying down the law. Unfairly in my book, because while Northern Ireland weren't great, viewing Azerbaijan was definitely not just like watching Brazil!

Continuing his rant, he slammed Northern Ireland for being a dirty team before again savaging the players for their lack of quality.

By this stage, I had had enough. This may have been one of the finest footballers to grace the beautiful game but he was spouting rubbish and I told him as much, saying that I felt Azerbaijan were just as bad as Northern Ireland for most of the match and worse as it reached its conclusion.

Carlos stared me down as if engaging in some sort of high noon shoot-out, prior to firing a few broadsides in my direction which I replied to as best I could.

The press conference was a million times more entertaining than the World Cup qualifier and ended with the Azerbaijan press giving the Brazilian a standing ovation when he left the room after demanding how I could be bothered watching my national team when they played the way they did.

He revelled in it.

Had the Azerbaijan players showed the same fight, passion and desire as their manager, they would have hammered Northern Ireland all those years ago.

Azerbaijan's next match is against Northern Ireland next month in Belfast. I hope this legendary figure is remembered in some way at Windsor Park following his death yesterday aged 72.

What a player on the pitch. What an unforgettable character off it. Rest in peace Carlos Alberto.

Belfast Telegraph


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