Mário Zagallo, Longtime Fixture of Brazilian Soccer, Dies at 92

Mário Zagallo, Longtime Fixture of Brazilian Soccer, Dies at 92

Mário Zagallo, who as both a player and coach helped lead Brazil to four World Cup soccer championships, becoming a national hero and one of only three people to lift the tournament’s trophy in both roles, died on Friday in Rio de Janeiro. He was 92.

His death was confirmed by his family on his social media channels. Barra D’Or Hospital in Rio de Janeiro, where he had been a patient several times in recent months, said the cause was multiple organ failure.

An attack-minded wing as a player and a tactically minded coach known as “the Professor,” Zagallo was part of the Brazil teams that won consecutive World Cup championships in 1958 and 1962 and the head coach of Brazil’s 1970 champions.

His 1970 triumph made Zagallo the first person to win the World Cup as both a player and a coach, a feat that has since been matched only by Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and Didier Deschamps of France. But it may have been that team’s style of play as much as its success that cemented a recurring role for Zagallo in Brazilian soccer history.

Led by stars like his former teammate Pelé, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto, Brazil’s 1970 squad is widely considered one of the best soccer teams ever assembled. It was forged in crisis after his popular predecessor fell out with the country’s military government: Zagallo was appointed as head coach less than two months before the tournament’s opening game. Zagallo found himself having to act as the coach of many players who had only recently been his teammates.

“It was easy to command, because the players saw and felt that I had the strength of personality to make the changes that I thought were necessary,” Zagallo recalled in a 2011 interview with The Blizzard, a quarterly soccer magazine. “I imposed myself — and this kind of leadership in front of the group is fundamental, even if you’ve participated in this group before as a player.”

The team adjusted to Zagallo’s tactical alterations and then danced and shimmied its way into the hearts and minds of fans not only in Brazil but around the globe.

Under Zagallo’s direction, in the first World Cup telecast around the world in color, Brazil’s team, clad in its famed canary-yellow jerseys, refined soccer to high art in its six straight victories in Mexico. Sweeping through the tournament with a highlight reel of memorable goals, the team showcased the fluid, elegant attacking style known as “o jogo bonito” (“the beautiful game”), which became Brazil’s calling card around the world.

Returning as head coach, Zagallo led Brazil to a fourth-place finish in 1974. Two decades later, back on the national team’s bench as an assistant to Carlos Alberto Parreira, he helped Brazil collect its fourth championship with a victory over Italy in the 1994 final in Pasadena, Calif.

Parreira’s team, a grinding and more results-oriented squad, was less beloved than previous editions of the Seleção, as Brazil’s national team is known. But it was celebrated for delivering the prize the country covets above all others.

Four years after that, with Zagallo back in the top job and stars like Ronaldo leading yet another potent attack, Brazil returned to the World Cup final. But its run had come amid criticism from a nation of amateur coaches, who feared that, despite his ties to Brazil’s most mythical teams, Zagallo had surrendered to his pragmatic side.

He did little to calm purists when he declared that a victorious end justified any means. “I would rather win playing ugly football than lose playing attractive football,” he said. Brazil, alas, did not: A heavy favorite, it was stunned by host France in the final.

In 2002, when the team traveled to South Korea and Japan to pick up the record fifth title that had eluded it in France, Zagallo was serving as a special adviser to the coaching staff of Luiz Felipe Scolari.

That was his last personal connection with a tournament, and a title, that by that point had defined his life for more than a half century.

A pivotal moment of his life occurred in 1950, when, as a teenage soldier providing security, Zagallo had watched as Brazil was stunned by Uruguay in the final before a crowd of about 200,000 at the Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro. That defeat, in Brazil’s first trip to the final, was a bitter blow to the nation, and he was among the tens of millions of Brazilians who shed tears of disappointment. “That day has never left my mind,” Zagallo told the BBC in 2013.

He went even further speaking to the journalist Andrés Cantor for the book “Goooal: A Celebration Of Soccer” (1996). “From that moment on,” Zagallo recalled about the 1950 World Cup, “I have only soccer memories.”

Eight years later, as a player on the national team, he helped rewrite the ending. In the final in Sweden alongside a teenage Pelé, Zagallo scored a goal in a 5-2 victory that delivered Brazil’s first world title. Four years later, he was on the team again when Brazil repeated the feat in Chile.

Mário Jorge Lobo Zagallo was born on Aug. 9, 1931, in Atalaia, a city in the eastern Brazilian state of Alagoas. His father, Haroldo Cardoso Zagallo, was a textile executive. His mother, Maria Antonieta Lobo Zagallo, was part of a family that owned a fabric factory.

Mário Zagallo said his father had hoped he would become an accountant and work in the family business. Instead, he devoted his life to soccer, spending his professional playing career with two Rio clubs, making his debut with Flamengo in 1951 and retiring from Botafogo in 1965.

He married Alcina de Castro, a teacher, in 1955. They had four children: Maria Emilia, Paulo Jorge, Maria Cristina and Mario Cesar. Zagallo’s wife died in 2012. His survivors include his children and several grandchildren.

Since the death of Pelé in 2022, Zagallo had been the last surviving member of the first Brazil squad to win the World Cup. He would go on to burnish his legacy in five decades as a coach, assistant and adviser to generations of Brazilian teams.

He would eventually lead more than a half-dozen clubs in his native Brazil, as well as the national teams of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But he was never far from his country, serving four distinct tenures as Brazil’s head coach.

And even when he did not hold the post, he remained a fixture, called upon regularly — in success and failure and particularly in times of trouble — as a sage and distinguished link to its greatest teams, and its greatest triumphs.

Alex Traub and Tariq Panja contributed reporting.