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Tracking down Carlos Alberto in Trinidad

by Michael Lewis, American football correspondent

Yes, that wasn’t a press pass, but Trinidad soccer officials did not issue any for those two matches, but they had ones that said liaison officer, which was good enough for this writer. 

The real beauty of the beautiful game is that it will take writes to the most unlikely places for stories.

In February 2005, I journeyed to Trinidad & Tobago to watch a pair of international matches and the U.S. men’s national team was not involved.

Carlos Alberto at left before a match against England.

I was writing a story for a soccer magazine about Carlos Alberto, who had been named head coach of the Azerbaijan national team. His squad was to play not one, but two matches within 48 hours in Trinidad & Tobago. Compared to the rest of the world,  the Caribbean, even the deep Caribbean – T&T is close to Venezuela — was like a hop, skip and jump compared to the rest of the world.

The story centered around Carlos Alberto, the former Brazilian World Cup championship captain and one of the legendary players of the game who was trying to come to grips with his latest challenge and a team that did not come close to his expectations.

In the second game of the series on Feb. 23, a 2-0 loss, Carlos Alberto was so angry that kicked the side of the team dugout after one of his players missed an easy scoring opportunity. His 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 four Cosmos championship teams.

“Every game,” he later said with a laugh of his reaction. “Not just today.”

But that was part of the growing pains of directing a struggling national team.

Very much off the record, Carlos Alberto expressed his frustration to me in different terms, especially the way the team could not find the net on a regular basis.

When the job offer came in 2004, the 60-year-old 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 England striker Geoff Hurst’s controversial game-winner to stand in the 1966 World Cup final.

One of Carlos Alberto’s goals was 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 never got an opportunity. He resigned as coach that June.

An addendum: That turned out to be my third trip to Trinidad within four months. I was there in November 2004 to write some stories about the Soca Warriors and their quest to reach the World Cup and returned in early February for a World Cup qualifying match between the U.S. and T&T. I don’t think have been back since. Go figure. That’s the beauty of the beautiful game. Sometimes you just don’t know where you might have to go next. Michael Lewis is the editor for Carlos Alberto, the captain of Brazil's World Cup-winning team in 1970 and scorer of one of the sport's most memorable goals, died on October, 2016

"You never know where life is going to take you. So everything I do, I just take it one day at a time, and it always leads you to the right place." - Kyle Massey

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