Zico: ‘I would not swap watching the Premier League for any other’

Zico has spent the last few months among his dogs and eight grandchildren in his beautiful house in Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro. He is not used to being at home for so long. After spending the bulk of his playing career with Flamengo, he set off on a football adventure that has taken him across the globe and back. After playing in Italy and Japan, he managed in Japan, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Greece, Iraq, Qatar and India, before taking up his current role as technical director at Kashima Antlers in the J-League.

Being at home, then, is unusual for the 67-year-old. “This is the first time I have spent more than three months at home, enjoying my house. It’s been good,” he says. In Rio, Zico is bigger than Pelé. He scored 334 goals at the Maracanã and is worshiped as the greatest player to have pulled on the red and black of Flamengo – the most popular club in the country. Although Zico never won the World Cup, he also made history for the Seleção too, scoring Brazil’s winning goal as they became the first team from South America to win at Wembley in May 1981.

Two days before that game in London, Zico was practically unable to move because of a boil under his arm. “I didn’t attend the training session and I had to have a small operation. At the time, the doctor said there was no way to give me anaesthesia. He had to put the scalpel and cut it. I put the towel in my mouth, grabbed a teammate, and the doctor inserted the scalpel under my arm.”

The Brazil team doctor helped him on to the pitch and England keeper Ray Clemence inadvertently helped him score the winner. “There are goalkeepers who like to put a towel or bag inside the goal and that becomes a reference point. I was on the half turn and I swivelled and saw the bag in the corner. I hit the ball and it went straight into the bag inside the goal.”

Zico never played for an English club – he spent two seasons at Udinese during Serie A’s heyday – yet he says the Premier League is his favourite to watch now. “As a viewer, I wouldn’t swap the Premier League for any other. I’m always watching Premier League matches, because they are really playing a different kind of football than what we got used to seeing from the English in my time.”

“Back in my days it used to be more of a direct type of football, as they say in today’s language, which was someone kicking the ball into the air, crossing it into the area. Not today. This new thing of taking players with international pedigree, this raises the level of football a lot. England has improved the way of playing even in their own national team. English players with other characteristics have emerged.”

Zico believes that the development of English players now mirrors what he experienced in Italy in the 1980s. “This happened in Italy with foreigners. The arrival of these players has been beneficial for the quality of the national team, as it was in Italy. After that change, Italy won the…

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