Cafu, Brazil’s former football captain, known in his playing days as “The Commuter Train” for his constant motion, is sitting on a sofa in a Knightsbridge hotel. Gone are the days when the full-back won two world cups. Now aged 42, he spends much of his time running his Fundacao Cafu, his foundation for social inclusion.
Cafu is in London to see Brazil’s men’s football team seek their first Olympic gold in the final against Mexico at Wembley (more of that later). But he also just wants to see an Olympics for the first time in his life, partly because Brazil’s turn at hosting is next: first the football world cup of 2014, then the Rio Olympics of 2016.
On Friday night in London Cafu saw the US beat Argentina at basketball. It was the first Olympic event he had seen in his life, he says. “It was fantastic. I was very impressed: the organisation, the arrival at the gymnasium, everything functioned perfectly. I was a spectator at the world cup in South Africa, and in terms of organisation I can say the London Olympics have a better structure.”
Is he worried by reported delays inBrazil’s stadium and infrastructure projects for 2014 and 2016? Cafu shakes his head, and tut-tuts: “I had the opportunity to visit several football stadiums in Brazil. Everything is on time. None of the stadiums is late. The airports are being adapted, the infrastructure and the transport. Minister Rebelo is following everything up closely.” It may be useful to know that Cafu is an intimate of Aldo Rebelo, Brazil’s communist sports minister.
Cafu grew up in the poor Jardim Irene favela of Sâo Paulo, where his foundation now helps 750 children and hundreds of adults. Will the poor of Brazil see something of the 2014 world cup, instead of being excluded in favour of corporate visitors? “They will,” assures Cafu.
“Of course they won’t be in the suites, but the government is focused on finding ways for people who can’t afford it to attend at least one world cup match in their own country. Minister Rebelo is also concerned with the native Brazilians in the Amazon – how can they watch?”
We get to talking about Saturday’s final. Brazil’s Olympic team includes several players expected to feature in 2014. Cafu praises the playmaker Oscar, newly signed for Chelsea, whom he compares to the 1980s’ hero Falcao. He urges Brazil’s forward Neymaralso to seek a transfer to a European club. “The professionalism of European players is something impressive,” Cafu explains. “In Brazil everyone has seen Neymar, he has proven everything already. In Europe he would have to prove himself. That would make him a better player, and it would be good for Brazil in the world cup.”
What kind of Brazil will we see in 2014? “A competitive team.” Will it be a beautiful team, in Brazil’s tradition? “It will be a winning team. In 1982 and 1986 we played beautiful football, but the ones with the medals around their necks were we 1994 players, who didn’t play beautifully, but were very efficient. Yes, people in Brazil complained about us, yes we won on penalties, but we won, didn’t we?” Cafu also captained the winning team of 2002. But is the Brazil of today as strong as those sides? “Brazil has dropped a bit,” he admits. “In unity, tactics and discipline, Europeans are more advanced than Brazilians.”
He is about to step into the London sunshine and leave for Wembley. Surely the Olympic lot will grab that elusive football gold for Brazil today? “Tomarás,” he laughs. “Let’s hope so.”
It turns out he’s right to be cautious. A paceless Brazil, in which almost nobody moves off the ball, and in which Manchester United’s right-back Rafael blunders to give away a goal after 29 seconds, loses 2-1 to Mexico. Oribe Peralta scores both Mexican goals, and Hulk replies for Brazil only in injury time. It isn’t a very good omen for Cafu’s boys for 2014.