Brazilian coaching legend Carlos Alberto Parreira will be leading FIFA’s Technical Study Group at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Having been a part of every tournament since England 1966, the TSG will be applying their considerable footballing expertise to analyse the games during the competition.

Parreira himself has proven his understanding of the game at the very highest level, leading his nation to being crowned world champions at USA 1994. Meanwhile, he has also taken charge of a record five teams at the finals, leading Kuwait (1982), United Arab Emirates (1990), Brazil (1994 and 2006), Saudi Arabia (1998) and South Africa (2010).

We spoke to him to look back on his time watching from the sidelines and what he will be looking out for in Russia.

What’s the World Cup you remember the most?
Can I name two? (laughs) It wasn’t because we ended up being world champions, but 1970 was my first World Cup as a member of the coaching staff and I remember everything about it: working with Pele; us becoming the first three-time world champions in history. And then, because of the difficulties we had, 1994, when I was head coach. We’d gone 24 years without winning it, something that Brazil fans were not happy about at all. There was a lot of pressure and it was very tough. Those are the two, but they’re all very special.

What’s more special: watching Pele from the bench in 1970 or winning the trophy as a coach in 1994?
They’re different feelings but important all the same. They move you. It was a privilege to work with the best player in history, and I remember that, but also to have him as a friend to this day. We’ll never forget the journey we had in becoming the champions: the matches, the altitude, and how hard it was. So I’d put that on the same level: working with Pele and being a world champion in 1970. Winning is the thing that always stands out: [Cesar Luis] Menotti in 1978, [Carlos] Bilardo in 1986, [Mario] Zagallo in 1970. Whenever I get introduced somewhere, they never mention all the things I did in Arab football or in Brazil, but they do say, ‘Carlos Alberto Parreira, the winner of Brazil’s fourth World Cup’. It leaves a mark. So all this is very special.

What’s the most remarkable aspect of football’s evolution since Mexico 70?
That question gets asked a lot and nostalgic types will tell you that football used to be more beautiful and enjoyable to watch and that today’s game is more robotic and rushed. I don’t see it that way. There’s been a transformation. It’s different, very different. Up until the 1966 World Cup in England you played and they let you play. What stood out was individual talent. Then the big revolution came after 1966: “play and do not let play”. Forwards started to do defensive work, space was compressed, the man in possession was pressed, and everything speeded up. 

What amazes me today is the pace at which they switch between defence and attack. It’s amazing! In the 1970s players ran between four and six kilometres and today it’s between 12 and 14. I’m pleased that tactics have changed, but we’re always going to say that the essence of the game is talent. Talent always makes the difference. If you want to win the World Cup, you’re always going to need two or three outstanding players: a Neymar, a [Lionel] Messi, a Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ll always make the difference, which is good for football.

What kind of football are you expecting to see in Russia?
Exactly that: football where teams play as teams and defend with as many players as possible, pressing and then breaking forward at speed. Very compact teams, with lots of players behind the ball, closing down space and playing at pace on the attack.

There were a lot of goals at Brazil 2014. Are you expecting the same this time?
That’s a good question. It’s difficult to say. I’m expecting a pretty good average but perhaps not a record-breaking one, because the defending will make that difficult. I’m predicting a very close World Cup and good number of goals.

You have been a TSG member at previous FIFA events. What will make Russia 2018 different?
I started with it in the 2002 FIFA World Cup and I’ve done the London and Rio Olympics too. There’s a new direction now. We talk a lot and the important thing is that we continue to analyse teams, trends in football and the number of passes. But there’ll be other aspects that we’re going to analyse too, because the World Cup and the champions in particular always leave a legacy. 

We’re curious about one thing in particular: how are the 2018 champions going to play? For example, Italy won it in 2006 and 60 percent of their goals came from set-pieces. I’ve no doubt that technical ability will make all the difference, as will the ability to play as a team. That’s what we’re hoping for from Brazil, who have the individual talent in Neymar, [Philippe] Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus. You can’t overlook the collective aspect though. And that applies to every team.

What will be the impact of VAR?
What I’m expecting to see is an end to any doubts, uncertainties and incorrect decisions, which sometimes influence the final score. That’s going to end and it’s going to make referees feel more secure. So what you’re going to get is the best team winning, and not because the referee’s made a mistake. It’s going to be a very big help and it’s going to make results more consistent, because the only factor impacting on the result will be the football itself. It’s the first time it’s going to be used, so it is normal that some people question it, but I think it’ll work. No one’s going to get a rough deal.