Tele Santana da Silva was born in Itabirito, Southeast Brazil on the 26th July 1931. The son of a local football team’s coach and president, Santana showed initial promise as a center forward. Fluminense FC signed him at the age of 20. The coach, Zeze Moreira, thought Santana’s talents would be best served on the right wing. His slight and small stature along with agile movement, quick feet and an intelligent football brain ideal for exploiting Brazil’s radical change from its traditional WM or 3-2-5 formation to the zonal defensive style of play transforming Brazilian football.
Tele Santana Plays For Fluminense
Santana’s career as a football player at club level saw him represent Fluminense for 12 years earning several medals including two state championships. In a different era he would have represented the national side but his pathway was blocked by ‘Julinho’ and the famous ‘Garrincha’. Eventually he retired as a player in 1965.
Santana was a special player but it was as a manager that Santana would earn world renowned respect and success. His first professional appointment in 1971 culminating in Tele Santana leading ‘Atletico Mineiro’ to the first ever Brazilian national league title. Yet it was when the Brazilian National Team came calling in 1980 and Santana was ‘charged’ with taking over the famed ‘Selecao’ his road to greatness started.
Brazilians often state that the English invented football but they perfected it. Yet, these words rang hollow without a World Cup win since 1970 and more worryingly playing the unattractive football. Something needed to change. The belief was Tele Santana could be that change with 37 wins and 5 loses from his last 52 matches in charge. Likeable as was his mentality that he would rather lose playing good football than win playing mediocre stuff, as well as an outspoken critic of corruption in the game, Tele would prove a popular choice.
Brazilians approved of his managerial methods and tactics. Tele knew how he wanted the game played – the ‘Joga Bonito’ way! Indeed, Santana drilled this philosophy into his players and did not stop until they shared his vision. Once they did, results were outstanding.
1982 World Cup
Under Santana’s ‘Joga Bonito’ system, focus was simply on passes that targeted a player in a better position to score. He had brilliant players who were tasked with one thing and one thing only: Use their skills and creativity to score as many beautiful goals as possible.
Under Santana, ‘beautiful’ was about to be put back into ‘the beautiful game’. Players began to understand his desire for attacking football and he also won over the fans. Santana’s side at the 1982 World Cup in Spain was the catalyst for his eternal fame. His team ‘shining a light’ on a tournament like no other before or after, illuminating the spectacle with simply beautiful football.
Considered the most artful side in history Zico, Eder, Socrates, Junior and Falcao under Telê Santana’s ‘Joga Bonito’ system were encouraged to display their mesmerizing flicks, feints, and outlandish skills in the traditional ‘samba style’ and, in doing so scored 15 exquisite goals.
The attacking flair, ingenuity, and grace Tele Santana encouraged may have proven Brazil’s downfall – with a defensive error-prone 3-2 loss to Italy and Paolo Rossi’s hat trick.
Nevertheless, they would go down in the annals of history of soccer as the best side never to win the World Cup and remain forever emblazoned on the minds of those fortunate enough to have witnessed them. Brazilians were once again proud. Rival nations again admired and feared them, and a beautiful template for how the game should be played had been set in motion. Tele Santana’s version of ‘Joga Bonito’ – the benchmark.
1986 World Cup
His comparable World Cup side of ‘86 succumbed similarly to a Michel Platini-inspired France. Inevitably, questions arose about his failures to win the World Cup, but this is the tale of a manager who wanted so much more for the game than just results.
Indeed, it was widely reported directly after the match with Italy that when Santana entered the press room, every Brazilian journalist rose to their feet and applauded in homage to him, his team, and what they had witnessed. His record can be easily researched but, what’s more impactful for the true football fan was the effect the man’s beliefs had on the game.
‘Zico’ stating Santana was the only coach he had ever played under who banned his players from committing fouls! Santana himself is often known to muse – winning was optional but stunning play was mandatory. An illustration of Tele’s football purism.
This was not to say he was unsuccessful. On the contrary, his career did not end in World Cup defeats. In 1990, Tele Santana took over at Sao Paulo and built another great team around Rai, the younger brother of 1982 Captain Socrates. Santana’s trademark attacking game proved successful in winning the Copa Libertadores in 1992 and 1993 before winning the World Club Championship in each respective year.
If you are interested in learning more about other successful World Cup soccer, take a look at Ernst Happel.
Tele Santana Last Years
In 1996, as a heavy smoker and diabetic, he suffered a stroke and was forced to leave full-time management. In 2003, more ill-health saw Santana require a leg amputation. Further hospitalization ensued and sadly resulted in the death on April 21, 2006.
At the time of his death, Tele Santana had bestowed an outstanding legacy on Brazilian football through his ‘Joga Bonito’ movement, which had enthused the world. All he wanted to do was play beautiful football – something he accomplished with different sides.
Ultimately, he is revered by his countrymen as the savior of Brazil’s art form ‘free-spirited attacking football’ with a cavalier refusal to defend and a style of play that will never be forgotten. His legacy is perhaps best summed by the fact that if you ask fans across Brazil to name their favorite manager, don’t be surprised when they simply reply, Tele Santana!