INTERVIEW – World champion in 1994, the former Seleçao player evokes the World Cup.
Former PSG player and player of the Brazilian team world champion in 1994, Rai, 57, is a committed man. His career demonstrates it, his Gol de Letra association allows him to get his hands dirty. A foundation that works for the social integration of young people through education, culture and sport. The brother of the late Socrates evokes, for Le Figaro, the World Cup, Qatar, Seleçao before entering the fray this Thursday (10 p.m.) against Serbia or Neymar Jr, sparkling in recent weeks at PSG. Maintenance.
LE FIGARO. – What does the World Cup mean to you?
RAI. – It is a moment that will forever go down in history. It’s unique, historic, lots of things will happen that will mark the lives of many people. There are more and more consequences on the economic, social and political aspects. Football is a phenomenon and the World Cup is its flagship event, it has an influence on everyone’s daily life.
Is it still a childhood dream for gamers?
Yes, I’m sure. The path to get there is heavier, more difficult, it sometimes makes you dream less in certain situations. But this force of football, of sport, still exists and this dream is still alive.
For me, Brazil and France are the best teams. After all, it’s not always the best teams that win…
Does Brazil come forward as favorites in this competition?
There is an additional handicap to manage for Brazil compared to other nations, the obligation to be champions. We always start among the favourites. But this year, it is even more the case compared to previous editions. The Brazilian team arrives with more good results, a more united team, more player options, and players who are in a good time each in their club. The question is how Brazil will handle this pressure. If the players don’t let this aspect interfere with the atmosphere within the group, we have a good chance. For me, Brazil and France are the best teams. After that, it’s not always the best teams that win.
Brazil seemed fractured during the recent election campaign. Can football nevertheless be a common denominator during the World Cup?
I believe that the fracture is very important. Of course, everyone will be behind the national team, but there will be groups watching the World Cup apart, sometimes even in the same family. It will be a one-off gathering and we will have to seek this harmony in the country through other means. It is important to find greater tolerance in the country.
What memories do you have of the 1994 World Cup?
I keep two highlights in mind. The first game. We were talking about a childhood dream. I was the captain, I led the team. Entering the lawn… There are a lot of things that cross your mind at this moment. There was a nice atmosphere. And then it’s back to Brazil. We had a whole country celebrating because it was the first coronation for twenty-four years. As soon as we entered Brazilian airspace, two planes flew by ours and welcomed us. We landed in Recife. Thousands of people were waiting for us…
This kind of gathering, isn’t it scary in a way?
Yes, the importance that football takes… I had this kind of feeling during the 94 World Cup, to tell myself that football does not solve all the problems. It’s a bit scary, because it makes you forget much more important things in life. It’s a bit my role, too, to be part of this world of football while making sure to show what there is to do outside of sport.
Neymar Jr is already a legend
Is Neymar one of the legends in Brazil and how do you view him?
He is already a legend. He has been followed since he was very young, there is a lot of expectation, he has already performed well when he played for Santos, then in Barcelona and Paris. He has already marked the history of football. With his talent, we always expect more, the maximum, a coronation in the World Cup or in the Champions League. He will remain as a legend, but he can still go further. There have been controversies over his way of being. He is a controversial personality. I don’t know him well personally. It must also be said that he likes to provoke, on the field but also outside. It is up to him to make sure, thanks to his talent, to show that he is capable of getting where he has to get despite all this.
If you were captain of Brazil, what would you say to him?
I don’t know him well enough (smile). But I never saw him as someone with a bad spirit, who would be mean, even though I have completely different beliefs, ideas, way of living and seeing life.
If there is a positive point, it is that we are talking about Qatar, human rights, women’s rights, what happened during the construction of the stadiums.
What is your view on this World Cup which has aroused a certain number of criticisms outside the field?
Already, it was a surprise when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, I did not expect it. One of FIFA’s roles is to develop football around the world. Whether it’s in the Middle East, in China, it’s important to bring this kind of event everywhere… as long as the decision is “clean”. I didn’t particularly want the World Cup to go to Qatar, but if there’s a positive point, it’s that we’re talking about Qatar, human rights, women’s rights, what happened during construction of stadiums… At the very least, it sheds light on a lot of problems and I hope it can help to move things forward.
Are we asking too much of footballers in these areas?
The most important thing is to have the right to position oneself, to demonstrate. We have seen teams and players who have expressed their dissatisfaction before matches. But it’s true that players are sometimes asked too much to give their opinion. At the same time, they must be aware of the responsibility they have. They are references for the younger generations. The more they inform themselves, the more they will be in good conditions to give their opinion.
France’s ability to develop good players is immense
How do you view the France team, you who also have French nationality since 2016?
I am very proud because I received the passport at the Élysée, with President Hollande who gave it to me. I think that’s not the norm (smile). I’m not enough of the Blues to give my opinion. One thing is certain: France’s ability to train good players is immense. I am very happy to have seen the changes in my eyes back then. I arrived in Paris in 1993 when training centers sprang up all over France in order to prepare for the 98 World Cup. There was a change in training, in terms of technique, physics, but also in mentality. There was a lot of preparation and I believe that these investments are paying off today. There are new generations that follow one another, the high level is above other countries.
How do you view Didier Deschamps and Zinédine Zidane, personalities you met during your playing career?
This is the generation that has started to change mentally. In addition to the technical qualities, a potential that France has always had, we added this mental strength. What Deschamps does in the France team or what Zidane did at Real is exceptional and it’s a tipping point for sport in France.
If France were to face Brazil in the final, what would you do?
In this case, I would say that I am a Brazilian who became French (smile).
All World Cup winners since 1930