If the definition of defensive midfielder existed in the dictionary, the photograph of Mauro Silva (1-12-1968, São Paulo, Brazil) should appear next to it, a true historical reference in that position on the field. Emblem of the great Deportivo, with a street in A Coruña that bears his name and world champion with Brazil in 1994, Mauro is, at 54, vice president of the São Paulo Soccer Federation and has come to Qatar as a television commentator for NBC Universal Telemundo. The Brazilian attends to AS.
Has soccer changed much in these 28 years, since you were champion with Brazil in the United States?
Yes, quite. There is more and more data, you train better, everything is more scientific, you get more performance from the players and I see that there are fewer spaces on the field. Football has changed and will continue to change.
Now everything is more physical and more tactical. Is street soccer being lost?
Unfortunately it is so. Everything is more mechanized. All the parameters are studied and analyzed a lot and the game is more and more organized. In addition, before the formation was more natural and spontaneous, in the streets. Now it is done in schools and you have to be very careful not to lose the essence of football because we run the risk of seeing less and less creative players like Maradona, Messi, Djalminha or Ronaldinho. You have to rescue the essence of the game: dribbling, improvisation and one on one. It is something that we discuss a lot in the São Paulo Federation because we are very concerned that the coaches transmit to their young soccer players the appropriate philosophy to train good players.
And it is said by someone who was not a great virtuoso like Romario, Rivaldo or Bebeto. You were a very tactical and very positional player…
It’s true, but I started to worry about those aspects of football when I was 16 or 17 years old because in my country the important thing is creativity. As a child I liked to be in the street, dribble past five rivals and score a goal. Children like two things: the ball and scoring goals, and if they fall in love with this, it will be easier to form good players.
Is it true that you studied the footballers you were going to face a lot?
Yes, because normally, as they say in Spain, I had to dance with the ugliest woman in the rival midfield and I paid close attention to their pattern of play to try to stop them. I liked to analyze how they acted and moved on the pitch and that helped me develop a great intuition on the pitch.
You had to defend stars like Ronaldinho, Maradona, Zidane, Baggio, Rivaldo,…Which was the most complicated?
They were all world figures but the one who created the most problems for me was Maradona. In a game against Argentina in Buenos Aires I tried not to give him a meter, not to leave him any space, I marked him very hard. The clash ended 0-0 and I left the field with the satisfaction of having fulfilled my duty.
Did it matter to Diego that he studied it? Was he unstoppable if he had his day?
It is that he had a very wide repertoire of resources and technically he was extraordinary. He commanded a lot of respect. If you had him in front of you you couldn’t give him an inch of space. Other phenomena like Ronaldinho fell more to the wing and were not so much in the center. Maradona was without a doubt the rival who caused me the most problems on a soccer field.
Is it true that he called you once when you explained to an Argentine journalist on the radio what the figure of a ‘5’ should look like and mentioned him?
Yes. Diego was a great human figure and I had an impressive affection for him. That happened in Buenos Aires. I explained on a live radio program that the midfielder’s mission is easy, it’s about recovering the ball and giving it to the best player on your team, and if that was Maradona, all the more reason. Diego listened to him and a few minutes after finishing the interview the journalist came back saying that Diego was on the phone to talk to me. He thanked me for what I had said about him and it was a special and very endearing moment. Diego was a great person who only hurt himself.
A few years ago he said that the best defensive midfielder was Casemiro. What remains?
I love it. He has won five Champions Leagues and that data is tremendous. Madrid has done a great business with him because he has gotten sporting and economic performance from him. He is an incredible player because of the consistency he brings to his teams. Brazil has suffered when he has not been on the field. For me he is still the best.
Your successor at Madrid is Tchouameni. What is your opinion of him?
It has a great future and I think that Madrid has made a great operation. He has taken advantage of Casemiro for ten years and has raised enough money to sign a much younger great replacement. He is dynamic and with great potential. I think the Frenchman can make history at Madrid but the expectations at that club are very high and it’s not easy to play there. You have to prove a lot of things for a long time to succeed at Madrid.
If you were a sports director and had a budget to sign a single world star, who would it be?
By age and future to Vinicius.
Even before Haaland or Mbappé?
To Haaland too. I like it a lot. With Mbappé I am not so clear, I have doubts with him so it would be between Haaland and Vinicius. He would be one of the two.
At the level of charisma and affection of the fans, is Vinicius already close to Neymar in Brazil?
Not yet. Vinicius left the country very young and Neymar spent more time at Santos. When Ney left, he did so with a more consolidated career. The Brazilians love Vini a lot but she still isn’t up to Neymar.
Is Brazil favorite to win the World Cup?
Yes. Brazil is always a favorite and perhaps this time a little more because of the squad and the coach. Tite knows how hard it is to lose a World Cup and that experience must be positive. It is clear that she is one of the great candidates but to win a title like this the stars must align because after the first phase on a bad day you go home. It’s not enough to have the best team.
Do you see any selection that comes close to the offensive potential that the verdeamarelha?
Name by name and with so many options no. There are a lot of very high-level forwards and honestly I don’t see any team close on the offensive line.
Much is said about Messi’s last World Cup but it is possible that it is also about Neymar, who has never won one either. Do you see him more motivated than ever?
Yes. At PSG I see him very motivated in recent months. He knows that it is his moment, that it is his great opportunity because if he arrived in 2026 it would surely not be in the same conditions as now. He is psyched up and knows that it is the great opportunity to win a World Cup and that suits the team very well.
I ask for a name. Who do you see as a great rival of the Seleçao?
There are great teams like Spain, Germany or England but I will say Argentina.
despite the great stumble against Saudi Arabia?
Yes. That could have been an accident. She has lost when she could lose. Remember what happened to Spain in South Africa. I see her as very strong for Messi, for the career of 36 games that she had gone without losing, for having won the last Copa América in the Maracana,… There are many arguments in her favor, although it is true that her debut with a defeat against a apparently weaker rival.
And he also has a great friend of his as a coach who was a teammate at Depor for many years…
I know Scaloni very well and I know how he thinks. He is a hard worker and would give his life to win the most sought after trophy. He knows that it is the last World Cup for Messi and I am convinced that he will handle that message very well to motivate his group of players even more because he is very good at managing the emotional level. Argentina and Brazil could meet before the final but analyzing it coldly I think they will get up from the blow against Arabia and they will be our great rival.
Another great surprise has been Germany’s loss to Japan…
It was totally unexpected because he had the game in his hands and he let it slip away. It had been a long time since she had seen such an expert team fail so much up top and with so many defensive errors. Also, I don’t know why Flick changed Gundogan. For me he was being the best in the game. The changes put Germany back and gave Japan wings. Now the Germans are playing it against a Spain that has started very strong. This has just started and it is very exciting.
You are also Spanish because you have dual nationality. What do you expect from Spain after the 7-0 loss against Costa Rica?
It is a young team and in transition. Only Busquets remains of the great generation that won in South Africa. I think he will play a great role and he has a very attacking coach. The start has been incredible, with a great win, but honestly I don’t see her fighting for the World Cup. I hope I’m wrong because if Spain wins I’d be as happy as if Brazil does.
Which Spanish players do you like the most?
Always looking for I also love Azpilicueta, whom I have seen very well at Chelsea. Then there are youngsters like Pedri, Rodri or Gavi who have quality and I don’t know how Morata arrives but I would highlight the first two.
What ending would you like to see?
If it were possible Spain-Brazil, of course. My heart asks me for that final but it is very complex to get there. In USA 94, for example, we had a great team with Cafu, Romario, Dunga, Bebeto,… and we suffered a lot in several games. Any detail in a decisive match can leave you out.
Have you particularly liked any selection so far?
England were very good against Iran. I bet on the traditional teams because a World Cup is a very tough competition and experience is important at decisive moments. I include the English in that group.
After your retirement, you prepared very well for the administration and management and some already see in you a future president of the CBF. Would you be excited?
What really makes me excited is that Brazilian football is a big industry like LaLiga or the Premier to generate wealth and jobs. I don’t know how far I’ll go but I’ve been preparing and updating myself for many years to contribute to the growth of football in my country. It doesn’t take away my sleep to achieve great personal goals, I don’t have a leading role. It’s the same as it happened to me on the field, I worked for the team and I didn’t care who scored the goals. I just want to do a good job and contribute as much as possible. I am a team player.
And do you want to preside over Deportivo de la Coruña one day?
I spent 13 years there and the love I have for the club, the fans and the city are enormous. I had two chances to come back but I think my place now is in Brazil, next to my mother. Also, I have the feeling that I am more useful there than I would be in A Coruña. We have renewed the mandate at the head of the São Paulo Federation until 2026, 156 clubs have supported us and there are many things to improve. I have to fulfill that commitment. I would love for Depor to play again in the First Division and in the Champions League because my time there was wonderful but now I am involved in another project.