This is the second part of our story about the revolution in Peruvian football inspired by the Brazilian coach, Didi. If you missed the first part you can read it here.
Granted honorary Peruvian citizenship and decorated with sports laurels by the country’s President Alvarado, Didi’s success in earning Peru a first World Cup qualification for 40 years had turned him into a national hero and vindicated his demanding methods. Beneath the surface things were not quite as idyllic as they might have seemed though with cracks forming in the relationship between coach and Federation. A request to travel to Europe to watch potential World Cup opponents was dismissed by the Federation President, Gustavo Escudero: ‘There’s seven months to go, we can’t afford it and it’s no use watching teams now which may change radically by the time they play in Mexico,’ he told the media.
Angry at being denied this most basic of requests, Didi became embroiled in a war of words with Escudero and his irritation grew when it was suggested the main motivation for his trip was to take a touring holiday at the Federation’s expense. Officials further flexed their muscles and cancelled plans for the team’s scheduled European friendlies, meaning all warm up matches would have to be played at home instead.
Lengthy and acrimonious arguments about Didi’s salary and bonuses dragged on for months too. The penny-pinching Federation had become used to having a coach work for nothing and were reluctant to have to now pay something approaching the going rate. Didi finally negotiated a £10,000 bonus, but even that would only be paid if Peru reached the World Cup Quarter Finals – progress that few people expected of them.
Despite the tangible success that Didi had brought, there was disillusionment within elements of the squad too about the coach’s militaristic approach to training. Regular trips to high-altitude villages like Huachachino where players were subjected to gruelling, commando-style training were detested. Perico León was one of the more rebellious squad members and he would regularly slip out of camp at night to go drinking. Didi wanted to jettison him from the squad but Leon’s popularity with the other players forced him to reluctantly back down.
No other 1970 World Cup participant played as many as the 18 warm-up games Peru undertook against a mix of eastern European club and national sides – all at home of course. The unremarkable results in these games actually worked in Didi’s favour: a combination of modest scores and a group of unknown and entirely domestic based players suggested to other nations that Peru didn’t have to be taken seriously as the tournament approached. Actually in place was a well-honed squad that had improved rapidly thanks to its intensive coaching and heavy warm-up programme. The world just didn’t know it yet.
Peru’s star men were the ones who led from the front. The powerful build of Perico León gave the attack a focal point and he dovetailed well with the extravagant skills of young Hugo Sotil, a forward who would later play to great effect alongside Cruyff at Barcelona. Dynamic support came from inside-forward Teófilo Cubillas who was all dazzling footwork, squat power, dramatic changes of pace and thumping early shots that confounded keepers. Julio Baylon’s unlikely swerves and feints pitched him as Peru’s Garrincha, while the graceful and elegant Alberto Gallardo on the other flank showed the sort of consistent quality that had attracted Milan to sign him some years earlier.
The unavailability of enough top class defensive players threw up a team less convincing the further back you looked. Although talented, Mifflin and Roberto Challe were too attack-minded to play wholly effectively as defensive halves. A similar criticism could be levelled at Héctor Chumpitaz, another naturally gifted player more fond of showing off his dribbling skills than you ever want to see in a central defender. Didi lacked much confidence in any of the unremarkable goalkeeping options he had available either, so Luis Rubinos became the incumbent keeper by default as the best of a modest bunch.
On the opening day of the tournament a massive earthquake struck Peru near the coastal town of Chimbote and 70,000 people were killed in the terrible landslides that resulted. After initially considering withdrawing from the competition altogether, Peru’s squad was persuaded to continue by the government and Didi and his players vowed to do their utmost to bring some joy to a devastated country. True to their word, Peru’s scintillating contribution would be one of the high points of a fine tournament.
Both Bulgaria and Morocco were overcome as they struggled to cope with Peru’s pace, movement and sheer attacking verve. Didi’s team duly advanced from the group stages behind West Germany and, although Brazil prevailed in their Quarter Final clash, even the eventual winners were set on the back foot at times by their South American neighbours. Much of the value Didi had brought to this team was demonstrated in the manner they recovered from a two-goal deficit to beat Bulgaria in that opening group game. Even taking into account Peru’s greater familiarity with the challenges of the climate, their superior level of fitness was telling in the second half. The battling qualities displayed in coming from behind was indicative too of a sort of newfound mental strength that had never been a trademark of the national team in the past.
Ever the perfectionist, there was still much about his team’s performances that frustrated Didi. While losing 4-2 to a vibrant Brazil was, on paper, no disgrace; the Brazilian was angry that his players had been guilty of too many defensive lapses and the sort of tactical naivety he had worked so hard to eradicate.
Héctor Chumpitaz’s performances encapsulated everything that was good and bad about this Peruvian side. This was a player who was quick and powerful and although not tall for a central defender, he could often leap and win crosses against much taller opponents. But not even Didi’s best efforts could cure his rushes of blood to the head and too often he would sprint 20 yards out of defence to try to win a tackle, leaving huge gaps in an already none too stable rearguard behind him.
Rubinos turned out to be the goalkeeping liability his coach had feared and cost Peru several avoidable goals. “We had three shaky goalkeepers and defenders who attacked too much. If we could have found a reliable keeper and another dedicated defender then we could have beaten Brazil,” Didi told journalist Gregory Tesser after the tournament.
Disciplinary lapses remained a thorny issue for the coach too after incidents with the defender, La Torre, who had verbally abused him and winger, Julio Baylon, who put on weight after ignoring dietary instructions. Didi insisted on a special disciplinary committee after the tournament and threatened to resign if findings were not made public. The Peruvian Federation Council was not enthusiastic about disciplining players who had, after all, brought pride to a country in desperate need of something to cheer. Didi did finally get his way, as he usually did, but it was a Pyrrhic victory: his special relationship with Peruvian football had turned sour after one too many disagreements. He left the country weeks later and only returned briefly 16 years later when persuaded out of retirement to take temporary charge at Alianza.
A new project in a new country had attracted his interest. Coaching the Buenos Aires giants River Plate was a sizeable enough responsibility in its own right, but Didi saw it as a broader opportunity. To his mind he would be a zealous missionary in a foreign land, ridding the Argentine game of its violence and ultra-defensiveness and restoring the nation’s lost tradition of attacking and entertaining football. River Plate’s president, Julio W.Kent, welcomed him: ‘The lowering of the standard of play in Argentina during recent years requires a change of mentality, systems and tactics. My club is trying to achieve this by the signing of Didi.’
A style revolution it might have been, but Didi would quickly discover that Argentine fans were never going to be willing to trade hard-won points for an easier-on-the-eye aesthetic. For a decade River Plate had repeatedly fallen short when success was within their grasp and Didi’s latest revolution made no impact on this fragile mindset. His authoritarian manner set him quickly at odds with too many senior players who were not in awe of his reputation in the way the Peruvians were. Unsurprisingly the River Plate project didn’t even last a full season.
The management career of Waldir ‘Didi’ Pereira demonstrates a thoughtful and curious coach, one who adapted his extensive playing experience into a well-constructed vision of all aspects of game preparation and execution. It’s indisputable that he had a natural flair for the art of management and yet, groundbreaking success with Peru and a couple of Turkish titles later with Fenerbahce apart, his career never really hit the heights it could have.
Progress was certainly stymied by absolutism: his was an inflexible, one-size fits all approach that made little accommodation for individual personalities or the intricacies of different football cultures. To put his style into a modern context, think Didi as part Arrigo Sacchi and part Louis Van Gaal. In common with the Italian, Didi achieved early success thanks to a very singular vision of how the game should be played. The difficulties arose later when an unwillingness, or inability, to compromise and adapt those ideals with different players and teams made that success hard to replicate.
Didi and Van Gaal shared something of a dictatorial approach better suited to ego-free youngsters who were more likely to conform without question. It was probably no coincidence that Didi achieved his best run of results at River Plate when forced to field his entire youth team during a player strike. Peruvian players had been impressionable and ready to conform in the early days, although that mindset gradually changed over time. The clever promptings of the coach turned these players into stars meaning, as their status and confidence grew, so too did their willingness to question those very same methods that had made them stars in the first place. Didi never quite developed the faculties to relate to and manage different players in different ways, a skill his compatriot Mario Zagalo was particularly adept at.
We judge success in a rather monochromatic way with the numerical certainty of a manager’s trophy haul tending to trump all other considerations. Didi may not have won many major titles but he does belong on a different and in some ways more distinct list alongside fellow luminaries like Sepp Piontek and Jupp Derwall. Through vision, hard work and sheer force of will, each was the primary driving force in establishing an entire nation as a respected international football force for the first time. What Piontek and Derwall did for Denmark and Turkey respectively, so Didi achieved with Peru and this feat will ensure his continuing legacy as a legendary and revolutionary figure who will stand tall whenever the story of Peruvian football is told.
If you would like to see this fine Peru team in action, please visit Peru On Film to view highlights of their 1970 World Cup and qualification games.