Football: God gave Taff a sign: The big interview; `You need to hit the darkest point to be able to appreciate the.
CLAUDIO TAFFAREL, Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning keeper has finally called it a day all because his car broke down.
Taffarel, now 37, played for half a dozen clubs in Brazil, Italy, Turkey and Italy again.
He was involved in the 1990 World Cup and four years later defied the Italian penalties of Daniele Massaro, Franco Baresi and Roberto Baggio to help his country lift the trophy for a then record fourth time.
In 2000 he won the UEFA Cup with Galatasaray, beating Arsenal in a shootout.
A member of the powerful Brazilian evangelical movement Athletes of Christ, Taffarel attributes his success to his faith.
After the UEFA Cup triumph he decided to wind down his career and devote more time to preaching than playing.
He slipped into the shadows until last week when he was begged to make a Serie A comeback with Empoli, whose keeper Luca Bucci had just been suspended for two weeks. Taffarel had every intention of doing so until he received what he took as a message from God.
QUESTION: What was your reaction when Empoli called ?
ANSWER: I was excited. They had a serious problem and it was humbling that they believed I even at 37 could provide them with the answer. I said yes even before I saw the contract.
Q: Then what happened? A: I told them I would drive to Empoli the following morning. I set off in my BMW but hadn't got far out of Parma when it broke down.
Q: Did you let Empoli know? A: Of course. I phoned and told them I would be late. But then I realised this was no mechanical coincidence it was a sign. I phoned Empoli again and said I was really sorry but I had changed my mind. It was difficult because I didn't want to let them down but it was about more than just Empoli. God was telling me it was time to call it a day.
Q: Do you see God's influence in everything?
A: I do, in good and in bad. For example, I have had a wonderful career, I have won the World Cup and European cups and trophies in different countries. And I have said ``thank you''. But when I have been let down or stabbed in the back by managers and directors, when I have played badly and the fans booed me when my father died and then when my wife almost died in childbirth I was never alone. God was always with me.
Q: How did winning the 1994 World Cup feel?
A: I was very proud. I played in the 1990 finals when we lost to Argentina in the second round so I knew all about going to the World Cup under the enormous pressure that goes with playing for Brazil. To come back four years later and win was amazing.
Q: How do you react to pressure?
A: For a goalkeeper it is tougher than for any player. A good defence make your job easier but there are occasions when you alone stand between your team and defeat. A keeper is blamed far more often when his team lose than he gets praised when they win.
Q: An example? A: In 1997 we lost a World Cup qualifying tie for the first time in Brazil's history against Bolivia of all people. Early in the game I saved a penalty. A journalist told me later he already had his headline prepared: ``Taffarel The Hero.'' But after we lost the headline became: ``Taffarel From Hero To Villain.'' For a goalkeeper it's a thin line between success and failure.
Q: How did you come to play in goal?
Q: In what way? A: When I was 10 or 11 I was in midfield or attack. I was so keen I used to play two games a day. They put me in goal for one of the matches to give me a rest!
Q: Did your family support you when you turned professional with Internacional?
A: Not really. My father never thought I was good enough. But my mother always believed in me and I owe much of my success to her. When I was 18 I had a trial which was meant to last three days. I was told after one I was in. It changed my life straight away.
A: You have to understand what football means to Brazilians. I don't think people in any other country have the same devotion to the game.
Q: Finally, is it true you have 17 children?
A: When I was playing for Parma we went on tour to Brazil and I met some very poor Brazilian children. I decided to adopt one. When we went on to the north of Brazil they showed me eight children waiting to be adopted. I took them all. My wife and I have now adopted 15 children. We also have two of our own. I wouldn't have it any other way.
HEAD IN THE CLAUD-S: Taffarel hails Galatasaray's 2000 UEFA Cup Final win over Arsenal; SUSPENDED: Luca Bucci