Around the world with Ze Maria: From Brazil to Parma, Inter, Kenya and back
In a career that lasted for almost two decades, Jose Marcelo Ferreira (popularly known as Ze Maria) made a name for himself across different leagues in the world, reaching both the pinnacle and nadir of the game.
These days, the 47-year-old dishes out instructions from the sidelines as manager of Brazilian side Portuguesa de Desportos who currently ply their trade in the Campeonato Paulista Serie A2 – the second tier of the Sao Paulo state football league.
During his playing days, Ze Maria played for clubs in mainstream countries like Spain and Italy, while his managerial career took him to less stellar nations like Kenya and Albania and in a candid interview with The Guardian, the former Brazilian international bared it all about his personal favourites among his former teammates, as well as coaches who played the most prominent role in his career.
He references a quote from Bernadinho (a hugely successful Brazilian volleyball coach) as his favourite:
”A great coach is one who can make a player willingly do that which he normally would not do” and to him, that coach was Carlo Ancelotti, who he described as his ”biggest influence” and ” one of the three best managers in the world.”
It was the Italian that took a chance on him during his fledgling days at Flamengo and it was under Ancelotti at Parma that Ze Maria begun his sojourn in European football. According to him, he turned down Real Madrid and Barcelona because of the lure of playing in Italy at that point.
Leaving his homeland at the age of 23 came with several challenges, chief of which was his lack of tactical nuance and Ze Maria revealed that his natural attacking tendencies had to be curtailed in order to learn how to defend properly and Ancelotti helped in his adaptation, while playing alongside world-class players like Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lillian Thuram, and Hernan Crespo among others also helped in his development.
Parma finished second in Serie A that season, having battled relegation at Christmas and Ze Maria says Ancelotti’s excellent man-management and ‘bond of friendship’ made a lasting impact on him and he watched the current Everton manager for a week while he coached Napoli in 2019 and continues to monitor his methods in the Premier League.
Despite his personal exploits in the Italian top-flight, Ze Maria had to wait nine years before lifting the Scudetto, with consecutive Serie A titles coming at Inter Milan and his manager at San Siro Roberto Mancini knew how to tread the line between disciplinarian and ally, especially when it came to the prodigiously talented Adriano.
The former Inter man is widely regarded as one of the most promising wonderkids who failed to reach their potential and Ze Maria admitted that his former teammate was extremely difficult to mark and was destined for the top but was affected negatively by his father’s death as well as his proclivity to party all-night long.
Despite his shortcoming, he admits that Adriano is a ”fantastic person with a huge heart’ and that the negative image projected by the press in his homeland is blown out of proportion.
With Brazil, Ze Maria won the Confederations Cup and Copa America in 1997 and he maintains that the squad is ”one of the greatest in the history of the Seleção.”
”There were 23 of us and anyone could play,” ”Sometimes it would be me and Ze Roberto (at full-back), other times it was Cafu and Roberto Carlos. Up top you had Rivaldo, Romario, Bebeto, Savio, Ronaldo, Djalminha, Juninho.”
He added that those from Rio were the most inclined to go out, the likes of Romario, Paulo Nunes, Djalminha, Ronaldo, and Edmundo, while those from Sao Paolo tended to be calmer.
However, despite the huge egos and talent present in the squad, Ze Maria insists that there were never clashes and the coach Mario Zagallo knew how to manage everybody, allowing some leeway sometimes, while also controlling things tightly at other times.
Just like Romario, injury ruled Ze Maria out of the 1998 World Cup, while he says he did not ”expect to be called up” for the 2002 World Cup owing to a previous clash between him and Luis Felipe Scolari (who managed Brazil to glory in 2002) while both men were at Palmeiras.
Speaking on the incident, Ze Maria noted that he perceived dishonesty from the coach at the start, saying: ”He wanted me on loan. I didn’t want to sit on the bench, so I asked him to guarantee that I would dispute the position fairly with (Francisco) Arce. But when I got to Palmeiras, I was a substitute. Even when I played well, I’d be on the bench the next game. We ended up having problems. Because of that, I always say in my teams the player in the best form will play. Nobody has a fixed place in my teams.”
He got his UEFA Pro Licence at Covernacio (the revered Italian managerial school that produced legendary coaches like Ancelotti and Mancini) in 2010 and Ze Maria stated that he was most fascinated by two aspects in his course, psychology and communication.
He admits that he models his management after Jose Mourinho, who he says ”is like a Brazilian coach in that he talks to his players a lot.” Referencing Bernadinho’s comments, he draws parallels with attack-minded players like Samuel Eto’o, Wesley Sneijder, and Diego Milito who are not used to defending but do so because Mourinho is a great manager and they would do anything for him.
Speaking further, he said: ”Materazzi is not an easy person to work with, but if Mourinho told him to jump off the 30th floor, he’d jump. [Mourinho] would tell Balotelli to shut his mouth, that if Balotelli didn’t do what he was told, he could go home. It’s another way of managing.”
Ze Maria’s managerial career has seen him manage six clubs in five different countries, with some of them described as exotic. His time in Romania saw him living in the Carpathian Mountains, where he managed a club called Ceahlaul. ”Prince Charles has a house up there and he goes skiing from time to time.”
Although he admitted that the Romanian winter conditions were difficult to cope with and his office overlooked the cemetery.
His time in Kenya was the polar opposite and he says he almost caught fire due to the scorching sun, while Zebras walked opposite him on the roads. He notes similarities between African players and Brazilians in terms of technique but admits they lack opportunities to move to bigger leagues. He also managed the biggest club in Albania after they suffered the ignominy of relegation.
Speculating on his future, Ze Maria admits that he would love to take a job in Brazil but still looks at the proposition with suspicion, because there is always a small circle of managers who get the biggest jobs, while race is also an issue.
Despite making up more than half of the population, just one one of the 20 managers in the Brazilian top-flight is black (similar to conditions in Europe) and Ze Maria believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is a positive step but doubts that it would lead to a radical change.
He revealed that racism also affected him during his playing career and that it prevented him from signing for Verona because the fans believed that a black player should not represent their team.
In his words, he is not asking for much, just asking for the same time afforded white managers. ”If the opportunity comes for me to coach a big club in Brazil or Europe, I am qualified to do it well.”
His dream is to coach in England and he spent a week towards the end of his playing career under the tutelage of Bryan Robson at Sheffield United and although a deal did not materialize, it left a positive impression on him, with the passion of the English and dedication on the field matching his personal mentality.
”It would be easier for me in Italy, because of the language. But, thinking about how I want to work, with intensity from morning until evening, England is the place. I demanded a lot from myself as a player – I stayed after training to practice crossing, passing, and shooting – and that’s what I demand from my players: dedication and desire to win.”
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