Lucio, Brazil’s captain, has developed cult-hero status with his country’s fans. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Random, infrequently showing emotion and not worried by what the media say and think. In this era of the passionate group, fist-pumping exhortations, rapid displays of delight verging on delirium, those reflexive individuality are not usually high on a manager’s list when looking around the dressing room and deciding who should get the captain’s armband. But the Brazil coach, Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri (Dunga in the diminutive), is different. And so, by definition, is his on-field leader, Lúcio.
When the Internationals defender can be coaxed out of a openness of which Paul Schools would be proud, the reasons become clear: words such as discipline, hard work, persistence and winning tumble out. There is much of the manager in the captain. Lúcio is the man to channel Dunga on the pitch in South Africa and to impose on team-mates and opponents the authority that once oozed from the former Fiorentina and Stuttgart midfielder.
“The armband does not turn me into a better or more special player,” Lúcio, 32, says. “I am just one of 11 guys on the pitch fighting for my country. Some people have said that I resemble Dunga in his playing days in terms of behaviour on the pitch, especially because we both played in German football and were brought through by the same club in Brazil [Internacional] but I reckon that we just believe in hard work and discipline as a means of winning trophies in football.”
Last Saturday Lúcio won his third trophy of the season, completing treble of Serie A, Italian Cup and Champions League with the defeat of Bayern Munich, where he played for five years before Louis van Gaal showed him the door last summer. The Dutch coach considered the defender too unpredictable, especially when he went into his famous bombing-forward mode that used to make Brazilian TV commentators question his sanity.
Inter seized the opportunity, signing him for approximately £5m, and Lúcio had the last laugh in the 2-0 victory, especially when several of his former team-mates made sure to compliment him effusively before collecting their runners-up medals.
“I didn’t play thinking of what happened at Bayern. It wasn’t cool the way I left but at the same time I have a lot of good memories from a fantastic club. Even Van Gaal came to me after the match and said some nice things. This is football, you move on and get your rewards for never letting your head drop.”
If he wasn’t seen in many public embraces with José Mourinho, unlike some of his colleagues, it does not mean Lúcio lacks appreciation for the departing coach, claiming his confrontational personality is part of a pantomime plan.
“Mourinho is only polemical in the press. He is an intelligent guy who knows a lot about working the emotions of his players and how to get them all pumped up. It has been a pleasure working with him.”
Winning the Champions League for the first time is a further boost for a player whose confidence has been high with the national team in the buildup to his third World Cup. Lúcio was one of the few players not to be castigated by media and fans after Brazil’s quarter-final defeat to France at Germany 2006. The more enduring memory of Lúcio was his precision when tackling – he did not commit a single foul in Brazil’s first four matches four years ago.
His cult status with the fans increased during last year’s Confederations Cup, where a last-gasp header gave Brazil a 3-2 victory against the USA in the final, adding that title to the 2007 Copa América already won under Dunga. Brazil also led the South American qualifying table.
Critics still point to Lúcio’s lapses of concentration, such as the slip that allowed Michael Owen to open the scoring in England’s defeat to Brazil in Japan in 2002. But after a season punctuated with heroic performances for Inter in the Champions League, including an epic clash with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba over two legs, even some of the more sceptical have been holding their hands up.
“I am not one of those who keeps press cuttings,” Lúcio says. “It’s simply impossible to please everybody and the more you concentrate on your job, the less you will be annoyed by opinions. A lot of my colleagues in the national team abide by this rule. But I have had worse times with the critics in Brazil and people seem to be recognising a bit more that I have the same desire for the team to do well.”
The early years were a story of persistence. His rise to professional football included a schedule where training sessions were mixed with his work as a paperboy in Planaltina, a small town just outside Brasilia. “I used to get up at 5am to deliver the papers, then spend the rest of the day in school and in training.
“It was hard, but I always tried to see the better side of things. The bike journeys before sunrise helped with physical conditioning. For me, the past has to be a trampoline, not a couch.”
Lúcio also had time to go to church. He is still a committed evangelical Christian, like his team-mate Kaká, and is disappointed by Fifa’s decision to ban religious messages in matches after the Brazilians wore special shirts at last year’s Confederations Cup. “It’s Fifa’s call but we are just expressing our faith. I don’t really see why it has caused discomfort.”
The same line is held when it comes to the nonstop discussions about Brazil’s style of play, a debate encapsulated when fantasistas such as Ronaldinho were left out of this summer’s squad. “Everybody is entitled to an opinion and I do respect what people say. But we have a group that won every competition in the last four years and that has beaten a series of opponents like England, Italy and Argentina.
“To those who complain about style, I just say nothing is more beautiful than winning. This is the kind of spectacle we should be giving to people.”
Will he, like his manager 16 years ago, be lifting the World Cup on 11 July? Lúcio claims the idea has not crossed his mind. “In comparison to 2006, we certainly will arrive at this World Cup with less favouritism. We have a very strong group that has been through thick and thin, and the majority of the players have never won this competition, so I presume they will be hungrier than ever.”
After Brazil were drawn into what arguably is the World Cup’s toughest group, alongside Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea, Lúcio prefers to concentrate on his team’s first-round opponents than entertain thoughts of the final. He is looking forward to another duel with Drogba on 20 June in Johannesburg.
“That guy is one of the strongest strikers I have played against, both in technical and physical terms. I was so knackered after the game at Stamford Bridge that I could barely move. [During the game] Drogba started shouting at me and the referee because of a foul and I gave him an earful.
“It came out in Portuguese, but I guess he understood pretty much what was going on. Intimidation is one of the few things that makes me mad in football.”
After his latest clash with Drogba, Lúcio will have five days to catch his breath before coming up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. It is clear why Brazil, and Dunga, are so dependent on their hard-working, disciplined and extremely talented captain.