Mazinho: Thiago and Rafinha are much better than me

Whatever the result, when the UEFA Champions League semi-final tie between Bayern Munich and Barcelona is over, Iomar do Nascimento – better known as Mazinho – will be happy and disappointed in equal measure. As he told, “It’s not even a toss-up for me. If I flipped a coin, it’d land on its edge. With a son on both sides, it’s impossible for me to choose.”

His older son, Thiago, 24, is at Bayern after coming through the ranks at Barça, while his middle child, 22-year-old Rafinha, remains at the Camp Nou. “I can’t place bets or tip a favourite. I’m torn between the two, especially because they are two great teams and anything could happen. I just hope I get to enjoy two really good matches,” said the Brazilian legend, who now lives in Barcelona, where he manages his kids’ affairs.

The former midfielder will attend both legs and hopes to be accompanied by Thiago and Rafinha’s younger sister, Thaisa, who plays for the Celta Vigo women’s basketball team. All three siblings inherited the sporting genes then, and they are very close to boot. In their father’s words, “They’re the best of friends; they get along really well.”

Role reversal
“People used to talk about Thiago and Rafinha as Mazinho’s sons. Today it’s the other way round: I’m Thiago and Rafinha’s dad,” joked the man who tasted glory with Brazil at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™. “That’s life. My time came and went and now it’s their turn to triumph. I couldn’t be happier or prouder. They’ve far surpassed me.”

In the late 1990s, during Mazinho’s spell at Celta, it became common to see the star kicking a ball around with his sons at the training ground. “I’d take them along to wear them out!” he confided, smiling. “But back then I never imagined that it would lead to a career in football. That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted them to have fun, get some exercise… and wear themselves out,” he added, picking up on his previous comment. “That way I didn’t have to play with them at home. We’d stay behind for an hour after training to play, so then I could relax at home. Otherwise when I got back from training I’d have to play with them in the garage, where we had two small goals set up, and I’d have been out on my feet the next day.”

As it turned out, though, there was raw talent in those two boys, whose father always sought to protect them from comparisons – whether to him or between each another. “I guess they’ve both got a bit of me in them. Sometimes you can see it in the positions they take up on the pitch, their touch, the odd piece of skill. But technically they’re much better than I ever was,” said the 49-year-old, who was a box-to-box type in his playing days, snapping into tackles and racking up assists aplenty.

Although Rafinha dabbled with goalkeeping as a kid, both brothers have ended up operating in what was once their dad’s territory and possess similar attributes: the ability to take on players, a knack for laying on goals and a strong work ethic. Mazinho is best placed to pinpoint what sets them apart: “Thiago has great vision and a fantastic final ball. Rafinha is a bit more aggressive, goes for goal more and can outpace opponents.”

There are both similarities and differences in the pair’s personalities, too: “They’re happy, optimistic kids, but Thiago is more serious and disciplined. His character is more like mine: he’s quieter, shyer, more reserved. Rafa is more of a joker, more fun-loving and extroverted.”

Club and international divide
Things are looking up for the Alcantara do Nascimento brothers (in Brazil the maternal surname comes first). The painful ligament injury, complete with relapse, which kept Thiago out of last year’s World Cup in none other than Brazil, is finally water under the bridge: “We had a tough time. It was a difficult, challenging year. We all rallied round him to help him overcome the fear of another recurrence, that sense of apprehension. The World Cup was within reach and that wretched injury wrecked his dream,” Mazinho recollected wistfully.

“Thank God everything worked out OK and now he’s 200% fit. He’s young and he has a very positive attitude. The experience will stand him in good stead in the future. Now he’s starting to enjoy playing football again and in good time he’ll get his place back in the Spanish national team.”

This is where the plot thickens for Mazinho. If Bayern taking on Barça is an ordeal for this proud dad, just imagine the emotional turmoil of his two sons lining up on opposing sides at international level. This is a very real possibility: Thiago has already made his debut for La Roja, while Rafinha has decided to represent the Seleção.

“I wanted Thiago to play for Brazil,” Mazinho admitted, somewhat unsurprisingly given he earned 35 caps for his country and won a Copa America and an Olympic silver medal to go with the World Cup. “But when Spain expressed an interest in him, I spoke to the CBF [Brazilian Football Confederation] and they told me that kids who had learned their trade outside Brazil wouldn’t be considered. That shocked me but, well, Thiago wasn’t going to let his career stall, so he agreed to play for Spain. Then Brazil abandoned that policy and called up Rafinha, who feels very Brazilian and accepted the call-up. And they’re both happy with their decision.”

What more can a father ask than for his children to be happy? Unfortunately for Mazinho, that can only be the case for one of his sons after the Champions League semi-finals.

Source: FIFA