SOME childhood Christmas presents make an impression which can last for a lifetime.

One of the gifts that Santa Claus left for Michael Beale in his stocking when the Rangers manager was a young boy certainly had a profound impact on him.

So much so, in fact, that it had a significant bearing on a remarkable move which he made in his coaching career decades later.

Beale grew up in South London in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when there was no shortage of exceptional English players for a football-obsessed youngster to idolise; John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker and Chris Waddle were all at the peak of their powers.

But the kid who dreamed of becoming a professional one day had another icon – Edson Arantes do Nascimento.

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His affection for the three-time World Cup winner stemmed from the video he had been given for his Christmas when he was just eight, Pele: The Master and his Method.

He wore out the hour-long instructional film, which can still be viewed in its entirety on You Tube, watching and rewatching the Brazilian great give “soccer skills” tips on ball juggling, dribbling, shooting, trapping, heading and passing inside Santos’ fabled Vila Belmiro stadium.

It was very possibly the start of his interest in the coaching side of the beautiful game – and was certainly the beginning of a love affair with the legendary player and his revered footballing nation which endures to this day.

So when the opportunity, quite unexpectedly, arose to go and work in the homeland of his hero back at the start of 2017, his interest was most definitely piqued.

Beale was doing well at the time; after several years coaching the youth teams at Chelsea he had moved on to their Premier League rivals Liverpool where he had impressed greatly and been put in charge of the under-23 team.

When the former Sao Paulo and Brazil goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni arrived in England during a trip to Europe to study training methods and met the Bromley man – who had already published nine coaching books - he recognised his ambition and expertise.


Ceni - who is world-renowned for taking free-kicks and penalties and scoring no fewer than 131 goals during his trophy-laden club career - was appointed Sao Paulo manager not long after his sabbatical.

He realised he needed people with the coaching experience that he lacked alongside him if he was to do well and got back in touch with the young Englishman whose knowledge and personality he had been so struck by.

Beale was honoured that such an esteemed figure in the global game would approach him and was definitely intrigued. After all, the city of Sao Paulo was where Pele had spent the vast majority of his playing days with Santos.

But he still harboured some doubts. He had a wife, young children, a great job at a big club. He did not, too, speak a word of Portuguese. He decided to travel over to talk to his new amigo face-to-face and size up the situation. 

“Ceni was paying me a huge compliment,” he said. “I wanted to fly to Sao Paulo and look him in the eyes. Whether I said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ depended on how he described the project to me.”   

As he waited at Heathrow Airport to board his flight across the Atlantic, he scrolled through his Twitter feed on his mobile phone. A post popped up which immediately grabbed his attention.

It read: “On this day in 1894, Charles Miller arrived in Brazil with the first football and rulebook.”

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Miller, the son of a Scottish railway engineer, is widely considered to be the father of Brazilian football. He was born in Sao Paulo, but was sent to school in Southampton. He returned with two footballs and a set of Hampshire FA rules in his suitcase. The rest is history.

Beale interpreted the tweet as an omen.

He was, though, also bowled over by what he saw after he touched down at his destination. The “Tricolor” had a reputation for developing exceptional youngsters and around a dozen of their first team squad had come through their academy. He realised why when he was shown around the Cotia complex.

“Wow!” he said. “It is up there with anything I have seen in Europe. In England you have fantastic facilities at Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, Liverpool. But Cotia is up there with anything.”


Having grown frustrated at the lack of opportunities which there were for the promising kids he worked with during his time at Chelsea – the reason that he decided to move on to Liverpool – joining a club where there was such an emphasis on blooding home-grown talent was clearly an attraction.   

Detailed discussions with Ceni and a visit to the 80,000-capacity Estadio do Morumbi in the following days effectively sealed the deal. He flew back home to talk things over with his family. But 48 hours later he accepted the offer and signed a two year contract.

The arrival of an English coach in Brazil was major news at the time. 

“It was a big, big thing over here,” said Jon Cotterill, the Sao Paulo-based South American football expert, television commentator, scout and author of Anatomy Of A Football Scout: An In-Depth Look At Player Recruitment.

“Nobody knew much about him. But his appointment was popular. I think Brazilians liked the fact that a non-Brazilian wanted to come over to work. Some countries don’t like foreign coaches, but they very much did. They took it as a compliment. Especially when they learned about his background at Chelsea and Liverpool.”

A coach from Liverpool in England moving to Sao Paulo in Brazil pricked the attention of Andrew Downie, the Edinburgh-born writer who was the then South American sports correspondent for the international news agency Reuters.

“At that time, there was something an influx of foreign coaches into the Brazilian game,” he said. “There were a few from Argentina and a few from Uruguay for obvious geographical reasons. But very few, almost none, came from Europe.”  

Downie, who has penned two acclaimed books on Brazilian football, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Inside Story of the Legendary 1970 World Cup and Doctor Socrates: Footballer, Philosopher, Legend, got in touch with a contact at Sao Paulo and arranged to meet and interview Beale.

The Scot took the new arrival to a popular bar-restaurant called Sao Cristovao in the Vila Madalena area of Sao Paulo – an establishment festooned from floor to ceiling with football flags, pictures, scarves and memorabilia – and they spent a couple of enjoyable hours talking a few days before the season got underway. 

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“He was very nice,” he said. “He was very South London, had a very South London attitude. But something that struck me about him was that he was interested in what I had to say. At that point, I probably knew more about Brazilian football than he did. He was willing to listen.”

Beale outlined to Downie exactly why he had taken such a momentous step.

"You can sit in England and moan about our coaches not being given opportunities or you can go out there and try and educate yourself differently," he said.

"I just felt that at Liverpool, the job was not a push for me. My life was easy and at 36 that is very dangerous. I felt that all the time things were within my range of capabilities and I need to keep stretching myself. I thought coming here would really put me outside the comfort zone."

That would certainly prove to be the case.

Beale was joined on Ceni’s backroom staff by Charles Hembert, a multilingual Frenchman who was made first team supervisor, and Pintado, a veteran local coach and former player.

Sao Paulo started encouragingly under their new-look management team; they warmed up for the new season by beating River Plate of Argentina and their city rivals Corinthians and winning the Florida Cup friendly tournament in the United States in January. 


Ceni certainly had the full backing of the Paulistanos - he had played for them in no fewer than 1,237 matches over a 25 year period and had won 20 major honours, including three Serie A titles, two Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup.

But was the 44-year-old ready to step into the dugout? He had been such an antagonistic character as a player. Did he have the mentality and maturity to be manager even with the right men by his side?

“As a player, Ceni was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit of a wind-up merchant,” said Cotterill. “He was mouthy and verbal. He was constantly in the face of the opposition and complaining to referees.  

“He won a World Cup winners’ medal with Brazil in Japan and South Korea in 2002. But he was back-up to Marcos and didn’t play in any games. He was a fine shot stopper and had a long and successful career, but he was never elite. His technique and decision-making were questionable. He is the only keeper I have ever seen who would turn his back when he was facing a close-range shot. 

“Still, the Sao Paulo fans absolutely adored him. He is the highest-scoring goalkeeper in the history of world football. He is like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. Actually, he is more like Sir Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. He is certainly an intelligent individual. But it was a big job.”

“I think the move came too early for Ceni,” said Downie. “It was his first job in football as a manager. He clearly thought hiring Beale and Hembert would help him because of their coaching experience. But they were outsiders.”

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As it turned out, Mario Zagallo would have been unable to deliver the success which Sao Paulo’s legions of fanatical supporters craved so badly after nine years of underachievement and failure.

Broken promises and boardroom interference meant that Michael Beale’s dream of working in Brazil, the home of his boyhood hero Pele, turned into a bit of a nightmare in the months which followed.

IN PART TWO TOMORROW: Eder Militao breakthrough, broken promises and boardroom meddling