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May 11, 2009

Prof. Mazzei, confidante of Pele, former Cosmos coach, passes away


Prof. Julio Mazzei at the Pele Cup in Brazil in 1987.
Prof. Julio Mazzei at the Pele Cup in Brazil in 1987.
Photo by Michael Lewis
By Michael Lewis Editor

Prof. Julio Mazzei, confidante of the great Pele and who coached the Cosmos to the 1982 North American Soccer League title, passed away on Sunday.

Mazzei, who became a beloved soccer figure locally because of his charm and his ability to tell stories, battled Alzheimer’s for the past nine years while living in Santos, Brazil. He was 78.

"He was my mentor and my friend,” said former LIU men‘s coach and current Ramapo women‘s coach Arnie Ramirez. “He introduced me to so many famous players and coaches. . . . He was such a great charismatic person and had great stories to tell."

"In all my life in soccer, I never met a guy who achieved the heights that he did and who never lost his simple passion for the game," said former Cosmos goalkeeper Shep Messing, a color announcer on Red Bulls television games on MSG. "There is no better man I've met in soccer."

Marjorie, Mazzei's daughter, said a wake and funeral will be held in Brazil on Tuesday.

"His health declined rapidly in last couple of months and we're relieved his long struggle of nine years is finally over," Marjorie said in an e-mail. "Mammy's [his wife, Maria Elena] spirit is good and she's surrounded by a wonderful support group down there including Pele."

Ramirez was not the only person to remember Mazzei fondly.

"Julio was Pele's closest companion for the longest time and, apart from Pele and myself, was the only one present at most of all those many meetings," former Cosmos president Clive Toye recalled.

Toye said that Mazzei was "helpful and pleasant at all times and a great assistance in helping Pele, and the rest of us, settle into a brand new life. It is doubly sad that he suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years and had no recollection of his wonderful experiences and contributions."

National Soccer Hall of Famer Werner Roth, who was the Cosmos and U.S. National Team captain when Mazzei and Pele arrived, remembered the Professor's humanity.

"My thoughts go out to his wonderful and close family especially Pele, who I know looked upon Prof as a surrogate father," Roth said. "I will always remember the Prof as a kind, intelligent and honorable man who always put the human relationship with his players before the professional one.

"He was of course Pele's 'guy' when he first came to the Cosmos and quickly adopted the rest of us into his extended family. As did his wife and we came to count on him and his counsel in team and often personal issues."

Roth recalled when the Cosmos players went through players union issues.

"The Prof, educated, articulate and worldly weighed every issue intellectually and philosophically before offering very emotional suggestions." he said. "As a coach he was definitely a 'players coach' because he cared for you as an individual as much, if not more, than a player and broke new ground in the area of sports and player psychology. The soccer world has lost a progressive coach, a good man, and he will be sorely missed."

Mazzei had worked for the Cosmos in various capacities. After the team fired Eddie Firmani (who would become the first MetroStars coach in 1996) in 1979, Mazzei assumed the role as technical director. Working with coach Ray Klivecka, the Cosmos reached the NASL semifinals before the team was eliminated by the Vancouver Whitecaps in a 3 1/2-hour marathon.

He was named Cosmos coach in 1982, replacing Hennes Weisweiler, and guided the club to a 23-9 regular-season record and to the championship.

Mazzei received his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Sao Paulo and his Master's Degree from Michigan State. He authored nine books about physical education.

He broke into professional soccer in 1962 with the Palmeiras Club of Sao Paulo. A long-time friend and advisor to Pele, Mazzei teamed with the Brazilian legend in 1965.

Mazzei went on to work with the Brazilian National Team.

Ramirez, who was the director of the Pele Soccer Camp from its inception in 1977 to 1982, spoke to Mazzei's wife, Maria Elena on Monday morning. He said that Mazzei's passing was covered by Brazilian TV and games in Santos had a minute of silence in memory of Mazzei.

"It's incredible how all the people in Santos remember him and are talking about him," Ramirez said.

"If Maradona had a professor, he probably would be a lot better," Ramirez added. "He guided Pele. When Pele was going through a tough time with his divorce in 1978, the professor was there for him."

The nickname "The Professor" caught on because Mazzei became the head of the physical education department at the University of Sao Paulo, where he met Maria Elena.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Mazzei became a frequent guest speaker at the Long Island Junior Soccer League convention.

"When the professor spoke, everyone listened," Ramirez said.

Marjorie said that she plans to set up an online memorial and that the Mazzei family also would love to host a memorial service in the New York area in the near future.

Besides his wife, Maria Elena, and Marjorie, Mazzei is survived his son, Julio Jr. and a grandchild.

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