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Soccer-Uruguay's Tabarez combines coaching with philosophy

Reuters

By Esteban Israel

SAO PAULO, June 19 (Reuters) - Asked about the mood among his players after his Uruguay team were crushed 3-1 by Costa Rica in their opening World Cup match, coach Oscar Tabarez gave a typically philosophical response.

"Motivation is an internal process and is linked to the need people feel to do certain things," he said.

A trained schoolteacher, the 67-year-old coach is a self-styled philosopher who has given the small soccer-crazy South American nation its best results since their famous win over Brazil in the 1950 World Cup final in the Maracana.

Nicknamed "Maestro", in part for his past in the classroom, in part out of reverence, Tabarez is a soft-mannered, old-school coach whose deep answers often make his news conferences feel like a lecture.

He is credited with having reinvented Uruguayan soccer, polishing the country's traditionally rough style and putting together a team good enough to reach the World Cup semi-finals in South Africa four years ago.

Revered by his players, Tabarez encourages them to read instead of play video games, and has even created a library at Uruguay's training centre just outside the capital Montevideo.

After a mediocre career as a defender at small-time clubs, Tabarez for years taught at primary schools in working-class neighbourhoods in his hometown of Montevideo before focusing in his coaching career.

He first took Uruguay to a World Cup in Italy in 1990 where, despite lining up talented players like Enzo Francescoli, Ruben Sosa and Daniel Fonseca, the hosts knocked them out in the second round.

LONG-TERM PLANNING

In a country with plenty of soccer talent but where players are often sold to wealthier European teams at a young age, Tabarez realised that what was missing was long-term planning.

So when he was called back in 2006, he showed up with a four-year "institutionalisation" plan.

That's how he came up with a tightly knit team - including Diego Forlan, Diego Lugano, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani - that made Uruguay shine in South Africa and are the foundation of his current side.

Starved of success, Uruguay gave the Maestro and his men a heroes welcome after South Africa and renewed his contract.

In a country where the 1950 "Maracanazo" victory over Brazil is deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness, Uruguay keeps betting it can overcome the most adverse circumstances.

"Are we good, bad, mediocre? That's all arguable," Tabarez said at a news conference on the eve of Thursday's Group D match against England.

"What's objective fact is that we have turned very difficult situations around, many times," he said. "This is not over yet." (Reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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