The smiling Julio Mazzei

julio scan0001 When Pele arrived in New York to play for the Cosmos in June 1975, his entourage (nothing like the massive crowds that some superstar athletes drag around today) included a 44-year-old man named Julio Mazzei, usually dubbed Professor Julio Mazzei because of his background as a fitness and physical-education instructor.

If it hadn't been for Mazzei, Pele might not have been there at all. Mazzei was Pele's chief advisor back in those days, and had been the man who took the lead in convincing Pele, after he retired from Santos in 1974, that his financial picture was not as rosy as he had thought and that the way to surmount his financial difficulties was to accept the Cosmos' efforts to sign him.

After Pele's arrival in New York, Mazzei became ubiquitous at Cosmos events. His nickname, and the fact that he didn't really seem to be a professor anywhere that I could figure out, gave me (a Cosmos fan who lived in Brooklyn) a false impression of him. If I'd ever actually met him, I would have realized what an unpretentious man he was. In Mazzei's obituary in the New York Daily News in 2009, Werner Roth, one of the Cosmos stars in 1975, 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."

Mazzei hadn't come to the United States in 1975 to be a soccer coach, but with the Cosmos, he became one. Between 1975 and 1985, the Cosmos changed coaches eight times. Gordon Bradley went, came back and went again. Ken Furphy came and went. Hennes Weisweiler came and went. Eddie Firmani came and went twice. Julio Mazzei, who stayed with the Cosmos long after Pele had retired, became the Cosmos' go-to guy for interim coaching assignments. He ended up coaching the Cosmos in all or part of four different seasons, from the middle of the 1979 season, when Firmani was fired, to the middle of the 1980 season, when Weisweiler arrived, and again in the 1982 and 1983 seasons, post-Weisweiler. He coached 100 regular-season games with the Cosmos, and another 14 playoff games, and won an NASL chamionship as coach of the Cosmos in 1982.

Unlike most other Cosmos coaches, Mazzei left that job happy. In 1980, he coached the team at the beginning of the season, handling the reins until Weisweiler could take over after the end of both the Bundesliga season and his contract at FC Cologne. When Weisweiler was released from his Cologne contract a month early, and thus was free to displace Mazzei with the Cosmos a month early, Mazzei, who never really wanted to be a coach, nearly turned cartwheels over this fact.

After the demise of the Cosmos and the NASL, Mazzei returned to Brazil and to the sorts of things he had been doing before. He continued to accompany Pele to clinics around the world, adding his fitness expertise to Pele's soccer skills. For the last several years before he died, Mazzei suffered from Alzheimer's.

Julio Mazzei never heard about the Cosmos fan who misjudged him in 1975 because of his nickname. However, I'm sure that if he had, he wouldn't have stopped smiling.