A man at peace, Adilson Batista, manager of Serie A strugglers Atlético Goianiense, yawned, stretched, and leaned back in his chair. He knew he had made the right choice. It hadn`t been easy to turn down the offer to go back to Cruzeiro, a far bigger club than Atlético, and he would never forget those glorious nights in 2009, when he had taken the team from Belo Horizonte to the Libertadores final against Estudiantes. They had called him one of the brightest young coaches in Brazil back then. But he had a responsibility to Atlético. He`d only arrived in April, and it would be wrong to leave the club in the lurch just a few weeks later. He wanted to see the project through to the end.
Two weeks later, Adilson was fired after the first two games of the Brasileirão season, both of which Atlético drew. “A team like Atlético can’t play so negatively at home,” said vice-president Mauricio Sampião, justifying the decision. What he meant by a team like Atlético is unclear – the club had achieved their highest ever Serie A finish the year before, when the club reached the dizzy heights of 13th in Serie A. It was Batista`s fifth sacking in less than two years, since losing his job at Corinthians in October 2010. At 44 years of age, he is currently without a club.
The woes of a floundering Brazilian club coach might not seem to be of great global significance, but with Mano Menezes under considerable pressure following failure at both the Copa America in 2011, and more recently at the Olympics, the crisis in Brazilian coaching is perhaps more relevant than ever.
A few years ago, the drawer marked “promising young Brazilian managers” was, relatively speaking, full to overflowing. Batista was cock-a-hoop at Cruzeiro, having guided the team to 3rd spot in the Brasileirão in 2008, followed by that stirring Libertadores run a year later. Another young (-ish) coach, Dorival Junior, who had led Vasco da Gama back into Serie A in 2009, won the Copa do Brasil with Santos in 2010.
Then there was Silas, who took little Avaí to an impressive sixth spot in Serie A in 2009, while only last year, Caio Junior seemed set for a long, productive stay at Botafogo, after keeping a sprightly team in the thick of the title race until late in the season.
Not forgetting Ney Franco, who back in 2006 guided tiny Ipatinga to the semi-finals of the Copa do Brasil, and later oversaw the rebirth of a Coritiba side relegated from Serie A in distressing circumstances in 2009.
So much for looking at the stars. All of the above, like almost every Brazilian football manager, have also spent more than their fair share of time in the gutter. Dorival Junior was fired by Santos after engaging a then wilfully immature Neymar in a battle of egos. After that, he survived for just under a year at Atlético Mineiro, before trying his luck at Internacional. Inter played some bright stuff for much of Dorival`s time at the club, before, with the twin heartbeats of the side, Oscar and Leandro Damião, off at the Olympics, form dropped off and the manager got the chop, again after slightly less than 12 months in charge. He will now try and restore some order to the chaos that is Flamengo, a task akin to persuading a litter of puppies to form an orderly queue at their mother’s teat.
The Caio Junior Blues would make an even more mournful lament. On 12th October last year his overachieving Botafogo side impressively beat Corinthians 2-0 in São Paulo, moving to within two points of the leaders and eventual champions. Two wins and four defeats later he was sacked, a victim of the unrealistically high expectations his own commendable work had created. He was then hired by Grêmio in December 2011, before being fired, a whopping eight games and eighty eight days later, after a woeful first half showing in the Campeonato Gaúcho. A clear case of once bitten, twice shy, he has just quit as Bahia boss after ten games in charge of the Serie A basement battlers.
History keeps on repeating. After his heroics at Avaí, Silas lasted eight months at Grêmio, then just over a month (and ten games) at Flamengo. He is now out of Brazilian football, in charge of Al-Gharafa in Qatar.
There are many reasons for such chaos. Perhaps the most obvious is the win at all costs, and win now, culture of Brazilian football. Whether it’s the footballing glories of the past, the delusions of grandeur of clubs often run on distinctly amateur lines, the race against the clock thinking that comes from election-based presidential mandates, or the natural impatience of a country that has little faith in the promises of big or official institutions or their leaders, fans and directors expect immediate success, with long term planning usually an afterthought.
Wider Brazilian society and history also plays a role. While workers’ rights are more firmly protected today than in the past, and the legal system more eager to punish employers who abuse such rights, progress is often slow. In many sectors of society the employer – worker relationship can often bear more than a hint of the injustices of Brazil’s past. Considering that a great many football directors and club presidents are from resolutely establishment backgrounds, it is fair to say that hiring and firing is often carried out on an all too whimsical basis.
Especially when the lowly role of the manager in Brazilian football hierarchy is considered. Managers in Brazil are, generally speaking, merely trainers, not responsible for player signings (though they can suggest the names of players they would like to see brought in) or financial matters, and it often feels like their job is often simply to not foul-up the on-field artistry being produced by a succession of talented athletes. Player power is also enormously strong, as the result of the Dorival vs. Neymar rift proved, and the result is a power structure that makes it all too easy for the unreconstructed, cigar-puffing plantation owners up in the casa grande of the boardroom to swing the axe on the neck of the (admittedly highly paid) worker down in the dugout senzala.
The Brazilian footballing calendar, as is so often the case, helps not a jot. Clubs effectively prepare for two seasons a year – the local state championship from January to May, and the Brasileirão from May onwards. The estaduais may be increasingly irrelevant, but, particularly as local rivalries are involved, can often prove to be the graveyard of many a hardworking coach. Just this year Recife’s Náutico ludicrously fired coach Waldemar Lemos, who had performed bona-fide miracles in winning the club promotion from Serie B in 2011. His crime? Náutico`s disappointing form in the far less important Pernambucano state championship a few months later. Needless to say, it was back to the drawing board for Serie A.
Even more absurd was the treatment of Uruguay’s Jorge Fossati by Internacional in 2010. Appointed with an eye on bringing the Libertadores title to Porto Alegre, Fossati was sacked four games into the Serie A season, despite leaving Inter in the semi-finals of South America’s biggest knock-out competition.
What all this means is that Brazil faces a major drought of talented, up and coming managers. When the howling for Menezes head started a few weeks ago (and long before, to be honest), the names bandied around as his potential successor made depressing reading – Felipão, Vanderlei Luxemburgo, and Muricy Ramalho. All competent, experienced coaches, but none particularly innovative or exciting. Ney Franco, who did such good work in charge of Brazil’s Under-20 side over the last two years, would be a bolder choice, but he has now put his head on the chopping block of club management once more, taking over at São Paulo.
And there is a more serious problem to consider. While continental rivals Chile have been able to produce tactically innovative (not to say idiosyncratic) managers in the form of Marcelo Bielsa and Jorge Sampaoli, and Uruguay have overachieved hugely under the scholarly Oscar Tabaréz, Brazil seems to be stuck in both a tactical and leadership rut. True, the national side may be developing a shape under the perhaps underrated Menezes, but at club level, fear of defeat means experimentation usually begins and ends with whether to play one or two volantes (defensive midfielder) on any given Sunday.
If Brazilian football is to recapture the glories of its past, then, it may be that fans and club administrators alike will be required to mine previously untapped reserves of patience.
By James Young
James blog can be found here