The managerial merry-go-round continues in the national championship.
By Tim Vickery in Rio De Janeiro
Coaches were falling like ninepins as the Brazilian championship approached the halfway stage. After 18 of the 38 rounds there had been 16 switches at 13 different clubs. With two of the others having changed coach on the eve of the kick-off, it means that only five clubs – Avai, Corinthians, Cruzeiro, Goias and Internacional – have had the same man in charge since the start of May.
In addition to impatience from the supporters and the media’s hunger for a story, job survival for Brazilian coaches is jeopardised by the difficulties of operating in a calendar out of sync with the rest of the world.
The domestic action starts just as the Libertadores Cup reaches its closing stages and clubs involved in the continental competition often find it difficult to compete on two fronts. Either they field reserve sides in the national championship and find themselves in trouble (as happened this year to Cruzeiro, who only now are pulling away from the relegation zone), or they suffer post-Libertadores depression, like Sport Recife, who are rooted to the bottom of the table.
Then there is the opening of the global transfer window, which rips teams apart in the middle of the competition. Brazil’s president Lula, a fanatical Corinthians supporter, complained after the club sold key midfielder Cristian, international left-back Andre Santos and attacking midfielder Douglas, fearing that the club might be relegated once again. Indeed, there has been a slump in results, especially since Ronaldo fell awkwardly and picked up an injury. But Corinthians are currently sitting comfortably in mid-table and, providing they are not sucked into the relegation battle, their work for this year is done. Winning the Brazilian Cup in July means they have already qualified for next year’s Libertadores. They are the only major Sao Paulo club not to have won the trophy so to do so in 2010, their centenary year, is the ultimate dream.
Corinthians will be joined in the Libertadores by the top four in the Brazilian championship, with local rivals Palmeiras set to be one of them. Now under Muricy Ramalho, who has taken Sao Paulo to the title for the past three years, Palmeiras topped the table at the midway point. Veteran keeper Marcos is going strong, and the team has an excellent midfield axis of Cleiton Xavier, an all-rounder with a rocket shot, and the talented Diego Souza.
Two points behind Palmeiras in second were surprise outfit Goias. Helio dos Anjos’ side pack the midfield, spring the wing-backs and in the veteran Iarley they have one of the cleverest support strikers in Brazil. The return from Qatar’s Al Gharafa of experienced striker Fernandao should help Goias keep the momentum going in the second half of the season.
Third were early leaders Internacional. They ran into patchy form that left coach Tite under pressure and have lost star striker Nilmar to Villarreal, but the squad looks deep enough to mount a challenge. Trailing them on goal difference, Sao Paulo have strung some wins together to move ominously into fifth place. The supporters refer to Sao Paulo as “Jason”, standing for the five months from July to November when over the last three years they have come through strongly to take the title. The fans have even taken to wearing masks of the character Jason from the Friday the 13th films, perhaps hoping the team, now under Ricardo Gomes, can slash their way through the field and claim yet another championship.
Atletico Mineiro in fifth may be a big club but they have not won the championship since the inaugural edition in 1971. They began the current campaign in chaos, with coach Celso Roth appointed less than a week before kick off.
Four points adrift in ninth were the biggest surprise of the season so far. Barueri, a tiny team from the outskirts of Sao Paulo, are playing their first season in the top flight in front of miniscule crowds. But they are the leading scorers in the competition and have provided two of the outstanding players: the left-footed pair of elegant playmaker Thiago Humberto and Fernandinho, a winger with a superb burst of acceleration.
How long their success can be sustained is a moot point. Their best players will soon be on the move, and coach Estevam Soares has already jumped ship, leaving to take charge of Botafogo in Rio. He replaces the sacked Ney Franco, who moves south to coach Coritiba, who have just dismissed Rene Simoes. And so the dance of the coaches goes on…