Over the last couple of weeks two prominent Brazilian football managers, Vanderlei Luxemburgo and Celso Roth, have been very forthright in their criticism of the methods of current Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, and of his work with Barcelona.
First it was the turn of Luxemburgo, former Real Madrid and Brazil manager, who has also taken charge of almost all of Brazil’s biggest clubs at some point in his 30-plus year career as a coach. He is currently without a club, however, after being fired from Tianjin Quanjin of the Chinese second division after a series of bad results.
Luxa, as he is often known in Brazil, went on Fox Sports football chat show Aqui com Benja, where he took the opportunity to lay into the Spaniard, saying that “Guardiola is more marketing than football manager. What has he won? Guardiola won things at Barcelona. Then came Fernández… Luis Fernando, no? Luis Enrique. He won as well. Then Guardiola goes to Bayern, prepares himself, does all the courses, learns the language and can’t carry out the same work. The guy before him there, who was 70 years old [Jupp Heynckes, 68 at the time]… won. And Guardiola didn’t win when he had the best players and invested heavily.”
The next week it was the turn of Celso Roth, the current head coach of Porto Alegre giants Internacional. In a lengthy interview with the news outlet Zero Hora, he said, “Everybody talks about Barcelona. I don’t like watching them play. They go from one side to the other until they score a goal. My football is more vertical, more objective, without losing technical quality. Barcelona’s football is aesthetically pleasing. But people have discovered how to play against them, putting everyone behind the ball. It’s boring.”
Roth is most probably referring to the style of play developed under Guardiola, rather than the considerably more direct one employed under Enrique, though he does not differentiate between the two at any point. And perhaps he should ask Brendan Rodgers whether stopping Barcelona is just a case of putting all your men behind the ball.
It is interesting that both Roth and Luxa, who are considered part of the old school of Brazilian football management, chose to pick on Guardiola. Not because of what they said, the same accusations have been levelled at the ex-Barcelona boss many times before, but because of why they said it.
There is a prominent feeling in Brazil that the style of football played here and encouraged by managers like Roth and Luxemburgo, who have been in the game since long before many people can remember, is out of date, and that European football has moved beyond Brazilian football both technically and tactically.
This feeling was exacerbated strongly by the 7-1 defeat in the home World Cup semi-final to Germany in 2014. Since then much soul-searching and navel gazing has gone on in the country, with people trying to rediscover a Brazilian football identity.
In the process much criticism has fallen on the coaches of the old school, like Luiz Felipe Scolari, the manager who oversaw the defeat, but also the likes of Luxemburgo, Roth and Muricy Ramalho, to name but a few.
Choosing to attack Guardiola and the style of his Barcelona team says far more about Roth and Luxa than it does about the Spaniard. These are two men on the defensive, two professionals who feel they have been overtaken and surpassed by new faces and new ideas. They want to defend themselves and their work, and they are using Guardiola, and his supposed failure, as a stick with which to beat the people who say they are finished.
They both appeared desperate in their attempts to make themselves seem relevant to modern football. To deny the success of Guardiola is to deny that football has progressed beyond the point where their ideas ceased to be pertinent and contemporary.
In the same interview Roth said that nothing has changed in the game since the 2006 World Cup. One only needs to look at the manner in which the 2010 and 2014 editions of the tournament were won, and compare it with 2006 to see that this is clearly not the case.
Luxemburgo, in an interview with SporTV on the same day as his interview with Fox Sports, stated that, “Everything that is happening in football today, the majority is what I brought. How am I out of date, if the majority of things happening in today’s game I started as a man at the vanguard?”
As if his point needed emphasising any further, he added, “It was Felipão [Scolari] who lost 7-1… it was the Brazil team that lost 7-1 not the Brazilian managers… Foreign managers came, and I think we have to have this exchange. But what changed in Brazilian football with these managers who came from abroad? Absolutely nothing.”
The more one hears of what he has to say, the more he gives the impression that he is not only out of touch but delusional as well.
In the Fox Sports interview Luxemburgo also gave his opinion that the finest manager in the world is Carlo Ancelotti, the man who has replaced Guardiola in Munich, and pointed to the fact that his age does not hinder him. What Luxemburgo fails to understand, however, is this is not a question of age; it is a question of the progress of ideas.
If you were to ask Carlo Ancelotti whether anything has changed over the past decade in football, what do you think his answer would be? Ancelotti remains a world-class manager exactly because he adapts to the changes that occur around him. He did not win three Champions Leagues in 2003, 2007 and 2014 by applying the same tactical model over and over again.
The likes of Luxemburgo and Roth will keep on being castigated by the media if they continue to deny the inevitable evolution of football and, unfortunately, they will also continue to retard the development of the game in the country which turned it into an art.
The blame, however, does not fall only at their feet. They, and managers like them, continue to be offered jobs by the dinosaur-like directors who inhabit the boardrooms of the vast majority of football clubs here.
For example, Corinthians and Grêmio, who both recently dismissed their managers, took the perceived ‘safe’ option when replacing them.
Corinthians brought in Oswaldo de Oliveira, who has managed the São Paulo giants on two previous occasions, and is firmly amongst the ‘outdated’ category in the eyes of Timão’s fans.
Grêmio dismissed talented young coach Roger, who had been doing well until a spell of poor results, and called upon the services of Renato Gaúcho, another manager who had already had two previous attempts at the job.
The same faces continue to be recycled, going round and round the clubs of the Brazilian top division. Their ideas are stale and they offer at best short-term solutions to the problems clubs face themselves with when they constantly sack managers at the first sign of a bad run of form. This is demonstrated below with the managerial records of (in order) Roth, Luxemburgo and Oswaldo de Oliveira.
Criticising Guardiola is not in itself wrong. His time at Bayern Munich was certainly not as successful as many had expected and he will have to win a Champions League with a team other than Barcelona in order to cement his status as one of the greatest managers in the world.
However, saying that football has not changed and that a team that many regard as the greatest of all time is “boring” shows the mindsets of these men and many like them. There is a strong current of conservatism that flows through Brazilian football and it is a considerable part of the problem with the game here.
Brazilian club directors need to start giving opportunities to new, young coaches with fresh ideas. It has worked wonderfully for Botafogo and Flamengo, both of which have given chances to younger men promoted from within and have since shot up the table. Only with more opportunities like this will Brazilian football begin to see some long overdue tactical progress.