There exists a false divide in Brazilian football management and it is one that has come to the fore once more in recent days.
On one side of this partition you have managers deemed studious tacticians, those who see the game as an academic pursuit. On the other you have the ‘boleirão’; the ex-player, who ‘speaks the language’ of the players and can motivate and inspire their team to greatness. Think Harry Redknapp or Kevin Keegan. All managers, in the eyes of most of the Brazilian media, is either one or the other, there is no middle ground.
On the side of the boleirão you have men like Celso Roth, Vanderlei Luxemburgo and Renato Portaluppi, who this week won the Copa do Brasil with Grêmio. All of them have recently stated that the Brazilian game has nothing to learn from the tactical advances seen in Europe in recent years. “How many times”, asked Renato Gaúcho in an interview after his cup triumph, “have Brazil won the World Cup? I ask you: who has to learn from whom?”
He continued, criticising Guardiola in the same way that Roth and Luxemburgo have in recent months and even, in a new twist on this theme, going for José Mourinho; “Have you ever seen Guardiola or Mourinho with a mediocre or weak squad? Even Stevie Wonder [could win titles with those players].” These are the sort of fallacious arguments, and the sort of people, that keep Brazilian football in the dark-ages when it comes to the strategic elements of the game.
But that is not to demerit the work of the boleirão. Football is a game of tactics, indeed, but it is also a game of sentiment, of motivation, of emotion and confidence. People who can ‘speak the language’ of the players, make them feel at ease on the pitch and give them the emotional security to perform at their highest level will always have a space within it. But they need to see that the two things are not mutually exclusive.
You can study the game, learn lessons from the great tacticians, whether they be European, South American, African or Asian, and still be a great motivator and ‘real football man’.
Tite has proved this with the Seleção. He knows what makes the players tick; his ploy of rotating the captaincy is a prime example, but he also went and toured Europe during a year-long sabbatical, learning from many great thinkers of European football. It is the marriage of tactical and emotional thinking that has made him the only world-class Brazilian manager at this moment in time.
Roger Machado, who preceded Renato Portaluppi at Grêmio and has recently taken over at Atlético Mineiro, is on the other side of the schism. He set up a wonderfully well thought out team and laid the ground work that Portaluppi built on in leading Grêmio to their first national title since 2001, but was unfortunately unable to get enough out of his players at vital moments, as well as having poor luck with injuries.
Just like the boleirão could do with learning some more about the other side of the game, managers like Machado could sometimes do with learning a little more man-management. There is little doubt, though, that he is capable of becoming a top all-round manager, given time.
It is extremely difficult for a new school of Brazilian managers to emerge in the current climate, however, as any short series of poor results, even if they come with some promising performances, is rewarded with a prompt dismissal. Machado found this out to his peril with his premature exit from Grêmio.
Despite this enormous obstacle to the development of young, forward-thinking managers there does seem to be some movement in the market, with managers like Fernando Diniz and Jair Ventura, as well as Roger Machado, starting to make names for themselves.
One other exciting appointment has also just been made at São Paulo FC. Rogério Ceni, the club’s legendary goalkeeper, who as captain led o Tricolor to the Copa Libertadores and three successive Brazilian League titles, has been given the reins just a year after he hung up his gloves. So far he has been making all of the right noises.
He is an incredible motivator, a quick look at the videos of his pre-match speeches when he was captain can confirm that, and will immediately have the full respect of all the players in the dressing room owing to his history of success over 20 years as São Paulo’s number one.
But he has also spent a large portion of the last year learning the tactical side of the game from some of the top names in European management. He completed his coaching badges with the FA in London and visited Guardiola’s Manchester City, Conte’s Chelsea, Klopp’s Liverpool and Jorge Sampaoli’s Sevilla, amongst many others. These are the actions of a man who is clearly intent on learning all of football’s many intricacies and soaking in knowledge from all available sources.
He has also brought in two assistants from abroad in the shape of Englishman Michael Beale, previously Liverpool U23’s head coach, and Frenchman Charles Hembert, who has previously overseen the logistical requirements of the Brazilian and Cameroonian national teams.
This array of experienced professionals should stand Ceni in good stead to take on the mammoth task of rebuilding his beloved club after a terrible season in the league. He has also talked at some length to the media about the way he will delegate responsibilities to his new assistants, an essential skill for a good leader in any industry.
The only real proof of the pudding, though, will be in the eating. From next season we will see if Rogério is capable of leading his club to glory once more by marrying the abilities of the boleirão and the studious tactical thinker.
If he can succeed it might just signal the dawn for a new era of progressive football management in the country that has historically done so much for the development of the beautiful game.