The Champions League rolls on with plenty of Brazilians on the pitch but none on the touchlines. The country is not supplying any coaches to the competition and has not done so for some time, bar a short and unsuccessful spell of Sylvinho with Lyon back in 2019.
South American coaches have had success at European sides — as proved by the likes of Diego Simeone, Mauricio Pochettino and Manuel Pellegrini. But Brazilians are currently not able to force their way in. The coaching fraternity in Brazil complain that their local qualifications are not accepted by UEFA. This is true, but it is hardly relevant. Their coaches are simply not in demand — highlighted by the fact that they have lost space at home.
Half of Brazil’s first division clubs are now coached by non-Brazilians, with Portuguese managers especially in vogue. Jorge Jesus enjoyed a magical 2019 with Flamengo. His compatriot Abel Ferreira has produced a wonderfully consistent body of work with Palmeiras. And on a more modest budget a huge success story has been Argentina’s Juan Pablo Vojvoda with Fortaleza.
Success breeds imitators, and it is only natural that other clubs have gone down this route. Indeed, there is not a single strong Brazilian candidate for the vacant job as Brazil’s national team coach. Appointing a non-Brazilian to take charge has always been unthinkable — until now, when it looks all but inevitable.
So what has gone wrong? Brazil, after all, are the only country to have won the World Cup five times — and always with a Brazilian coach. But this is surely part of the problem. Football is a dynamic process. Success brings with it a trap. It is easy for complacency to set in, both towards the future and when looking back on the past.
Brazilian coaches are surely correct to feel themselves historically undervalued. Credit for success has always gone to the individual genius of the players. Hard work on preparation and tactics is usually forgotten. The development of the back four, for example, is rarely mentioned. It was unleashed in 1958, when Brazil won their first World Cup, and did not concede a single goal until the semifinal. Once Pele and company had won three World Cups in four tries, it was conveniently forgotten that the intense tactical work of the 1940s and ’50s had a strong influence from the likes of Uruguay’s Ondino Viera and Bela Guttman from Hungary, both who found success in the domestic game in Brazil.
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Europe has geography on its side. The proximity between the countries allows for the cross-fertilisation of ideas, with the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Germany all enjoying recent spells of ideological supremacy. Brazil has been out of the loop, and has paid the price. Over the last two decades the big names who have come across — Vanderley Luxemburgo with Real Madrid and Luiz Felipe Scolari with Chelsea — quickly came unstuck because they still appeared to be stuck in their homeland. Opponents blocked their attacking full backs and attacked the space behind them.
But in a globalised age, where everyone has access to the most modern tactical approaches, why has Brazil been able to develop a new candidate to the command of a top European club? The answer here surely has much to do with the way that domestic Brazilian football operates. It is hard to organise the game in a country the size of a continent, and the outcome is hotchpotch political compromise which imposes an over-cluttered calendar on the big clubs. There are too many games, and lots of travelling time.
A few years ago iconic Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa was approached by a Brazilian club. One of his former players advised him against — there would simply not be enough of his beloved time on the training ground. There are other factors to throw in — high temperatures, for example, and sub-standard pitches.
Tite, who stepped down as national team coach after 2022 World Cup, tried hard to argue the need for better playing surfaces, but confessed that his message did not get through. Moreover, in the culture of Brazilian football the coach is always the fall guy. Many of the clubs and their fans have unrealistic expectations. Over recent decades the focus of the game has switched from the regional to the national and continental — and there are not enough major titles left on the table for all the clubs to retain the giant status they claim.
Coaches pay the price for this. There is no job security. Almost all the coaches are in reality caretaker bosses, short term fixes who will be sacked sooner rather than later. Fans expect it, some of the media are usually pushing for it, directors use it to take the heat away from themselves.
Put all of these factors together and it is hardly a surprise that those who make a career out of coaching in Brazil turn into conservative pragmatists, anxious to avoid taking the kind of risks which will likely lead to their replacement. Spells in charge of a club are often so short that it is difficult to judge the work of the coach. And so while in Europe tiki-taka is challenged by gegenpressing, which in turn faces its own challenge, Brazil can seem stuck in time.
There is always hope on the horizon. Fernando Diiz has been an interesting coach for years. Last season with Fluminense was by far his best yet, with his anarchic, possession-based football making his team a joy to watch. He faces a key campaign, as does Mauricio Barbieri, the promising young boss of Vasco da Gama. Perhaps they can spearhead a new generation of Brazilian coaches able to make as big a name for themselves as some of the country’s star players.
While a European coach would boost Brazil’s World Cup hopes, it’s a concern for domestic managers