Thursday, 29 November 2012

Greetings from square one: Felipão returns after Menezes dismissal

Timing, in football and in life, is everything. Just ask poor old Mano Menezes. The 50-year-old, who had (somewhat fortuitously) kept his job as Brazil coach in the wake of a shoddy 2011 Copa América campaign and again after a bitterly disappointing loss in the final of the Olympic football tournament, was relieved of his duties on November 23 – just weeks after the seleção produced the two most impressive performances of his reign.

In time, it will become clear just how thankless the task undertaken by Menezes really was. The inheritor of a side troubled by the twin terrors of age and underachievement, Menezes managed to inject some spark back into the seleção. He successfully integrated a new generation of players, ended the perceived selection bias towards players plying their trade in Europe, and got Brazil playing proactive football after years of stuttering under Dunga.


True, his stewardship was not without fault. Brazil's Copa América performances were as stodgy as the pitches they were played on, while it took an inordinate amount of time to find a central midfield combination that suited the progressive game he wished his side to play. But he has reason to be thoroughly disappointed at his dismissal, which comes just 18 months before the World Cup. Menezes's whole project was based on a four-year cycle, which seemed more than fair given the enormity of the job at hand. As it is, he has been deprived of the opportunity to sit his final exam, that by which his work could have been fairly judged.

His sacking, which was orchestrated by CBF president José Maria Marin (of whom more later) speaks again of the short-termism at the heart of Brazilian football (and of football per se, for that matter), and leaves his replacement, Luiz Felipe Scolari with two options, neither of which is particularly appealing: to build upon Menezes's work (in which case why fire Menezes himself?) or to rip it up and start again just when things are taking shape.

Of the three names initially linked to the job in the wake of Menezes's departure, Scolari seemed the least attractive option. The sultry Muricy Ramalho may have turned down the seleção in 2010, but his CV (three consecutive Brasileirão titles with São Paulo, another with Fluminense, a Copa Libertadores win with Santos) is hard to ignore. Tite, who guided Corinthians to their first ever Libertadores title this year, looked an even more likely candidate, particularly when the CBF announced that Menezes's successor would only be appointed in the new year  i.e. after the Timão's long-awaited Club World Cup campaign.

Another name was thrown into the mix by sports paper Lance!, who claimed that Pep Guardiola was interested in the job. The mouthwatering prospect of a tiki-taka takeover was rejected out of hand, however, highlighting the commonly-held (if increasingly outmoded) view that Brazil should never be coached by a foreigner. "I believe in Brazilian managers," scoffed Marin: "We've won five World Cups with our own coaches."

That reverence for the successes of the past reached its logical conclusion with Scolari's appointment on Wednesday. Felipão, of course, is one of the famous five; he was parachuted in to the Brazil job in 2001 and led the seleção to their fifth World Cup. That success, and the fact that Brazil have failed to replicate it in the decade since, ensures that Scolari has a significant and vocal constituency. Indeed, the pro-Felipão groundswell in the days following Menezes's dismissal was almost palpable, with assorted Brazil alumni (including national-treasure-turned-political-nodding-dog Romário) piping up in in support of their man.


But public opinion isn't always right. If the last ten years have been hard on the seleçao, they've been even harder on Scolari, whose trophy cabinet has been expanded to the fairly measly tune of one Uzbek title and one Brazilian Cup. A lengthy spell in charge of Portugal promised much but delivered little, while his last high-profile job, at Chelsea, lasted for all of seven months.

A return to his homeland hardly helped matters; while Scolari deserves credit for guiding Palmeiras to the Copa do Brasil earlier this year (a title that reaffirmed his reputation as cup specialist), his fingerprints are all over the ignominious relegation of the Verdão to Série B. One of Scolari's most notable managerial attributes – his ability to galvanise team spirit even in the face of criticism – was in scant supply in São Paulo, with his prickly personality creating rifts in the boardroom and in the dressing room. Tactically, too, his best days appeared to be behind him: his decision to use a three-man defence in 2002 was indicative of a coach willing to take brave, unexpected decisions; his Palmeiras side, by contrast, traded in clunky, percentage football.

All of this, apparently, was lost on the CBF, whose decision smacks of petty politicking. At appears that Marin, whose greatest hits include the not-so-subtle pocketing of a youth tournament winner's medal earlier this year, wanted to break up the de facto Corinthians old boys alliance that had control of seleção. Sanches (a close friend of former CBF president Ricardo Teixeira, the man Marin replaced) also found himself seeking new opportunities a couple of days after Menezes was sent packing, as Marin marked his territory. In this context, the appointment of Scolari – and of Carlos Alberto Parreira, another World Cup winner, as technical director – must be seen as populism, plain and simple.

Of course, good outcomes sometimes come from what appear to be bad decisions; history can make a fool of anyone. For now at least, though, Scolari's appointment looks misguided. In Menezes, Brazil had a thoughtful coach who was improving as his side did; a man who, despite some hiccups, successfully oversaw a much-needed generation change. Scolari may be the popular choice, but you can only go back to the future so many times.


A version of this article was published by The Guardian HERE.

4 comments:

  1. I disagree. Menezes was too reserved to be the national coach. In my opinion, giving younger national players a chance on the seleção was one of the only strong points of his tenure. His strategy was to develope no doubt. I believe had he stayed Brazil would have sulked as host to an early oust in their own country.

    Albeit Scolari hasn't done much lately, I wouldn't count the man out. Populism? Perhaps to extent. The 'country of the future' has never ceased to leave its past but one could argue that Brazil's football has been and always will remain derived from its past. Scolari may not have a recent record of trophies but he does have experience teamed with reputation and there are certain people whose shortcomings only fuel their desire to win again. The timing may well be just right.

    As for Guardiola, I have no reservations against claiming he would have been more than ideal for the job. It just didn't come to fruition. Not everything is meant to be... ask Mano.

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  2. Agree that Guardiola would have been the best choice of all.

    As for Menezes being 'too reserved'... I'm not sure being a quiet, thoughtful coach is a bad thing. It just so happens that Brazil's football culture tends to favour the outspoken or loud guys.

    James Young expresses that point very well here, if you're interested:

    http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/11/27/brazilian-football’s-big-dog-culture-leaves-mano-menezes-looking-like-a-chihuahua/

    Cheers

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    Replies
    1. Don't confuse 'too reserved' with lack of intelligence. He was composed and I believe he did have a decent four-year plan. Unfortunately, if you give a man half of the time to the World Cup, and he gives you meager results up to that point... what do you do? It's a tickle of funny that perhaps his predictability in organization left the committee (an organization), a la contraire, in a very unpredictable situation.

      Now this is also just my personal opinion but it seems to me that he lacked the ability to instill a certain desire by his style of play. By desire I mean to say desire to perform; a certain hunger. I'm not sure that if Brazil were to have fallen behind in knockout match in the WC that Menezes would be able to tactically do what would be necessary to overcome. So here I agree with you completely. Simply put Brazil is a patriarchal society. That translates to the outspoken-and-loud-guy standard in football. It is not a friendly place to patience in that regard. That didn't bode well for a Menezes WC tenure.

      Thanks for linking that article. It nailed the politics of futebol brasileiro pretty well and I'd agree with the article that the sacking was nearly inevitable. I wasn't aware about the changes mentioned within the CBF really. It looks like Mano did get a bit screwed over in regards to the politics there.

      There are positives and negatives though. I stand behind Scolari, his experience, and the respect the players will likely pay him. I do think that the two years Menezes put in were lost in the least, nor will they be. Scolari might steer the squad differently but I think Mano grew the younger players and eased them into a certain composure that isn't going to vanish overnight.

      At any rate it's an interesting discussion. I always appreciate the perspective. Good on ya!

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  3. ***I do not think that the two years Menezes put in were lost in the least, nor will they be.

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