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Brazil fails the imagination test

02 Dec 2012 | 00:00-Tim Vickery

The last few days have felt like being in the middle of a tropical storm.

I was working for the Soccerex trade fair in Rio, a huge business conference, where my role was to interview some of the great and good of Brazilian, and world, football for Soccerex TV.

The standard questions, of course, related to the 2014 World Cup and Brazil’s state of readiness to host the competition.

Meanwhile, though, another bomb was exploding. The day before the conference, Mano Menezes was surprisingly sacked as coach of Brazil. The day after, Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed to succeed him. And for the five days in between, a battle was raging.

The shock element to the Menezes sacking was its timing. Had he gone in August, when Brazil lost in the final of the London Olympic Games, then few eyebrows would have been raised. After that, though, the pieces of the jigsaw appeared to be coming together. Performances improved. 

The 4-0 win over Japan in October was an astonishing result, achieved over an opponent that had just won away to France.

But back in August Luiz Felipe Scolari was not available. He was coaching Palmeiras. Come late November he was free.

True, this was because he had been sacked as a consequence of dragging Palmeiras into an unsuccessful struggle against relegation.

However, this did not seem to have an effect on his prestige in Brazil. His father figure charisma and his 2002 World Cup triumph confer on 'big Phil' a special status in many Brazilian hearts.

Scolari was always the candidate of the two main forces in the CBF, Brazil’s football association – president Jose Maria Marin and Sao Paulo Federation boss Marco del Polo Nero. Their original plan was to ease out Menezes and replace him with Scolari, with the new man appointed early in January.

But an unseen development put some dynamite in their backsides and forced them to act more quickly. This was the entry into the ring of Pep Guardiola.

Walter de Mattos, publisher of Brazil’s sports daily ‘Lance!,’ enjoys strong contacts with Guardiola and his entourage. As soon as he got wind that Menezes was on his way out, Mattos worked the phones and received the answer he was looking for – the former Barcelona boss was keen on the Brazil job.

In fact, it was the only challenge that would make him interrupt his break from the game.

Sabbatical... Guardiola and family at the Ryder Cup in Chicago in September (Getty)

Lance! went big with the story. The newspaper became the headquarters of the pro-Guardiola campaign, and the name of the Catalan shot to the top of most of the opinion polls.

Panic-stricken, the CBF rushed into action. President Marin, with his background in far right nationalist politics, had not the slightest intention of appointing a foreigner.

The Guardiola bandwagon was brought shuddering to a halt when the press conference to present Scolari was brought forward to Thursday morning, Rio time.

So Big Phil has a second bite at the job and Guardiola has become an ‘if only.’

Comrades... Scolari and Parreira at the 2013 Confederations Cup draw in Sao Paulo (Getty)

As the story unfolded I was quizzing people for their thoughts on the matter.

Deco, with both Barcelona and Scolari connections, opted for the latter.

A great of the 1970s, Paulo Cesar Caju was adamant Brazil was throwing away a historic opportunity by not appointing Guardiola.

Zico thought that the national team coach had to be Brazilian.

Mario Zagallo was of the opinion that a foreign coach was a possibility, providing he had experience of Brazilian club football.

Former Germany star Paul Breitner, intelligent and with no pretentions to diplomacy, said that Brazilian football was paying the price for spending decades staring at its own belly button.

In need of a break, I stopped pestering people for interviews and went for a wander around the stands in the exhibition.

One of them caught my eye – it was of Mamelodi Sundowns, one of the biggest clubs in South Africa. The promotional literature was very interesting.

The Sundowns are known as ‘the Brazilians’. They play in the traditional Brazil colours of yellow, green and blue. They have, according to their own publicity, “always played attacking football with flair, passion and precision leaving spectators in awe and many an opponent in envy.”

Then I turned the page of the brochure – and saw a photo of Johan Cruyff, the Dutch master who was Guardiola’s mentor at Barcelona.

The club has a tie in with Cruyff’s company, “working in partnership to develop talented, intelligent and responsible footballers,” because “ Johan Cruyff’s approach to Total Football is the type of football upon which the best teams in the world base their success.”

Mamelodi Sundowns has appointed Cruyff’s old comrade Johan Neeskens to coach the first team.

The interesting thing here is that the South African team has had a chance to see the Brazilian school at close range. Both Carlos Alberto Parreira (now appointed as Scolari’s co-ordinator and right hand man) and Joel Santana have recently been in charge of the South African national team. Even so, the Sundowns have been seduced by a rival school of thought.

Even South Africa’s Brazilians now want to be Dutch Catalans – a fascinating example of the way that the Dutch/Barcelona example has captured the global imagination.

No more conclusive evidence could be presented for the theory that Brazil has been replaced in the world’s eyes as the spiritual home of the beautiful game.

Perhaps the only place where this lesson has yet to be completely assimilated is Brazil itself – hence the fact the Guardiola option was ignored, and Luiz Felipe Scolari is back in charge of the Brazilian national team.

About this blog


Tim Vickery

British-born Tim works as a journalist and has lived in Brazil since 1994 and provides unrivalled knowledge of South American football. Follow @Tim_Vickery on Twitter. Read More.

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