Brazilian football’s big dog culture leaves Mano Menezes looking like a Chihuahua

James Young
Mano Menezes 300x225 Brazilian football’s big dog culture leaves Mano Menezes looking like a Chihuahua

Mano Menezes was sacked as Brazil manager last week

And so it goes. Brazilian football management proves once more that it is no country for level headed, if slightly ponderous, middle-aged men. Those who thrive in this most machista of spots are the chest-beaters, the big talkers and the mud-slingers – in short, the loudest barkers. It’s a good ol’ boys club, for the most part; its upper reaches patrolled by the same formidable junk yard dogs – the Scolaris, the Muricys, and the Luxemburgos. In the face of these fearsome mutts, timid, more studious types (such as bookish Caio Junior, who once sprouted stubble in an attempt to shake off his Harry Potter tag) are just so much roadkill.

Never was this more evident on Friday, when Mano Menezes was forced to walk the plank while CBF chiefs José Maria Marin and Marco Polo del Nero hooted from the rigging, and chief selector Andrés “I voted to keep him” Sanchez skulked down in the galley.

Political manoeuvring is the grease that oils the wheels of futebol Brasileiro. The support of the Blue Label supping exec that got you the job in the first place will be your ruin when his inevitable downfall comes, and he’s replaced by his Gold Label supping rival. It’s a little like New York vs. New Jersey in The Sopranos. Everyone’s supposed to be pulling in the same direction, though really they’re just waiting for it all to kick off and to chuck a few corpses in the dumpster.

So it was for Mano – the favoured pooch of former CBF president and renowned huckster Ricardo Teixeira. When Teixeira, Brazilian football’s Ozymandias, wandered off into the sunset, Marin got the nod as his successor. Under Marin, the CBF has become a São Paulo dominated affair, a state that has no shortage of potential Seleçäo managerial candidates (of which more later). Without Teixeira, only Sanchez offered lukewarm support, and Menezes was left flapping in the wind.

At the same time, the roaring of the villagers outside the castle gates grew louder by the day. Early results, particularly the apocalyptically awful Copa América campaign in 2011, didn’t help, and neither did a run of uninspiring friendly results, or that underwhelming showing at the Olympics.

The situation reached a nadir in September, during a putrid clash with South Africa in São Paulo, when many of the crowd booed the team and its manager. And there were plenty in the media who were ready to twist the knife – most notably Romario, whose remarkably vicious attacks on Menezes were in sharp contrast to the finesse he showed on the pitch. “Today’s a day for Brazil to set off fireworks and party!” he jeered dumbly on Friday night.

That Mano is too understated an individual to defend himself played straight into the hands of his enemies. Like Dunga before him, he had the air of an understudy throughout his time in charge. And with only an amateur playing career behind him, Menezes is no one’s former idol, has no ten million strong army of fans to provide him with vocal support. In Brazil, such a man is all too sackable, especially with those big dogs barking away over the fence in club football.

Which is a shame, as there have been recent signs that Brazil are on the right track. The return of Kaká has added some veteran smarts to the attack and eased some of the mental pressure on Neymar. And when freed from the constraints of playing with a traditional number 9, there has been a pleasing fluidity to the team’s forward movement, especially from Oscar and the inimitable Santos trickster.

Nor should anyone forget the extremely difficult conditions under which Menezes had to work. After taking over after the defeat to Holland in 2010, he found himself in charge of what was effectively Brazil`s Under-21 side, the squad shorn, through age, injury or loss of form, of almost its entire older generation, including such alumni as Julio César, Ronaldinho, Kaká, Maicon and Lúcio. Then there was that awful fixture list – hardly a competitive game in sight, one torpid friendly after another providing only the most listless motivation.

All in all, it’s hard to avoid the thought that Menezes has been harshly treated. Worryingly, it’s equally difficult to imagine any of his mooted replacements doing a much better job.

Many are championing Muricy Ramalho, the favourite of Chairman Marin. The Santos coach boasts an impressive record in domestic football, including three consecutive Brasileirão titles with São Paulo between 2006 and 2008. But his Libertadores record is feeble, other than a Neymar inspired triumph in 2011, and there is nothing to suggest that he has the kind of tactical nous that is required to succeed at international level. Felipão has the support of Del Nero, and fame as a copeiro (“cup specialist”), especially after his success in 2002. But his lamentable performance with Palmeiras over the last two years, which saw the São Paulo giants ignominiously relegated, has surely blotted his copy book.

Which may leave Tite as the housewives’ choice, assuming good old fashioned jingoism keeps foreign chancers such as Pep Guardiola (whose potential hiring was today described as “ridiculous” by Sanchez) at bay. On the basis of the last two years, when he led Corinthians to the Serie A title and then Libertadores glory, he has few local rivals. He’s a big, bruising pup too, and not saddled with Ramalho’s surliness or Felipão’s paranoia. The odd timing of Menezes’ sacking, combined with the news that a decision will only be forthcoming in January, suggests that given a decent showing in the Club World Cup in Japan, Tite may soon be barking the loudest.

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  • Walciran Rodriguez

    Mr. Young gives such a thorough examination of Brazilian football, perhaps he fancies himself as the new Brazilian coach. As a Brazilian I can’t deny that there is some truth in what he’s written, however it is as far as it can get from the whole picture. While in charge Mano Menezes didn’t manage to win a single game against the big guns in the world of football, what kind of team does he expect to face on the world cup? Iraq? Saudi Arabia? Qatar? doubtful.

  • RioRed

    He was re-building the side, something long overdue.
    Whoever the new coach is, he will face the same problems as Mano, the same pathetic, terrible calender, the same internal politics where the state federations tail wags the CBF’s dog, and the same lack of strength in depth. None of the serious candidates would do anything very different frm Mano.
    Brazilian football likes to think of itself as ‘all that’, 5-times world champion etc, but, domestically, it is run by corrupt, self-serving amateurs who bask in any glory but take no responsibility for any failure. Mano or not, that, unfortunately, will continue.

  • Walciran Rodriguez

    I couldn’t agree more RioRed, state federations are run by corrupts, CBF is run by corrupts, the national calendar sucks and all that. In general people don’t give a damn about it because CBF has taken the same route as the big clubs in International football. It’s not about the game it’s about the money.
    One can argue for instance that Man City has won a couple of titles, Man United is so victorious, Chelsea is European champions, etc etc. but we should know better.

    What Mano failed to deliver is the most simple thing about Brazilian football, “results” and he knows that better than anyone else, he coached Corinthians. Furthermore he was following on the same footsteps of Dunga, whom he succeeded, sticking with his own guns, sometimes very questionable, but ultimately failing to deliver. We would probably end up with another shortcoming on the next world cup.
    There is no guarantee we will win the next world cup, but I for one prefer to make changes as to follow on a proven and failed path.
    And yes, you’re right, most Brazilians, including myself, likes to think of Brazilian football as the 5-times world champions, and for all of our shortcomings, some mentioned by yourself, WE are 5-times world champions, a feat no other country has done so far, this is not a wish, it’s a fact.

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