Brazilian power Flamengo on road back to greatness with Jorge Jesus
The Brazilian Championship reached the half way stage at the weekend -- and at the end of the most significant match of the round, a giant crowd in Rio's Maracana stadium were chanting "mister, mister."
This was not a bizarre homage to an obscure 1980s band from the United States. It was a tribute to a coach who has crossed the Atlantic to ignite the best and most promising season Brazil has enjoyed for some time.
During the mid-year pause for the Copa America, Flamengo of Rio appointed Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, a former boss of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. This was not an easy step to take. Brazil has a fiercely proud footballing culture. Why would the country that has won the World Cup five times need to import foreign coaches?
The answer is that football is a dynamic process. There was a considerable foreign influence paving the way for Brazil to achieve greatness in the game. Coaches from Uruguay, Argentina and Hungary all made a contribution. In the shadow of the triumphs, this was forgotten. Mental atrophy set in. Meanwhile, the voracious desire for victory -- or to avoid defeat -- put intense pressure on Brazilian coaches. Job security was minimal, and an over-cluttered calendar robbed them of time on the training ground. The logical consequence was an over-cautious approach, defending deep and relying on the counter attack. Winning was seen as the game's sole virtue. An oft-repeated phrase sums it up; "if you want to see a spectacle, go to the theatre."
Last year the limitations of this were all too clear. Despite a hefty financial advantage over their continental rivals, for the fourth year in five no Brazilian side made it through to the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. And Brazilian team after Brazilian team bowed out through an excess of caution.
Flamengo have reacted. They have dared to do something different. Jorge Jesus has turned up with a high defensive line and a desire that his team impose themselves on the game. His team has soared to the top of the table, and the way they have done it has captured the imagination. He is the 'mister' in question -- the word, with its English roots, used for coaches in a number of European countries. The Flamengo crowd roared their approval of the work of Jorge Jesus after his side beat Santos on Saturday in a clash that pitted the top team in the table against the side lying second.
But in a way, the work of the Santos coach is even more impressive. Flamengo have plenty of money, and have used it to build a squad of admirable depth, full of attacking options. Santos cannot count on anything like the same resources. They have lost key players -- strikers Gabriel and Bruno Henrique to Flamengo, as well as the highly promising Rodrygo to Real Madrid. Santos have got close to the top of the table on a shoestring, but with a swagger. They too have a swashbuckling approach. They too have a foreign coach, the Argentine Jorge Sampaoli.
A change is clearly taking place. A battle is taking place for the soul of the domestic Brazilian game, and, for the moment at least, those who want to attack are winning.
The crowds are clearly enjoying it. Ten of the first division's 20 clubs have average crowds of over 20,000. The overall average is over 21,000. This is the highest figure for years -- and it is happening in the teeth of a dismal economic situation.
Domestic Brazilian football has massive potential -- which in recent times it has been ludicrously far away from realising. There are massive obstacles to overcome; the calendar makes no sense, the model of club administration is antiquated and the global scenario is unfavourable. But, with some help from foreign coaches, the first half of the 2019 season might go down as the moment when some of that potential could be glimpsed.