Jair Ventura's criticism of Flamengo's new boss Reinaldo Rueda unwarranted
Rio de Janeiro rivals Flamengo and Botafogo are about to meet in the Brazilian Cup semifinal of (first leg on Wednesday, return game a week later). Extra spice has been added to the rivalry after Flamengo appointed a new coach and their choice would not appear wholly to the liking of his Botafogo counterpart.
On Monday Flamengo presented Reinaldo Rueda, who last year led Atletico Nacional in his native Colombia to triumph in the Copa Libertadores. Rueda's impressive experience includes taking Ecuador to the last World Cup and Honduras to the one before that. He made his name as a youth specialist, reaching the semifinals of the 2003 Under-20 World Cup with Colombia.
Botafogo's Jair Ventura is not as accomplished, but he is only starting and has done so in fine style. Son of 1970 World Cup legend Jairzinho, he stepped up from the youth ranks to take charge of the first team a year ago -- when many of the club's supporters thought the team was destined for relegation. Instead they qualified for this year's Libertadores, where, after eliminating Rueda's Atletico Nacional, they have now reached the quarterfinals.
On Monday night, Jair gave an interview where he voiced his fears for the future of Brazilian coaches.
"We are already losing space abroad. Soon we'll be losing space here in Brazil as well," he said. "Clubs should be looking at candidates from here first, and only afterwards look abroad. This [Flamengo's hiring of Rueda] is not something I look well on."
The following day Jair issued a statement attempting to clarify his position.
"Brazilian clubs have the legitimate right to hire foreign coaches," he said.
He stressed that his goal is "to defend a higher value being put on Brazilian coaches, allowing them to compete on equal conditions with foreign coaches in the external market. Unfortunately our coaching licence still does not give us this right."
Jair is correct. Unlike Argentina, there is no Brazilian coaching licence accepted as a valid qualification by UEFA. But this is an internal problem, which the local FA, the CBF, and the trainers' association should have sorted out many years ago.
It is also almost certainly true that historically Brazilian coaches have been undervalued internationally. Credit for international triumphs has usually been given to the individual brilliance of the players, overlooking the tactical framework in which such talent has been able to shine.
Brazil, for example, pioneered the use of the back four. When they first used it in 1958, they did not concede a goal until the semifinals. The 1970 team was a clear pioneer of modern 4-2-3-1 formations, with the entire side, bar centre-forward Tostao, retreating behind the line of the ball when they lost possession. Brazilian coaches have done much to promote the balance between attack and defence which is the hallmark of a well-trained team.
But -- and this is the key point which Brazilian football appears to have forgotten -- such advances did not fall out of the sky. They were part of a process. And foreign coaches, working in Brazil, made a massive contribution.
Flamengo are an excellent example. They had an all conquering team in the mid-1950s under the command of a Paraguayan, Fleitas Solich. He was originally seen as the leading candidate to take charge of the team that went on to win the 1958 World Cup. Some years earlier the club had brought in the Hungarian Dori Kurschner, who was an important tactical influence. And Zizinho, perhaps Zico's biggest rival for the throne of the club's best ever player, used to sing the praises of the Uruguayan Ondino Viera, who he rated as the best strategist in the game.
Brazilian football became a global power as a consequence of a restless search for ideas, and a process of learning from those who had something to offer. But, and this is an object cautionary tale about the perils of success, once they started winning World Cups, too much of that curiosity was left by the roadside. Instead of the outcome of a process, success came to be seen as a natural birthright -- which helps explain why in recent times Brazilian football has been punching below its weight.
The question of the coaching licence does not help. But there is another explanation for the lack of opportunities given to Brazilian coaches abroad. What have they done to merit such a chance?
The last two big name Brazilians to go to the European club game, Vanderlei Luxemburgo with Real Madrid and Luiz Felipe Scolari with Chelsea, came unstuck for similar reasons. Mentally they seemed wedded to Brazil, as if their only idea was to attack down the flanks with the full-backs. Opponents got wise, blocked the forward runs of the full-backs and attacked the vulnerable space behind them.
The best name who has appeared since is that of current national team boss Tite, who recently took time off from coaching to go and study European club football -- where, however much it might hurt Brazilian sensibilities, the best football is currently being played.
Such learning has done wonders for the Brazilian national team -- just as an in depth study of Spain has done wonders for the development of Germany. The exchange of ideas benefits the game -- but the bulk of Brazilian football has kept itself in isolation, and paid the price. The arrival of someone like Rueda, who might just bring something different, is a development which should be celebrated, not criticized.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.