After losing 4-1 at home to Palmeiras on Wednesday, Fluminense dismissed head coach Enderson Moreira with just under three months of the season remaining. Less than 24 hours later, they announced Sport Recife’s Eduardo Baptista as his replacement. The team’s form has dipped sharply, from top four challengers to winning just two of their last 13 league matches. They currently lie in 11th place and rock bottom of the form table.
This is hardly surprising when you consider that Fluminense have just hired their third different head coach of the league season, their fourth in 2015.
At the end of 2014, Fluminense fans received news that the team’s multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with health insurance operator Unimed – a partnership which lasted 15 years and provided Fluminense with a certain financial clout in the transfer market – had come to an end.
With a need to cut costs all of a sudden, there was an exodus of much of the team’s talent. Argentinian playmaker Dário Conca returned to China; Rafael Sóbis went to Mexico; first-choice full-backs Carlinhos and Bruno both headed down Via Dutra to São Paulo.
With the tightest of budgets, they were forced to look to the second division for replacements, without much success. The overall quality of the squad fell and their poor performance in the Rio de Janeiro state championship cost then head coach Cristóvão Borges his job.
Fluminense drafted in the well-intentioned but unconvincing Ricardo Drubscky as Cristóvão’s replacement, but after only eight matches (six in the state championships and two in the league) he was shown the door. It is rumoured that a falling out with star centre-forward Fred was the reason for Drubscky’s premature exit.
So it was that Enderson Moreira, who had already been fired from Santos and Atlético Paranaense earlier in the year, got the nod in another of the depressingly futile coaching changes of this year’s Brazilian championship.
In truth, despite a promising start under Enderson, Fluminense have been a below-average football team since the beginning of the year, a problem that has only worsened with each coaching change.
The straw that broke Enderson’s back was Wednesday’s drubbing in front of their own fans against Palmeiras. It was a particularly odd match: both teams played horrendously in the first half, although a Jean goal allowed the home side a slender lead at the break.
However, in the second half, the game turned on its head. Palmeiras made some attacking switches, bringing on Rafael Marques, Agustín Allione and Lucas Barrios, and Fluminense’s defence began to make some spectacular errors under increased scrutiny. Self confidence played a part in Palmeiras’ turnaround: Fluminense looked less and less assured as time marched on, while the away side could smell blood. A barrage of goals, including a hat-trick for Paraguayan forward Barrios, saw the game end 4-1 in Palmeiras’ favour.
Fluminense’s decline under Enderson Moreira coincided with the club’s harebrained attempt to resuscitate the career of ex-Brazilian international Ronaldinho Gaúcho.
At the end of his spell at Atlético Mineiro, in the first half of 2014, Ronaldinho was for all intents and purposes an ex-footballer. He would move little on the pitch, his role reduced to that of an expensive set-piece taker. After terminating his contract with the club, it appeared Ronaldinho would finally ride off into the Rio de Janeiro sunset and start living – without all that pesky football to distract him.
This was not the case, as two months later Ronaldinho went walking once more, this time to Mexico, where he signed for Querétaro. After less than a year in North America (presumably not long after realising Querétaro lies almost 2,000km from Cancún), Ronaldinho wanted out.
Fluminense, for reasons I have yet to understand, got their chequebook out and lured Ronaldinho back to Rio.
His Fluminense career has been disappointing up to this point: marked out of games by average defenders and the proud owner of a 63% pass completion rate.
His fall from grace was complete on Wednesday evening, as when Fluminense were on the ropes, needing a bit of inspiration and a goal to keep them in the match, Ronaldinho remained on the bench, unused, not even sent to warm up.
There were suggestions of a rift between Ronaldinho and Enderson, perhaps another decisive factor in the latter’s sacking.
Though Flu have a six point cushion between themselves and Goiás, who are the first team in the relegation zone, as well as some relatively straightforward fixtures still left to play, they cannot ignore the spectre of the drop zone. As pointed out by the excellent Brazilian journalist Paulo Vinicius Coelho, their points total of 34 is identical to where they were this time two years ago, when they ended in 17th place and would have been relegated, had Portuguesa not been docked points for fielding an ineligible player in the final round.
Photo: Ernesto Carriço