Stick to what you know

In yesterday’s blog, I pointed out that Atlético-MG could cause Newell’s Old Boys some serious problems if they were “willing to open up in search of an away goal”. They weren’t.

Newell’s looked vulnerable in defence. Full-backs Casco and Cáceres left too much space behind them, centre-backs Heinze and Vergini made mistakes every time they were put under pressure and even Nahuel Guzmán, the goalkeeper, had some unconvincing moments. Fortunately for them, Atlético failed to capitalise on any of these weaknesses. Apart from one spurned opportunity from Bernard in the first half, Newell’s were comfortable throughout and earned a 2-0 lead to take into the second leg.

Atlético’s downfall was their over cautiousness. As expected, they adopted a more withdrawn approach and instead of their usual fluid 4-2-3-1 system, Cuca arranged his side in a rigid 4-4-1-1. The back four stayed excessively deep – even usually ultra-attacking right-back Marcos Rocha – and wingers Bernard and Diego Tardelli played defensive roles, tasked with marking their opposing full-back.

Cuca’s thought process was understandable for the most part: Newell’s break quickly and when they do, they play the ball directly to the excellent Ignácio Scocco in attack. (While the quality of Argentinian domestic football is patchy, Scocco is a Champions League-level centre-forward and Cuca knows it.) By keeping the back line planted and close to the penalty area, Cuca hoped to reduce Scocco’s space whenever possible.

The problem is that Atlético do not have the squad to successfully play a deep, contained tactical system. When Galo don’t have possession, Ronaldinho Gaúcho becomes a passenger. The same can be said for Bernard and Diego Tardelli, while Marcos Rocha is easily found out when he is asked to defend.

Newell’s, constantly invited to attack their Brazilian visitors, eventually found gaps and scored their goals. If it wasn’t for Victor in the Atlético goal, the tie would already be over. As it stands, Galo will need a huge performance at the Independência to have any chance of making the final.

Cuca has built a wonderful team at Atlético, capable of playing captivating and effective football. However he has not grasped how to properly organise a defensive system. He has been struggling with this for years, so perhaps he never will get it. Perhaps he should stick to what he knows best.

Note: I realise that this post could have been enhanced with visual aids of some sort, however I have recently bought a new laptop and as of yet do not have my old diagram templates. I will see to that soon!

Note 2: If you want to read more about Newell’s Old Boys and their playing style, check out this analysis that I did of them a while back. Still relevant.

The correct approach

After a three-week break for the Confederations Cup, the Copa Libertadores got back up and running last night with Olimpia’s spirited 2-0 home win against Independiente Santa Fe.

Credit must go to Olimpia coach Ever Almeida, as it was his tactical approach to the match that allowed the Paraguayans to remain on the front foot throughout. Almeida arranged his side in a 3-5-2 formation which annulled Santa Fe on several fronts. Firstly, Olimpia had an extra centre-back to protect against the Colombians’ rapid forward duo of Jefferson Cuero and Wilder Medina. The system also allowed them to play three men in central midfield to compete with Santa Fe’s own midfield trio, which is notoriously physical. Finally, against the narrow 4-3-1-2 shape favoured by Santa Fe, Olimpia’s wing-backs were allowed to operate with vast spaces in front of them, ideal for attacking the flanks and delivering crosses into the penalty area.

Santa Fe paid the price for procrastination and in failing to make changes in the second half they allowed Olimpia to stay in control of the game and ultimately score their two goals. It was naïve of them to remain with three forwards, especially when 1-0 down. It may have cost them a place in the final.

The other semi-final kicks off this evening, as Newell’s Old Boys host Atlético-MG in Rosario. Currently Newell’s are by far and away the best side in Argentina, but the gap in quality is so large between the domestic leagues of Argentina and Brazil, that it is Atlético who must be considered as favourites to reach the final.

Both sides play a similar style of football: direct, high tempo and with plenty of pressure on the ball. The main difference between them is that Atlético favour long, sweeping balls to their quick forwards, while Newell’s prefer to play short, fast, vertical passing moves.

Away from home and without either of their first-choice centre-backs (Leonardo Silva is injured and Réver suspended), I expect Atlético to adopt a more withdrawn approach than usual. With a more static defence, they can position themselves deeper in their own half and use Ronaldinho’s vision and technique to release Bernard and Diego Tardelli in the attacking third.

Though most of the attention is being placed on the central players of each side, this match may well be won on the flanks.

For Atlético, Marcos Rocha pushes so high from right-back that he often acts as an extra attacker. If the Brazilians are willing to open up in search of an away goal, they may be able to create something on that wing. Newell’s left-back Milton Casco is not the best marker, and their left-sided centre-back, former Argentina international Gabriel Heinze, has poor lateral movement and does not cover well. If Atlético can create some 2 vs. 1 situations on the right, they could cause their hosts real problems.

While all this is going on, the first leg of the Recopa Sul-Americana will be played between São Paulo and Corinthians, at the Morumbi. The Recopa is South America’s answer to the Super Cup, but as the two major continental tournaments (the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sul-Americana) are played at different times of the year, I’ve never understood the relevance of this particular trophy.

For what it’s worth, it will be interesting to see how Corinthians function without Paulinho, who has sealed his transfer to Tottenham. There were similar discussions after the departures of Jucilei and Elias, but Paulinho will be more difficult to replace. He has been the heartbeat of Tite’s Corinthians team for so long now, and they may require a significant amount of time to adjust to his absence.

A ida do parlapatão; a volta do garotão

Ontem, o Grêmio confirmou a volta do Renato Gaúcho no lugar do ex-técnico Vanderlei Luxemburgo.

Em seus dezesseis mêses no cargo, Luxemburgo não entregou o resultado que a diretoria do Grêmio esperava. Mesmo com grande investimento para contratações, a campanha gremista na Copa Libertadores deste ano foi um fracasso.

Há anos que o Luxemburgo não é mais o mesmo. Foi engolido pela vaidade e a fama. Desde seus tempos no comando da seleção, vive em busca de elogios e publicidade e, aos poucos, se tornou numa caricatura dele mesmo.

Mudar de técnico durante a temporada raramente dá certo. Às vezes, tem aquela ‘lua de mel’ no início, em que o time consegue uma sequência de bons resultados, talvez porque o elenco se esforça mais para impressionar o novo treinador. Mas, cedo ou tarde, tudo volta ao normal.

É por isso que não vejo mais o Grêmio entre as quatro vagas para a Libertadores do ano que vem. Tem pelo menos quatro times mais entrosados e melhor preparados.

No entanto, é muito bom ver o Renato Gaúcho de volta ao futebol brasileiro. Nunca entendi por que ele não recebeu mais elogios como treinador. Talvez seja por causa da imagem dele, do garotão da praia. Imagino que seria difícil ser levado a sério quando todo mundo só consegue pensar em você na Copacabana, de sunga.

Renato ainda não é um ótimo treinador, mas é um bom treinador com potencial para se tornar ótimo, ou até excelente.

As diretorias de clubes brasileiros ainda têm medo da palavra ‘projeto’ – que, por acaso, é uma das palavras prediletas do Luxemburgo. Com demissões rápidas e sem segurança no cargo, técnicos brasileiros são mais cautelosos e o papel de treinador se reduziu ao de um cheerleader bem pago.

Renato Gaúcho, por ser ídolo da torcida gremista, tem chances de fazer um trabalho longo e bem sucedido no Grêmio. Tomara.

An apology and a trophy

I’d like to begin with an apology.

Over the past few months, work, family and the hectic environment that is São Paulo have kept me away from a true passion of mine: writing. Even watching football on television has been difficult, never mind going to the stadium, therefore finding the time to sit down at my desk and produce something fit for public consumption has been near impossible.

I am aware that none of you have been crying yourselves to sleep at night since my last article, but I am also aware that a number of you enjoy my work and are always eager to read more. To those kind people, sorry for the absence.

Though my present circumstances remain the same – work is still time-consuming and no-one seems keen on paying me to write about sport (offers are always welcome, by the way…) – I have decided to get back on the horse and resurrect ILFM.

Long features and detailed tactical analyses are out, for the time being, and in their place will be briefer and more frequent blog posts. Ideally I would like these to be daily, providing I can find a little time each day in which to write. Subjects will no doubt vary, language may also vary in order to please my lusophone followers (existe isso?).

The 2013 Confederations Cup came to a close last night and Brazil is champion once more. Yesterday’s was the first trophy the Seleção have won since I came to this country.

I have heard from fellow immigrants of a particular kind of schadenfreude that most ex-pats have felt at least once when Brazil lose. It’s understandable, the Seleção is huge business in Brazil, thus the idea of them being superior to all other nations is shoved down everyone’s throats by the media on an hourly basis. So it can be quite satisfying to see them fail miserably now and again.

For me though, ever since I arrived in Brazil I’ve only seen the Seleção disappoint. So last night was special for me on a personal note, though you’d have to be made of stone not to enjoy Brazil’s demolition of world champions Spain. Or, you’d have to be Spanish.

Although with all the goal-scoring, titan-clashing (Italy-Brazil, Brazil-Uruguay, Spain-Italy and Brazil-Spain in the space of two weeks? Yes please!) and lack of other football going on, it was easy to forget that the Confederations Cup is only really semi-competitive. Brazil defeating the world champions does not make them an excellent team, nor does Spain’s loss spell the end of a golden era. There are conclusions to be drawn from the last two weeks, but not terribly many.

Last night’s match, for example, was all about Brazil. Spain looked tired, having played 120 minutes in the cruel cearense heat on Thursday, while Brazil were fresh and more motivated than ever. From the first whistle Felipão’s men pressed Spain to within an inch of their lives and continued in that vein all evening. Special praise must be reserved for the superb tight marking jobs executed by Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo on Xavi and Iniesta, respectively. Spain were forced to retreat and play aimless long balls, while Brazil were able to play neat, attacking football.

The 3-0 scoreline was kind to Spain and unfair to Brazil, who in the end deserved four or five.

What has become clear from this Confederations Cup is how Brazil will approach most of their matches: high tempo and intense pressing in the first half; compact defending and quick counterattacks in the second half. From Japan through to Spain, each of Brazil’s performances followed this pattern.

It makes perfect sense. For the past twenty years Brazil has produced quick forwards and physical midfielders, thus their most potent weapon has become the counterattack. However Brazil cannot win a World Cup on home soil solely by playing on the break. They will be facing teams who will be content to position themselves deep in their own half, not leaving any space for the Brazil to exploit. Felipão’s strategy is simple: overload the opponent early and take the lead, then as they are obliged to play for an equaliser, Brazil can pick them off on the break.

The Confederations Cup has shown us that this Brazil side are capable of winning. Felipão has a great team at his disposal, but not yet an excellent one to match the likes of Spain, Germany or Argentina. That is their objective between now and next June.

Felipão may be a ten-year step in the wrong direction

As expected, the CBF have appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari, Felipão, as the new head coach of the seleção, replacing Mano Menezes. The clues were laid out for all to see when Felipão was appointed as a consultant to the Ministry of Sport at the end of September, not long after leaving his post as head coach of Palmeiras.

While on the one hand Mano Menezes is cold, serious and thoughtful, Felipão is charismatic, cheery, and has a far better connection with the Brazilian public. Considering the magnitude of the task of leading Brazil to the 2014 World Cup, Felipão’s personality fits the bill. Continue reading Felipão may be a ten-year step in the wrong direction

Responsibilities

Being in control of a football club comes with certain responsibilities. First and foremost, there is a responsibility to run the club honestly and within the law. Besides that, there is also a responsibility to take decisions with the club’s best interests at heart.

The ‘new European model’ of club ownership has never sat particularly well with me, with control going to the highest bidder, people with absolutely no connection or passion for a club are capable of taking full control of it. It turns football into pure business. Furthermore, the abhorrence of a wealthy entrepreneur using a football club as a bank for his/her own personal debt goes against everything I believe football should be.

While these owners are almost always portrayed as successful, savvy businessmen, in my opinion the most intelligent business decision would have been to swerve club ownership in the first place. There is precious little money to be made by owning a football club.

Back in my native Scotland, the recent situation with Rangers Football Club is a textbook example of a traditional club being (knowingly) run into the ground by the ridiculous overspending under the watch of previous owner and chairman Sir David Murray. A blatant lack of owner’s responsibility.

The South American model, where football clubs are social clubs and not businesses, is certainly more appealing on an ideological level, but in practice it is perhaps even more of a mess than the European style. For example in Peru, the league is currently in the midst of a momentous player’s strike, after hundreds of players throughout the top flight have gone without wages for several months thanks to the clubs’ maddening financial situations and haphazard administration. As a result of this chaos, the 2012 Peruvian league season kicked off last week with sides only able to field youth teams.

In Argentina, the politics surrounding the election of club presidents and officials has given rise to a new breed of football thuggery, the ‘professional hooligan’. Every big club in Argentina has their own organised group of thugs, known as a barra brava, who are essentially employed by the club in exchange for political backing. The barras are involved in all kinds of illegal behaviour, from ticket touting to drug dealing at stadiums, and they are a true poison in Argentine football.

Here in Brazil there is a different problem, as fan-elected administration has given rise to a painfully counter-productive culture of short-termism. When a manager is brought in to coach a Brazilian club, he is expected to bring success immediately, and if he fails to do so, he will most likely be out on his behind faster than you can say Copacabana.

Last week, southern side Grêmio sacked their manager Caio Júnior after a paltry eight weeks in charge of the club. During his brief reign, Grêmio only played eight competitive matches; all of them in the largely inconsequential opening stage of the Rio Grande do Sul state championship. Out of those eight matches, Grêmio won four, drew one, and lost three times. Strangely enough, that record was enough for Grêmio to qualify – fairly comfortably – for the knockout phase of the tournament.

Whether I believe that Caio Júnior was the right man or not for Grêmio job is not ad rem, the fact is that this was another in a long line of ridiculous dismissals. Anyone with half a brain can see that eight weeks is clearly not enough time for a coach to leave his mark on a team.

Grêmio are one of the worst offenders in this surge of short-termism, since 2003 they have changed manager 16 times (not including caretaker managers or the pending arrival of Vanderlei Luxemburgo).

This problem has ramifications that run far deeper than Brazilian domestic football however, as it has significantly stunted the development of Brazil’s home-grown coaches. Afraid that one bad result will cost them their job, Brazilian managers often revert to safer, more defensive tactics. In addition, managers are employed for such short time periods that they often do no more than motivate the players in the dressing room and pick a starting eleven. They end up playing the role of cheerleader instead of head coach.

With this in mind, is there really any wonder why there are no Brazilian coaches managing at top-level clubs? Or that in the Copa Libertadores, Brazilian sides are often eliminated by continental sides who play much more expansive and attacking football? If Brazil ever wants to be the world’s greatest footballing nation once more, people at all levels of the game need to start taking responsibility.

I would do anything for love… But I won’t do that

I posted this yesterday in Portuguese, and although I’m not a huge fan of translated articles, I thought I’d whip up a quick English version as this is quite an interesting subject for those outside of Brazil

At this time of the year in Brazilian football, the same old debates always surface regarding the infamous state championships. It is impossible to deny that they are no longer as relevant as in years gone by, and their continued existence should really be brought into question. However, that’s a discussion for another day. Continue reading I would do anything for love… But I won’t do that

Marcos: The Last of the Old Guard

I first became interested in Brazilian football because of its passion, rawness, and purity. Whenever a player celebrated a goal, it was like he had just slotted the winner in the World Cup final against Argentina in a packed Maracanã. Furthermore, players (and managers) were not afraid to get involved in arguments, punch-ups, or even full-scale brawls. Players were so emotionally invested in the game, and for someone used to the bright, shiny, commercialized Champions League (sponsored by Sony, Ford, MasterCard, Heineken, UniCredit…), this was so refreshing.

However, from fans and pundits alike, I heard constant complaints that Brazilian football was turning into the “futebol moderno” that was associated with the Champions League, and people were clamouring for a return to the football of the 90’s. Continue reading Marcos: The Last of the Old Guard