Muricy and the Ganso question

Two months ago, on the eve of Ney Franco’s dismissal from São Paulo, I floated the theory that Muricy Ramalho would soon return to the club after four years away. And I wasn’t the only one.

It soon emerged that a return for Muricy would be too costly for the São Paulo board at that moment and another former coach, Paulo Autuori, was called in to fill the vacancy instead. Three wins in 17 matches later, Autuori was sacked and with desperation kicking in, Muricy was brought back.

With São Paulo entrenched in a relegation fight, Muricy has nothing to lose upon returning to the Morumbi. If he manages to steer them to safety, he will be the hero; if they eventually suffer relegation, he will argue that the damage was done before his arrival.

The 1-0 win in his first match in charge, at home to Ponte Preta, proves very little. Ponte Preta did not pose much of a threat to São Paulo, and footballers often give above-average performances under a new coach in an attempt to impress and consolidate their place in the team. São Paulo has a difficult month of fixtures ahead and once the “Muricy novelty” wears off, it will be interesting to see where they stand come October.

São Paulo has long been recognised as having one of the best squads in Brazil, an invention with which I struggle to agree. They do have some supremely talented players, like Luis Fabiano and Ganso, and several with great work-rate and fitness, but few are well-rounded or complete. In fact, I regard Jadson as being the only complete player in São Paulo’s squad, someone who has talent, technique, ability and creativity.

Besides Jadson, the São Paulo squad is bursting with creative players who can’t mark, quick wingers with no creativity and hard-workers with no ability. Even more worrying is that Jadson’s role in the squad is being marginalised and he is played out of position (or left on the bench) in order to make space for Paulo Henrique Ganso.

Ney Franco and Paulo Autuori struggled with the Ganso question and their inability to find a suitable solution ultimately contributed to their downfall. When the club’s backroom staff brought the playmaker to the Morumbi for R$ 24 million in 2012, São Paulo already had Jadson playing in Ganso’s position and on magnificent form. Due to the exceptional amount of money spent on the transfer, there was huge pressure placed on the head coach to select him and get him playing well. However, one year into his São Paulo career, Ganso has yet to look comfortable in the tricolor shirt.

Not long before he was given his marching orders, Paulo Autuori uncovered a potential solution to the Ganso question. Two weeks ago, with Luis Fabiano suspended for an away match against Botafogo, Autuori set up São Paulo in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Ganso as a false nine. With Jadson and Lucas Evangelista marking the opposition full-backs and Osvaldo making bursting runs from attacking midfield, Ganso was allowed the freedom to focus on his own game, staying in advanced positions and organising São Paulo’s attacking moves.

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The match finished 0-0, but it was one of São Paulo’s most convincing performances of the season and they successfully neutralised an excellent Botafogo team.

Unfortunately, this was the one and only time São Paulo has played that way, as Luis Fabiano returned from suspension for the following match and went back to his role as centre-forward. Luis Fabiano is a poacher who, like Ganso, contributes nothing to defensive phases. When they play together, the rest of the team is left with much more work to do and they are easily overrun in midfield.

That is not to say that they cannot play together, but when a team plays with these talented “luxury” players, these players need to make up for their lack of defensive work by scoring goals or providing assists.

Brazil is full of good examples of this type of attacker, such as D’Alessandro at Internacional, Douglas at Corinthians, Valdivia at Palmeiras and Alex at Coritiba. Neither of them make much of a contribution to their team’s defensive play, but all of them consistently create goals.

Paulo Autuori’s last match in charge, a 2-0 away defeat to Coritiba, highlighted this perfectly. On one side there was Luis Fabiano and Ganso; on the other, Alex.

Luis Fabiano and Ganso were easily marked and made next to no impact on the match. Alex organised his entire team, created several chances and scored both of Coritiba’s goals. He didn’t mark, he didn’t need to.

Against Ponte Preta on Thursday evening, Ganso played a good through ball for Luis Fabiano to score the only goal of the match, justifying their selection.

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You can’t repeat the past

At the time of writing, Ney Franco is still the head coach of São Paulo. By the time you read this, he will most likely have been dismissed. In his time at the club (one year to the day) São Paulo has neither worsened nor improved. In fact, the club has been stuck in the mud since 2009, since the sacking of Muricy Ramalho.

In four years at São Paulo, Muricy transformed the club into a winning machine, racking up three consecutive national championship titles, making them the first club to achieve such a feat since Pelé’s Santos in the 1960s. However after a poor state championship campaign in 2009, club president Juvenal Juvêncio gave him his jotters – but more about him later.

Since 2009, São Paulo has been through six different head coaches. Ricardo Gomes, Sérgio Baresi, Paulo César Carpegiani, Adílson Batista, Emerson Leão and now Ney Franco. The club has just one trophy to show for the last four years: the 2012 Copa Sul-Americana, won under the command of Ney Franco.

Each of their six former head coaches has a different style of working. The squad has undergone continuous changes, too. The only constant at the club is the old man at the end of the corridor: president Juvenal Juvêncio.

If there was any doubt about who makes the decisions at São Paulo, then this week’s news of the sale of right-back Paulo Miranda to Olympique Marseille and the arrival of Boca Juniors left-back Clemente Rodríguez should clarify the distribution of power. Both signings have been made while Ney Franco is about to lose his job, with no replacement in line to take over.

In May, the day after São Paulo was eliminated from the Copa Libertadores by Atlético-MG, Juvenal marched into the club’s training ground and presented a list of seven first-team players he decided would no longer play for the club and would be sold immediately.

Paulo Henrique Ganso, signed from Santos months after Ney Franco took the job, was brought by Juvenal and his cronies. It is suspected that Ney Franco was not keen on the transfer, and a struggle to shoehorn Ganso into São Paulo’s line-up has become a stick for which to beat the departing coach.

Juvenal’s authoritarian regime is what is holding São Paulo back. The club has invested millions in their infrastructure, training and medical facilities and the playing squad itself, but it will be for nothing unless proper political change happens within the Morumbi.

It is likely that Muricy Ramalho will return to São Paulo to fill Ney Franco’s vacancy. As an idol of the fans, he would be given more time and patience to try to turn things around. However, when the group disintegrates in Juvenal’s hands once again, Muricy will not be spared.

This week, I went to the cinema to watch Baz Luhrmann’s remake of “The Great Gatsby”. I am reminded of the novel’s famous line in which Nick tells Gatsby that he cannot repeat the past. I picture Juvenal Juvêncio today, sitting on the balcony of his luxury home overlooking the Marginal Pinheiros (a far less glamorous, smellier version of Manhasset Bay) and hearing one of his advisers utter those same words.

“Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!”

And with that, São Paulo beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

São Paulo bow to (Ney) Francoism

There has been a distinct lack of tactical interest in this year’s Campeonato Brasileiro. A large majority of teams play a similar style of football, heavily based on long balls, aerial play, and individualism. Petty fouls and simulation are also rampant, resulting in several drab, stop-start matches which are often reduced to two or three players repeatedly attempting individual moves until they inevitably get one right. Few sides actually play as a team, with the exception of (strangely enough) the top four.

Top of the pile – and with good reason

First and second-placed respectively, Fluminense and Atlético-MG play more or less the same system – a compact 4-2-3-1. What makes this formation so effective are the rapid transitions from defence to attack and vice versa. Continue reading São Paulo bow to (Ney) Francoism

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

To those with a cursory interest in Brazilian football, Marcelo Oliveira’s dismissal from Coritiba after two difficult away defeats may have seemed like rash decision making on behalf of the Paraná club, and yet another stock example of a Brazilian team giving their manager his marching orders at the first signs of tribulation.

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Continue reading Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.