Tim Vickery Column: Some flaws In Muricy Ramalho's way of thinking
When someone is able to achieve prolonged success it is a clear sign of competence. This obviously applies to Muricy Ramalho, the most successful Brazilian coach of recent times. When Ramalho talks football, it is always worth listening.
He gave an extended interview to the sports daily ‘Lance!,’ published on Sunday. There are many interesting things in there, not least his line of thinking on the World Club Cup. Barcelona, he says, have shown time and time again that there is no point in sitting back against them and trying to play on the counter attack. Inter Milan fans may disagree, but Ramalho’s conclusion is that his best course of action is to take the game to the Catalan giants. Unless one of the teams suffers a mishap in the semi final, we shall find out next month if he is as good as his word.
But at the risk of being excessively negative, there was another part of the interview that most caught my attention. He was asked whether there was any chance of a coach in domestic Brazilian football being indicated for the FIFA award.
“No chance at all,” he replied. “The Europeans can be awarded 7 out of 10 and will only be worthy of 10 when they work in Brazil, with our conditions, salaries paid late and little structure… Mourinho and Guardiola are the best in the world, but the English are full of pose. They’ve been raised on milk and meat since they were small.”
This incoherence is significant, for a number of reasons. First there is the minor point -what on earth does he mean when he talks about English coaches? Who is he talking about? The national team and practically all the major clubs have foreign coaches. And if he is referring to foreign coaches who work in England, then until recently this included Jose Mourinho, who he considers the best in the world.
The minor point, then, leads to something more important - a lack of knowledge and cultural awareness of a world outside his own horizons. It seems to me that this same defect has been a factor in the failure of big name Brazilian coaches to make their mark in European club football. They can give the impression of being out of their depth when dealing with the multi-national, multi-cultural squads of the contemporary European scene - and to be fair there is little in Brazil to prepare them for this challenge. It is for this reason that I tend to think that when Brazilian coaches finally crack Europe, it is likely to be ex-players who spent time in the continent and have acquired the necessary cultural baggage.
But the major point on Muricy’s declaration comes at the start, when he argues that European coaches need to work in Brazilian conditions in order to prove themselves.
It is not a difficult argument to undermine, from two different directions. First, if we extend his line of thinking to its logical conclusion, then he would seem to be saying that the Brazilian coaches are the worst in South America, which I am sure is not his intention. Because if a deprivation of quality is the supreme test, then it has to be taken into account that the Brazilian coaches can count on the best players in the continent. Elsewhere in South America there are worse problems of structure, salaries paid even later (Universitario in Peru are five months behind) - and less quality in the playing staff. Does this make the Bolivian coaches the best in the world? They could turn round and say to Muricy that anyone can coach a side with Neymar in the line up. Try doing it with Bolivian players!
But the most worrying aspect of Ramalho’s rationalisation is its attempt to make a virtue of backwardness. It reminds me of the old way of thinking in English football, before the massive improvement in the quality of the pitches. Performances on the excellent surfaces of August and September were all very well, it used to be said, but let’s wait to see how the team copes with the mud heaps of December, January and February. Implicit in this argument was the idea that the good pitches were somehow unnatural, and the real test came on the bad pitches. This was backwardness turned into virtue, and it did a lot of harm to the development of the English game.
Ramalho’s argument is similarly harmful. He and other Brazilian coaches will criticize aspects of the local game - the insane calendar and the short term culture of sacking the coach after two defeats, for example. But if working with these conditions is mainly seen as a badge of honour, why bother to change them?