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Mano Menezes: the Perfect Choice!

August 15, 2010

Mano: perfectly supportive!

It’s been a few days since Brazil’s dazzling display of samba soccer against the USA, and I’ve had some time to digest the sweetness of that victory – oh, so sweet – and think a lot about Mano Menezes as Brazil’s coach.  Truthfully, I’ve become a bit of a fanboy! That’s right, I’m big Mano supporter now, and I believe he is the perfect man for the job.

No, I haven’t become a fan of Mano simply because of this one victory, against a somewhat inferior opponent, in a match that many described as “pointless” – nothing more than a friendly game…

I’m a Mano fan because I genuinely believe him to be fantastically and effectively ‘mediocre’ – which makes him the perfect candidate to manage Brazil; a team traditionally filled with creative and untameable stars.

Personally, I believe that the role of the manager has currently become too important, too big. It is a relatively recent phenomena, but lately it’s simply getting out of hand. It bothers me that, when I watch a match on TV, the coaches seem to get just as much screen time (if not more, as in the case of Mourinho) as the players. That is simply silly, if you really think about it. When we give managers that much attention, they feel the need to become more active, and soon mere directions and game tactics become “philosophies” – something that is forced upon the players and manipulates the flow of the game. Perhaps that is exactly what some ‘hard’ and dysfunctional teams in Europe need, but when it comes to Brazil – a team that is traditionally creative and plays on improvisation – the results could be disastrous. Yes, Dunga, I’m looking at you.

In absolute pain, I endured listening to English analysts on TV praise Brazil’s “tactics” and “organization” during this last World Cup. While everyone in Brazil complained about the ‘death of Jogo Bonito’, English fans were having a ‘Brazil renaissance’ it seemed; loving our solid defense, superb fitness and fast counter attacks  – since when have those things been associated with Brazil, or Latin American soccer for that matter? The answer is ‘never’, and the reason for that is simple: in our culture, we don’t have the stoic and balanced kind of mental preparation that are required in order to plan ahead and play ‘organized’ soccer. Brazilians play well and effectively when left alone; when not pushed around by an angry commander who gets to dictate the order of business. Being ‘tough’ does not work for Brazil. That would be a recipe for total failure. It may work for a while, after all, Dunga did get positive results in the years prior to the World Cup: he won both the Copa America and the Confederations Cup, bronze in Beijing, and took the team to South Africa at the very top of the qualification table. However, in the end he fumbled, and none of those victorious competitions was a smooth ride. In fact, they were all quite bumpy. Dunga’s team was constantly criticized and questioned every step of the way. There were silly losses and many scoreless draws. But what truly annoyed the fans was the lethargic pragmatism in the new ‘Brazilian’ style of play – resulting in a lack of creativity from what once was a dazzling midfield. Indeed, in the end, if we look at the results, Dunga did win more than he lost. But he never convinced the fans in Brazil. And what’s worse: nobody was having fun. Dunga and his players were working, not playing. They were working at being ‘organized’. Screw the colourful joy that had always been associated with Brazil, Dunga wanted to win at all costs; even if that meant throwing the fun and our history out the window.

In the very end, of course, things did not quite work out for Dunga. A fit of rage and petulance fell upon him and his players in the World Cup match against Holland, and Brazil were defeated and sent home after a poor second half. The most organized and physically fit defensive line on the planet turned out to be a hoax. It was all styrofoam. The boys from Brazil were not able to pull off Dunga’s tough and Germanic philosophy. When finally pressed, they cracked. It was like trying to force a Southern Italian into quitting wine, or a Japanese business man into sleeping in.

It just didn’t fit.

I wonder what that team would have been like with Dunga out of the picture – literally, because I think there were just as many replays on TV of Dunga throwing tantrums by the sidelines as there were of the goals. I wonder what Brazil could have done had it had zero ‘philosophy’ in that match against Holland. What would have happened if Dunga had fallen ill hours before the game, and couldn’t have left his bed? Oh, I wonder. I wonder what the Brazilians would have done had they been all by themselves, playing, passing, deciding to have a good time for the heck of it…we would still probably have lost the game, but I am certain that we would not have lost our heads. Not like that. That anger we saw was a side effect of Dunga’s “fight to the death” sense of warlike direction.

“Direction”…that makes me think of theatre…

Similarly to the role of the manager in soccer, the role of the theatrical director has perhaps become larger than necessary.  In Shakespeare’s days, there was no such thing as a ‘director’; a man with a ‘vision’ for the play. Nada. Players worked on their lines on their own, met up at the theatre hours before curtain call, worked on some ideas for staging and such, and then showtime! That was it. There was no one commanding the action but the action itself. It was all on the players, on their creativity, and on the beauty – and pleasure – of making things up as they went along. The role of the modern director didn’t originate until the 19th century, when it was fashionable in Europe to stage massive spectacles that involved hundreds of extras and dancers – making it a necessity to have an outside pair of eyes able to oversee the action. A cast of 11 players on the soccer pitch doesn’t seem to require the same level of attention – in my humble opinion.

When Brazil won their first two World Cups, in 1958 and 1962, managers were not allowed to make substitutions during the game. Not even in the case of injuries. It is even said that our 1958 manager, Vicente Feola, used to take naps on the bench during the games. As far as he was concerned, his job was done. He had picked his players, trained them during practice, and sent them off to play. That was it. There was no need to stand up and shout during a game; that time was reserved for the players to show initiative and direct the action. When you go to the theatre, do you see the director shouting from the audience, or is the cast free to drive the story and make their own choices?

Think of Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s manager in South Africa. Did he ever leave his seat during that entire month? Did he even open his mouth?? I didn’t see a thing. What I did see, though, was David Villa and Iniesta putting on a show, figuring things out for themselves; and the final result: Spain World Champions.

Now….going back to Menezes, and why he is the perfect man for Brazil.

Internationally, Mano Menezes  is a question mark. No one knows the man. As a player, he never joined any big teams and was regarded as ‘average’. Instead of trying to truly “make it” as a player, he chose to go to university to study Kinesiology and Business Administration. And then he became an expert at managing teams from the second and third divisions that were sunk in crisis. Two of these teams, Gremio and Corinthians, were resuscitated back into the premier division with amazingly subtle and solid skills by Mano and his players.  He’s never bragged about those accomplishments, rather, he’s always emphasized the importance of making his players feel comfortable and calm in order to do the job on their own. That is what I mean by “effectively mediocre”. He takes the back seat. Mano, wisely, chooses not to drive the action. He is not a star. He simply empowers his players with trust, and guides them through the difficult moments.

After the victory against the USA, when asked what kind of instructions the team had received from Mano, Paulo Ganso said “he gave us a lot of freedom from the very beginning, and before the match he simply said now you go ahead and play, you know how“.  Indeed, precisely the kind of direction that Brazil need. That is it. With that simple instruction ringing in their hearts – and with Mano calmly seated during the whole match – the boys were 10 times more creative against the USA than Dunga’s Selecao ever was in four years. The midfield, quick passes and cheeky dribbles became once again the main sources for goals; and strikers acted as true strikers: scoring. Dunga’s tacticts relied on counter attacks for goals. His wing-full backs, Maicon and Bastos, were the true stars of the show. The midfield and the usual dribbling flair of Brazilian forwards were abolished under Dunga’s management.

But, thankfully, in his very first match, Mano cured Brazil of the Dunga disease.

We are, once again, free.


Neymar + Mano = 2014 success

A Brazilian Brazil: L-R (back): Thiago Silva, Pato, Andre Santos, David Luiz, Ganso, Victor. L-R (front): Dani Alves, Lucas, Neymar, Robinho (C), Ramires.

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