“It’s a great question, but I really don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s the perception or the communication factor,” says Marcos Falopa.
During the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup in Hyderabad, this correspondent had an interaction with Marcos Falopa, the Brazilian coach, who was managing Myanmar then. Falopa was a coaching staff in the 1970 World Cup-winning Brazil side. Arguably the game’s most beautiful team, the Selecao in 1970 boasted of gems like Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Gerson, Tostao and the legendary Pele. According to Falopa, he had managed to work up a fine rapport with the greats.
Falopa lived a nomadic life as a coach. He travelled many continents. He even had a short stint as the head coach of East Bengal before signing off as the technical director of Barbados. But coming back to the point, during the interview, I asked Falopa the reason behind the relatively low-key presence of the Latin American coaches in Europe—the hub of football—despite their talent being widely acknowledged. “It’s a great question, but I really don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s the perception or the communication factor,” the veteran gaffer replied.
The World Cup in Russia has entered the business end and two coaches have shone the brightest—Uruguay’s Oscar Tabarez (notwithstanding his team’s exit in the quarterfinal) and Brazil’s Tite. Tabarez, the El Maestro, has been in charge of the Uruguay national team since 2006 and over the course of his ongoing tenure—four World Cup finals and counting—the 71-year-old, braving chronic neuropathy, changed Uruguayan football. The La Celeste (the Sky Blue) no longer play rough, hurly-burly football. They have embraced the discipline of the elite teams from Europe. More importantly, Tabarez has nurtured the likes of Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, Edison Cavani and Diego Godin.
Two years ago, writing a column for The National, Forlan gave a low-down on Tabarez’s management style and what made him a venerable boss. “As a person, he is very pleasant. He is very proper in his conduct and keeps a distance from the players, though he is happy to speak to any player about anything and I think some of the younger ones would consider him a father figure. He used to be a school teacher during his own playing days.
“Because he enjoys the players’ respect, and the team wins, the team spirit is excellent. Very few players fail to perform when given the chance because they find it so uplifting and because Tabarez has already identified that they are good enough,” Forlan wrote.
The former Manchester United striker gave an insight into the discipline aspect as well. “In 2009, before that Ecuador World Cup qualifier, Tabarez twice stated in the pre-match team talks that we needed to begin the game with 11 and finish with 11.”
During a very distinguished managerial career, Tabarez has managed many top clubs in South America. He worked his magic at Boca Juniors in Argentina. But AC Milan in 1996 remains his tenuous link to European royalty. Then club owner, Silvio Berlusconi, didn’t like Tabarez’s gentler approach, as Milan had slumped to ninth in Serie A with the Christmas season approaching. Berlusconi overlooked an ageing squad, the great Franco Baresi’s decline and ‘duly’ brought back Arrigo Sacchi, pushing Tabarez through the trapdoor on a Sunday night.
Move on to Tite, who won six trophies—including the Fifa Club World Cup—between 2011 and 2015 with Corinthians before taking charge of the national team in 2016. He came and unfettered Brazil from sterility. He brought back the Brazilian verve.
Even at Corinthians, Tite had always stressed upon making the whole unit greater than the sum of its parts. During a Brazilian Cup fixture against Gremio, when Alexandre Pato missed a Panenka penalty that knocked Corinthians out of the tournament, the boss was furious. Tite’s biography by Camila Mattoso revealed the dressing-room hairdryer. “You have to stop being selfish,” Tite told Pato. Little wonder then that in his Brazil team, players complement each other.
But it’s unlikely that the 57-year-old will get an offer from a European powerhouse anytime soon. South American managers usually don’t excite the top European club CEOs and the linguistic aspect is a reason. The Argentines somewhat have bucked the trend with Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino at Atletico Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively. Gerardo Martino had an unsuccessful year at Camp Nou. Manuel Pellegrini, the Chilean, won a Premier League title with Manchester City and he is now back in England to manage West Ham United. But they are the cases in isolation. The world’s most popular football league has miniscule managerial presence from across the Atlantic. A visionary like Marcelo Bielsa will be managing Leeds United in the Championship this term. To put things in perspective, Pep Guardiola calls him “the best coach in the world”. Things are better in the La Liga because of the Spanish-speaking connection.
Luiz Felipe Scolari, a World Cup-winning coach with Brazil, failed miserably at Chelsea. And one of the reasons for his failure was that he struggled with the English language. It prevented him from winning over the Stamford Bridge faithful. It created unrest in the changing room. Also, South American coaches usually put a lot of emphasis on individual brilliance. Football in Europe, on the other hand, thrives on the ‘team’ concept. The confluence of cultures is always a tricky subject.