In the scatty, unpredictable world of short-termism that is Brazilian football Muricy Ramalho has been a shining beacon of stability over the last few years. In a country where the average lifespan of a coach is a mere matter of months, Ramalho’s stay at Sao Paulo was befitting that of a true veteran.
For over 3 years he roamed the touchline at the Estadio Morumbi overseeing a powerful juggernaut of a Sao Paulo side that stormed it’s way to three straight league titles, a first for a Brazilian team in domestic competition. You might think a hat-trick of championships would be enough to see a manager granted a certain amount of leeway in the event of any subsequent dip in fortunes, at least for a while. Not in Brazil.
Success breeds expectation in football, and this season the board of directors at Sao Paulo hoped for – no, expected a strong challenge from the team in the Copa Libertadores. It wasn’t meant to be; Ramalho’s men were knocked out cold in the quarter finals by eventual runners-up Cruzeiro. Ramalho was sacked as a consequence. And thus ended the longest, and indeed one of the finest, managerial spells in modern top-flight Brazilian football.
A former Sao Paulo player himself, Muricy Ramalho was idolised by many a fan of the club. In 1994 while in charge of Sao Paulo’s youth teams he helped the club win the now defunct Copa CONMEBOL crown, equivalent of the UEFA Cup. He discovered legendary keeper Rogerio Ceni in the youth teams at the time, now Sao Paulo’s most capped ever player.
But although he won three straight league titles he was sometimes criticised for building a team considered all power and no craft, bully boys rather than samba maestros (an unfair gripe given the astonishing level of success). In 360 games in charge Ramalho oversaw 194 wins, 100 draws and 66 defeats.
Given this superb record, what really serves as a fine indicator of the myopia prevalent in Brazilian domestic football is the fact that Ramalho’s sacking did not even come as a surprise. It was almost to be expected – as though he had gone long enough at the helm of the Tricolor Paulista. As though, no matter the trophies, it was all going a bit stale. In just three years!
No bother. Ramalho has since dusted down and taken his coaching manuals with him across town to Palmeiras, who now sit top of the Campeonato Brasileiro. Coincidence?
For a country so often perceived as fun-loving and laid back, the sheer level of hastily carried out sackings certainly raises eyebrows. Three coaches have lost their jobs this week already, to add to the other 23 sackings in Brazil this year. Waldemar Lemos (Atletico Paranaense) and Emerson Leao (Sport Recife) lost their jobs after just 10 games each. Lemos had left his previous job at Nautico after only 3 months.
What is the reason for this culture of constant manager instability?
Well there are numerous explanations, but three in particular stand out:
1, Impatient chairmen and their eagerness to shift blame onto coaches.
2, Over-reactionary fans.
3, The impossibility of solid team building due to the constant outward stream of top talent.
Coaches in Brazil often face an uphill task from the off, particularly those at the bigger clubs. At clubs like Flamengo, Corinthians and Sao Paulo expectations are always high and yet the reality of the situation is that the better a team performs the more likely European scouts are to hand-pick it’s best players. This vicious circle means establishing a winning rhythm that brings success and trophies is extremely difficult – a fact that makes Ramalho’s 3 titles at Sao Paulo all the more remarkable.
Add to this countless groups of overzealous fans not renowned for patience and a body of chairmen and presidents who will always look elsewhere when it comes to apportioning blame and it becomes easier to see why coaches in Brazil live on such a constant knife-edge.
It is a trend that is unlikely to change in the near future.