DOHA, Qatar — The Brazilian players seem to have already identified their preferred candidate. They knew, long before their quarter-final loss to Croatia expelled them from the World Cup, that Tite – the national team’s affable and cerebral coach for the past six years – would step down. Now they had decided that the most demanding job in international football would go to Fernando Diniz.
Diniz, 48, certainly had a solid record. The team’s senior statesmen, Daniel Alves and Thiago Silva, offered glowing credentials. So did some of the youngest members of the team, Antony and Bruno Guimaraes, who had worked with him early in their careers. More importantly, he had Neymar on board: as early as July, Brazil’s most influential star tweeted his admiration for Diniz.
Not everyone is so convinced. Ronaldo, the World Cup-winning striker who essentially functioned like a ghost while partying at that tournament, suggested he didn’t ‘see many options’ for Tite’s successor among Brazil’s coaches . Diniz, he said, was the best of them, but he was much more enthusiastic about the idea of something unheard of: appointing a foreigner to coach the Brazilian national team.
Italian Carlo Ancelotti, Spaniard Pep Guardiola, Portuguese Abel Ferreira were all, according to Ronaldo, more attractive. “I get a good feeling from those names,” he said.
Brazil aren’t the only country that left Qatar earlier than expected that finds itself struggling with this problem. A quarter of the teams in the tournament had barely collected their luggage from the carousel before parting ways with their managers. A couple, the Netherlands and Spain, moved quickly to name replacements. Six others begin their search for candidates. A handful of others, including England and Portugal, could still join them.
This task, however, is not as easy as it seems. Leading a national team is not – and hasn’t been for some time – the pinnacle of a coaching career. Many of football’s best-loved managers, obsessives who struggle to fine-tune their complex and intricate systems on a daily basis, find the disjointed nature of international football unappealing.
A short guide to the 2022 World Cup
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Nor is it necessarily clear that a rich and impressive resume in club football is a reliable guide to success with a country. Only three coaches from Qatar had, for example, won the Champions League: the German Hansi Flick, the Spaniard Luis Enrique and Louis van Gaal, the Dutch coach. Only van Gaal will be satisfied with his tournament. Flick’s team left after the group stage, Enrique’s in the round of 16.
Successful managers, on the other hand, have much more muted backgrounds. Frenchman Didier Deschamps made a Champions League final in 2004 and won a French title with Marseille in 2010. Morocco coach Walid Regragui built a fine career in his native country, leading Wydad Casablanca to the African Champions League this spring.
But Argentina’s Lionel Scaloni has no club experience – he was given the national team job after impressing with the national under-20 team – while Zlatko Dalic, the Croatian manager, has worked in Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for nearly a decade before he was named by his nation in 2017. Neither could have been described as a glamorous rental.
And then, of course, there is the question of nationality. Many countries, generally in what might be called the developing world of football, have long imported coaches. In major sports nations, however, it remains a significant step and not without controversy.
“The national team is ours,” as Rivaldo, another Brazilian great, said this week. “He must be coached by someone with Brazilian blood running through his veins.”
There’s nothing in the rules that requires a country’s national team to be led by someone born, raised or otherwise related to that place, of course. And a literal interpretation of Rivaldo’s tough stance is most likely unachievable in a world of layered fluid identities.
It’s hard not to feel, however, that this comes close – in the case of the football powerhouses – to negating the idea, the purpose, of international football. These tournaments, after all, are essentially a test of the strength of a country’s footballing culture: the ideas it has (or borrowed and adapted), the players it can produce.
In the case of Brazil, this culture has a big flaw when it comes to managers. The reason Ronaldo, for his part, isn’t entirely convinced by Diniz’s suitability is, most likely, because Diniz has coached more than a dozen clubs during his managerial career. He has worked as a manager since 2009. In several of his most recent jobs, he was fired after just a few months in charge.
As Neymar said in his lobbying tweet for Diniz, the lack of time and patience given to coaches is a problem deeply rooted in Brazilian football culture. Most of the other national candidates have the same problem; clubs are so rushed, so demanding, that managers never have the opportunity to build anything.
If a national team is anything, it is a reflection of every element of that culture: the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses. Brazil can, of course, take a shortcut and appoint a foreigner to make up for their inability to nurture coaching talent. But that’s what it is: a shortcut. It does not address the problem at its root. It’s a way to avoid hard work. That might fit the letter of the law. Whether it’s in his mind is another matter.
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