With Grêmio’s draw last Sunday, a victory against relegation-prone Avaí would propel Palmeiras to second position in the tables, a position worth roughly US$ 1,2 million extra in prize money at the end of the championship. It would also increase Alberto Valentim’s chances of remaining as Palmeiras’ coach in 2018. At least slightly, at least in theory.
Once more, Palmeiras became the victim of Valentim’s attempts to implement an advanced line of defence. The idea is not at all revolutionary, but a satisfactory level of implementation is only possible to achieve with time. Clearly, Palmeiras are not there yet: as against Vitória, Palmeiras’ defence at times looked like on a suicide mission, allowing Avaí to score twice, minutes apart, at the beginning of the second half. Palmeiras’ much superior ball posse resulted in many attempts at goal but desperately few on target. Valentim also looked desperate, promoting Guerra with only a few minutes remaining on the clock.
At the press conference after the game, Valentim voiced the opinion that Palmeiras had played a good game and lost due to two unfortunate moments. He also asserted he will act as coach, at Palmeiras or elsewhere, in 2018.
Today, Palmeiras announced they will offer Valentim the assisting coach position he held before Cuca’s dismissal. In other words: Palmeiras have no intention of keeping Valentim in command next season. Valentim says he will respond to the offer after the championship has ended.
Palmeiras are clearly seeking to sign a new coach a.s.a.p. With Mano Menezes out of the picture, nine out of ten believe current Fluminense coach Abel Braga is the chosen one. The 65-year-old carioca is experienced, emotional, old school. With Internacional he won the Libertadores Cup and the World Club Championship in 2006 and in 2012 he won the Brasileirão with Fluminense.
A second option is 42-year-old Roger Machado, most recently at Atlético Mineiro, from where he was fired last July, after only six months at the club. As coach, Machado has no national titles on his CV.
Palmeiras might have achieved excellence in many areas off pitch, including superior economic firepower and top notch training facilities, but the club has not yet established itself as a School of Football. The professional team is mutant: the style of play is a truthful mirror of the coach, a coach who on average lasts five months.
This situation is in stark contrast with, for example, Corinthians, who, even while enduring financial problems, maintain a well-defined playing style, as implemented by coach Tite in 2010 and adapted by his successors Mano Menezes, Tite (during his comeback) and most recently Fábio Carille. Cristóvão Borges tried to change that identity and was very short-lived. Cacace argues that one may question the beauty of the formula but not its efficiency: Corinthians have reaped excellent results even as coaches have changed and the squad has featured players of only satisfactory technical level. With doubt, this is due to the footballing identity created and implemented over time.
Creating a footballing identity takes time, and balls, because the coach needs to be maintained until that identity consolidates, even in the face of poor performance. Eduardo Baptista is a recent example of the opposite: at Palmeiras, he was securing some 60% of points at play and slowly deploying a system that could have been quite solid today. However, after the São Paulo Cup elimination, Baptista was fired and the ongoing identity development went down the drain.
There are no certainties in football. Keeping Baptista could have resulted in a team peaking in the last months of the championship, securing our tenth Brazileirão title. Or he could have remain stuck in the search for the balance between attack and defence, unable to secure even a spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup. We will never know.
Regardless, Palmeiras need to create an identity, an identity that should serve as a mark also for the youth divisions. So, who to pick to implement this identity?
The name of the coach is not that important, Cacace argues. Palmeiras can assign a technical director, a position to be occupied in the long term by a deep connoisseur of football, who will be the reference, shaping the identity and securing that players that fit the model of play are signed. Something similar to what Paulo Autuori does at Atlético Paranaense and what Tite, although today not formally, continues to do at Corinthians. With a technical director in place, the importance of and the pressure on the coach will diminish.
No coach currently speculated at Palmeiras obtains more than a 30% approval rate among supporters, meaning any of them would face resistance of more than two thirds. Just like Alberto Valentim. Our current interim coach had a head start in relation to any newcomer, but is now out of the picture. Whichever successor is chosen will need the unrestricted backing of the club’s directors, resisting as hell breaks loose, over and over again, until that identity has been forged.
Without a footballing identity – or the will to create one – it matters little who takes over as coach: he will feel the moving sand at the first sequence of defeats, and be gone at the beginning of the second.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!