The CBF had initially targeted Muricy Ramalho for the job—in fact, they made no secret of their courtship with the then-Fluminense boss—but after formally approaching their top candidate they were rebuffed by his employer. The Tricolor Carioca had no interest in losing a leader who, in four month’s time, would deliver the Brazilian championship.
It was in these bizarre circumstances, this bungled process, that in August 2010 former CBF president Ricardo Teixeria and his charges settled for Menezes—a coach with a respectable record at Grêmio and Corinthians who had won the 2009 Paulista with the São Paulo giants.
At the time Menezes enjoyed no shortage of goodwill, but if the Brazilian football establishment had been seeking a clean break from the stiff, grim-faced regime of Dunga they were never going to get it by replacing one grumpy Gaúcho with another.
In fact, one of Menezes’ ultimate downfalls was that, unlike Dunga’s, his teams never adopted even the semblance of an identity.
While Dunga’s Brazil was rigid, counter-attacking and often dull, at least the fans and media—nevermind the players—knew exactly what to expect. Menezes’ teams, by comparison, were wildly inconsistent, and as questionable results piled up while FIFA ranking fell, the popular thinking was that the lack of steadiness was down to a manger who hadn’t the slightest idea what he was doing.
That he called 102 players into the national squad over 27 months would seem to support this theory, as would his handling of veteran stars such as Ronaldinho and Kaká. From recalls to omissions, he never seemed to be plotting a sure course, and this lack of decisiveness was mirrored in his entire approach, from selection strategy to tactics.
That Menezes was relieved of his duties and will not be the manager of Brazil for a home World Cup shouldn’t be all that surprising. The timing, however, was rather unexpected.
The decision, made after a meeting between new CBF president Jose Maria Marin, vice president Marco Polo del Nero and national team director Andres Sanches, came just two days after Brazil defeated Argentina on penalties to win the Superclásico de las Américas in Buenos Aires. Perhaps, with nearly three months before their next friendly match (against England at Wembley on February 6) they saw a window of time they could use in selecting Menezes’ successor.
Who, exactly, that will be is anyone’s guess. But, naturally, everyone is guessing. The CBF have stated they won’t appoint a new manager until January, by which time Corinthians manager Tite will have taken his side to and from the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Read into that what you will. But there are plenty of other names making the rounds as well.
Ramalho, now at Santos, must be at or near the top of the list. And unlike last time, the 56-year-old now has a clause built into his contract that forces the club to release him if the national team comes calling. If he is, indeed, the CBF’s man, he’ll only be too happy to oblige.
As would Luiz Felipe Scolari. The mastermind of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph, Felipão has been out of work since September when he was sacked by Palmeiras, who have since been relegated. Still, the 64-year-old retains a special status in Brazil given his previous accomplishments, which also include two league titles and the 1999 Copa Libertadores.
Other candidates include Vanderlei Luxmburgo, presently with Gremio, and, fascinatingly, Pep Guardiola.
Of course, all this is only the first spasms of speculation, and as Brazil have never been managed by a foreigner there would no doubt be factions of both the fans and press that would be hostile to the former Barcelona manager’s appointment.
But this is the Brazilian national team—where the unexpected and implausible have more than once become the reality. After all, no one ever expected Mano Menezes would oversee the Selecão.