When the final whistle blew on Sao Paulo's 1-0 victory over Goias, it did more than bring to a close one of the most keenly contested title races in recent Brazilian championship history.
Sunday's win ensured O Tricolor Paulista finished on top of the Brasileiro pile for an unprecedented third year in succession, as well as winning a record sixth national title. And though they boast an inspirational captain in the shape of free-scoring goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni, coach Muricy Ramalho has come to mean as much if not more to the Estadio do Morumbi faithful.
Since the Brasileiro's inaugural year in 1971, the only coach to win three successive titles was Rubens Minelli, who led Internacional of Porto Alegre to national glory in 1975 and 1976 before guiding Sao Paulo to their first title win in 1977. In a curious twist, Ramalho was a member of that Sao Paulo squad, though he missed most of the campaign through injury. Now, some 21 years later, Ramalho's hat-trick of league successes has ensured his name goes down in Brazilian football history.
"I must admit that it's unlikely that another coach will win three titles in a row with the same club," said the man himself. "And that's not because people don't have the ability, it's just that the prevailing culture in Brazilian football makes it very difficult. There's so much pressure [on coaches]. People have no idea what I've been through this season."
The fans were the ones that made my mind up to stay. They never stopped chanting my
name, and that kind of support is priceless.
In fact, had the Sao Paulo supremo had his way earlier on this year, he would no longer be at the helm. "When we were knocked out the Libertadores by Fluminense in the quarter-finals in May, there was so much pressure that I very nearly resigned," says Ramalho. "But the fans were the ones that made my mind up to stay, perhaps even more than the President (Juvenal Juvencio). They never stopped chanting my name throughout, and that kind of support is priceless."
That the fans show such affection for the man in charge is an unusual phenomenon in the modern game, but the Sao Paulo supporters have previous history in this respect. The most striking example was the late Tele Santana, who guided O Tricolor Paulista to a remarkable double of the Copa Libertadores and the Toyota (Intercontinental) Cup in both 1992 and 1993. And after spending the 1993 season coaching Mexican outfit Puebla, Ramalho returned to take up his first coaching role in Brazil as Santana's assistant, subsequently taking over the top job as a result of his mentor's failing health.
Even now, Ramalho continues to reveal Santana-esque personality traits on a daily basis, including the former Seleção coach's constant pursuit of perfection, stubbornness and outwardly grumpy character. Immediately after the win over Goias, Ramalho's first words were to praise the man widely credited with inspiring the jogo bonito (beautiful play) for which Brazil is famed. "Tele Santana is a true idol. He was the greatest," said the 53-year-old strategist. "I may be enjoying some success, but I'm a long way off his level."
To get there, the man recently voted the Brasileiro's top coach by the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) for the fourth year in a row has set his sights on the 2009 Copa Libertadores. "We all know that title is the club's main objective and, on a personal note, it's my main target. We came very close on two occasions and we can't let another opportunity slip by. We'll be working extremely hard to win it," said Ramalho, on receiving the award.
"To do so, I have to keep improving across the board. You can't just win a title and rest on your laurels." Spoken like a true disciple of the great Tele Santana.