“Whenever I put a team together my aim is to make it mobile and attack-minded.” The words are those of former Brazil midfielder Paulo Roberto Falcao, who, since taking charge of Bahia in February, has made light of the obstacles facing him to put his enterprising philosophy into practice.
Despite a string of injuries, with as many as ten players out of action at one point, not to mention the relatively short period of time he has spent in the Bahia dugout, the ex-Seleção star currently has the most lethal attack in Brazil at his disposal. The scorers of only 31 goals in 22 regular-season state championship matches last year, his charges have racked up 57 in the same number of outings this season.
Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com about the challenges of reacquainting Brazil, the country where jogo bonito was born, with open attacking football, and the role that Barcelona have to play in all this, Falcao offers a passionate defence of his footballing beliefs.
FIFA.com: Falcao, Bahia have scored 57 goals in the regular season of the Bahia state championship, almost double the number the team managed last year. How have things gone for you since taking over?
Falcao: I came here on 6 February, a Monday, and I named the team on the Tuesday. We played on the Wednesday but I wasn’t around and couldn’t take charge of the side. I didn’t get to work with the players properly until Friday the 10th, ahead of O Clássico [against Vitoria] on the Sunday. We play virtually every Wednesday and Thursday, which is a pretty heavy schedule and makes it hard for the players to recover. So the only problem has been the injury list. I’d like to have everyone available but even so, I’m happy to have the most enterprising attack in Brazil.
It must be even harder for a coach to come in with the season already under way.
The biggest problem we face here is the run of games. You can’t do anything on Monday’s because that’s your recovery day. I take training on Tuesdays to prepare for the games on Wednesdays, and I can’t make sessions very long either, especially when we’ve got a four- or six-hour journey ahead of us. Thursday’s a day-off too, and Friday’s the day we get to do a bit more work, though you have to be careful because it’s very hot here and you have to make sure the training’s not too intense. Even so, the team’s coming on. We want to be state champions, something that hasn’t happened for ten years.
When you took over at Internacional in 2011, you made it very clear that you wanted to play free-flowing, attacking football. We haven’t seen much of that in Brazil lately, have we?
Here’s the way I see it: whenever I put a team together my aim is to make it mobile and attack-minded. Obviously that’s not always possible, because sometimes you don’t have the players, either through injury or suspension. It’s one thing to have the idea, and quite another to be able to make it work. We need to learn how to get on the ball and play. That’s my philosophy. We need to go slowly and keep our balance, which is the key word. But it’s not easy.
Is that what you’re trying to do at Bahia?
That’s my idea, but you can’t always make it work. When your team’s under pressure in a game and you feel that you might concede, you can’t make the mistake of thinking that you have throw everything into attack. You need to get control of the game and control of the ball. There’s no point in being stupid and letting in a couple of goals, or three or four. Sometimes it’s possible, but it’s only in mathematics that two plus two equals four. I’m never going to tell my team just to sit back and whack the ball upfield, unless there’s a specific situation that demands that. Football’s a question of repetition, of taking theory and applying it on the pitch and repeating things until they become automatic. And that’s something that should have been done pre-season.
Barcelona are the role models in that respect. What do you think is the secret behind the standard they’ve reached?
Barcelona are just as good a side without the ball as they are with it. Obviously they’ve got a lot of quality, but as far as I’m concerned the biggest thing they’ve got going for them is that they’ve got classy players who are not just brilliant on the ball, but who can defend and win it back for you too. But these are concepts that go back more than 30 years. A lot of this comes from Holland and we’re also seeing it with world champions Spain. They [Barcelona] are not your average team, though, with defenders who are actually midfielders, Messi as the centre-forward and a formation that’s always changing. To get all that going is not easy.
Putting all that into practice really is a challenge, isn’t it?
The problem in Brazil is that we rush things a lot. You see a lot of clubs appoint coaches they’re not sure of and then sack them three months later. Then they go into the Brazilian championship season with the wrong team. There’s a lack of planning.
During your time as a commentator how long were thinking about getting back into the game and becoming a coach?
For a long time. Every time someone left the Internacional job there’d be these polls with a ridiculous amount of people voting for me. I felt I had to go back and work with a team, and when the Inter job came up I felt the time was right, that I couldn’t wait any longer. Then, when I left I got more offers, but from clubs where I felt the conditions weren’t the ones I was looking for. But I’ve found a professional club here, and I think I can do a job.