Regarded by some as gruff, ill-tempered and possessing a short supply of patience, Santos coach Muricy Ramalho is nevertheless an authority on the game, as you would expect of a man who has won four Brazilian championships and who steered O Peixe to their third Copa Libertadores title earlier this year.
Expounding on his side’s bid for glory at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011, the vastly experienced coach spoke to FIFA.com about the challenges that await them in the Far East.
FIFA.com: Everyone’s talking about a potential FIFA Club World Cup final between Santos and Barcelona, but you’ve got a semi-final to play first of all. How have you been approaching that with your players?
Muricy Ramalho: In football you always have to give an example whenever you want to get a message across. It’s not enough just to speak to players. You have to give them an example or they won’t believe in what you’re saying. And the most recent example we’ve got is Internacional last year (Inter lost 2-0 to Congo DR’s TP Mazembe Englebert in the semi-finals at UAE 2010). It goes without saying that people are only asking about Barcelona, but all we know is that we’ve got a very tough opening game, and opening matches are always incredibly stressful.
Barcelona might be the only topic of conversation out there, but I can tell you that the team’s talking about the first game and nothing else. I spoke to the people at Inter, where I’ve coached before and I’ve still got friends, because I wanted to find out what went on. They told me that’s more or less how it was. All the talk was about the final and they forgot about the first game. We can’t have a Brazilian team messing up again.
Does that mean you’re focusing more on the psychological than the tactical side of things?
I’m trying to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind before we go on to the pitch. Once we’re on it there’s not the slightest possibility we won’t have done our homework on the team we’ll be up against, because we really have a close look at all the teams we play. I could tell you something about any team anywhere in the world. It’s an essential part of my job and it’s a way of getting across to your players that the other side’s really good and that you’re on the ball. I’ve always worked like that. You can’t go and play a Bolivian team in the Libertadores and say, like I’ve heard some coaches say, “Ah, I don’t know anything about them’. You can’t say that these days, not with all the resources we’ve got.
Presumably you’ve seen Barcelona a few times already. Have you been watching them more closely since qualifying for Japan 2011?
I’ve heard a lot of people in Brazil say that when there’s a lot of games on at the same time they’ll watch the Santos match. And it’s the same with Barcelona. If there are three European matches on I’ll watch the Barcelona one. I was doing that even before we qualified, so you can guess who I’m watching now.
What’s your view of Barcelona’s possession-based game and how do you plan to combat it?
Real Madrid, Valencia and Manchester United have all tried to get more possession of the ball and none of them have managed it. So what you have to do is use your head and tell the players that that’s the opposition’s strong point. If you try and stop it, not only will you fail but you’ll also be unable to play the way you want to play. We need to be patient when we’re not in possession and be able to deal with it. You feel like saying, ‘Come on, let us have the ball for a bit’. We Brazilians don’t like not having the ball, but we’ll just have to wait for the right time to get hold of it and then play our game, which is not a possession game. It’s the exact opposite to what Barcelona do. We play at pace and go straight for goal and we don’t control the play, whereas Barça move the ball around and try and knock the opposition off balance, pull players out of position so that Pedro, [David] Villa and the midfielders can exploit the gaps. And that happens because their opponents lose patience, which is when the spaces start opening up.
If you freeze the screen when Barcelona are playing you never see anyone up front. You only see the opposing centre-halves standing there on their own, and you ask yourself, ‘How the heck is this team going to score?’ Their penetration’s the key, the patience they’ve got when they’re on the ball. Opposition centre-halves start to want to chase the ball and that’s when they move out of position and someone nips in behind them. We have to be aware that when they’re in possession, someone’s going to try and get into space. We need to make sure the spaces are filled in.
Ganso becomes an even more important player in games like that, doesn’t he?
He’s essential because we don’t have many passers of the ball. We’ve got finishers like Neymar, Borges and Alan Kardec, but we never have much possession. Even when our defensive midfielders get forward their job is to score. Not Ganso though. He’s the only ballplayer we’ve got. He slows the game down when we need to and that’s why we take so much care of him and wrap him up in cotton wool between games.
You've only been at Santos for a little more than six months. Does it feel like more?
It does. I’ve settled down so well it feels like years. I won a trophy straightaway and I’ve adapted to the players and the club’s philosophy and its outlook. I always adapt wherever I go. When I go to a new club I keep the people who’re already there. It’s very rare that I’ll make a change. Some coaches take 12 or 15 people with them when they start a job and get rid of everyone. That’s a big mistake. I didn’t know Santos when I came in, but the people I kept on did. And they’ve helped me settle in and get used to things.
It must have felt strange to go down in Santos' history by winning the Copa Libertadores after just two months.
It was an historic achievement because it was a title the club had been after for a long time. The Libertadores was fundamental to our continued survival in every respect and to our media profile, so much so in fact that we’re getting invitations to go on pre-season tours in China and Africa. It’s been a while since Santos were in such demand and the Libertadores was vital to getting the club back in the spotlight again. And the Club World Cup’s only going to help with that.