When you coach one of the world’s best-supported clubs, pressure is part and parcel of daily life. But despite Corinthians having to sweat to the very end of their final league match to clinch the Brasileirao 2011 crown, it proved a fittingly dramatic conclusion for Tite, who had come very close to losing his job earlier in the year after their premature Copa Libertadores exit.
“I’ve always said that round-robin league competitions reward those who have the best overall campaign,” the 50-year-old told FIFA.com. “The difference this time is that I was fortunate enough to be here for the start, the middle and the end of the season. To have been here from the start and ended with the title really means a lot."
Tite's words on the importance of continuity ring particularly true in the pressure cooker world of football, where it is rare to be afforded the stability taken for granted in most professions. Yet now the silverware has been clinched, the Caxias do Sul native can finally sit back and enjoy the plaudits.
“Right up until Sunday all I was focusing on was preparing the lads, putting in the work and hoping for the best,” he said. "But from now on it’s all about savouring this moment, getting hold of videos of our games, looking back fondly, giving interviews and watching programmes about what we’ve achieved.”
In a country of continent-sized dimensions, where football has a vice-like grip on hearts and minds, players and coaches can often enjoy a weighty reputation in one state without their feats earning similar respect elsewhere. Though not the case with Tite, thanks to his Copa do Brasil 2001 triumph with Gremio and the Copa Sudamericana 2008 with Internacional, this year’s Brasileirao is his first conquest with a team from beyond the borders of the state in which he was born, Rio Grande do Sul.
Nor is his job at the helm of O Timão his first in Sao Paulo state, with Tite having led Sao Caetano between 2003 and 2004, Palmeiras in 2006 and Corinthians themselves in 2005, yet all of those missions came to abrupt ends for a variety of reasons. Thus, by masterminding a campaign during which Corinthians topped the table for 27 of the 38 matchdays, were out of the top four just once, and won more games, conceded fewer goals and had the joint-best goal difference of any team in Serie A, Tite emphatically rid himself of any ‘one-state wonder’ tag.
He said: “Whether I did a good job or not is something that will always be debated by the media and the club’s directors. But before now I’d never had the chance to start and finish a campaign. Now I’ve got a seal of approval, rubber-stamped by the title.”
Drenching the gaffer, Libertadores quest
Shortly after the 0-0 draw with arch-rivals Palmeiras that proved enough to stave off the challenge of runners-up Vasco da Gama, Tite was the subject of a dramatic surprise attack when about to give a press conference in the depths of an Estadio Pacaembu still packed with celebrating Corintianos. Do not be alarmed, however, as his attackers were his own charges, who burst into the press-conference room and tipped two coolers packed with frozen water and isotonic drinks over their shocked boss – as well as spraying him liberally with champagne. A show of insubordination? Nothing of the sort, just a harmless prank on the man whose orders they have followed to the letter for the past 38 games.
For those looking for a key factor behind Corinthians’ success, Tite’s statement prior to his side’s penultimate game that there were “no stars in my squad” was particularly revealing. And though veteran front-man Liedson plundered a vital 12 goals to finish as the team’s top scorer, O Timão’s other 41 strikes were well spread out among the rest of the squad. There was even room for the little-used Luis Ramirez and Adriano to make decisive late contributions, with the former coming off the bench in the second half to seal a crucial win over Ceara on Matchday 35 and the latter repeating the feat next time out against Atletico Mineiro.
“That was one of the real strengths of our team,” said Tite, on how his players thoroughly embraced the cause. “If you have a group of players that only look out for themselves, that’s the first step towards failure. But playing as a team doesn’t mean that players won’t stand out. They understand that by all pulling together they’ll create a winning team that’ll give everyone a chance to shine. A lot of different players made decisive contributions.”
Tite has also made a point of speaking to the powers-that-be at Corinthians about keeping hold of his core players for next season, given the importance of not disrupting the chemistry that helped win them the Brasileirao. With another Libertadores bid on the horizon – a competition that gets Corintianos’ juices flowing like no other – maintaining that delicate blend is even more significant.
“We’re carrying a huge weight of expectation and, what’s more, all the other teams are under the same pressure,” said the coach, as the conversation concluded. “I’d prefer we just talk about aiming to win it [rather than being obliged to].”
That said, having now broken his out-of-state duck, could Tite be the man to end O Timão’s wait for a first-ever Libertadores crown?