Santos coach Dorival Junior is clearly a believer in the adage that 'if you’re old enough, you’re good enough'. Packing an attack-minded, entertaining team with exciting youngsters, he masterminded a notable Campeonato Paulista and Copa do Brasil double earlier this year. One consequence of O Peixe’s renewed success was national recognition for two of their most talented players, with both Paulo Henrique Ganso and Neymar earning places in Mano Menezes’s first Brazil squad.
Dorival has had no time to rest on his laurels, however. Now in pursuit of the Brasileirao title despite the departures of key men Robinho, Wesley and Andre, and an untimely injury to the inspirational Ganso, the 48-year-old is continuing to earn his keep. FIFA.com caught up with the former midfielder to discuss Santos's emerging stars, playing style and challenge to rule Brazil.
FIFA.com: Dorival, were you aware of the potential of Santos’s young players when you arrived at the club?
Dorival: I had a lot of belief in Paulo Henrique [Ganso] and in Neymar. I knew they would develop, but I never imagined they’d do it so quickly. I’d seen Wesley at Atletico Paranaense and I had a lot of faith in him too. I expected the players we were bringing in to fit in with the ones who were already here, but it’s all happened quicker than I thought. We’ve all been surprised by it to be honest.
Your team plays attacking football. Is that because of the way you see the game or did it make sense to take that approach because of the players you have here?
I have my own vision of the game and when I came here I obviously looked at things and made a few changes. Take Wesley for example - he was a striker and we moved him deeper, the idea being for him to link up play quickly between midfield and attack, while by using Ganso and Marquinhos we can have a more considered approach. I’d rather convert a playmaker into a second deep-lying midfielder than push a holding player further forward. By making these changes I’ve been able to make the team more aggressive on the ball, although it is more exposed at times. I think that’s the right way.
As Santos coach you have also become a sort of mentor to Neymar and Ganso, two of the country’s brightest hopes for Brazil 2014. How do you feel about that responsibility?
Obviously I’m proud that Santos have been able to bring a few players on. I’m also happy to see other players come through like Andre Santos, whom I converted from a midfielder to a fullback at Figueirense, and Ramires, a player I’d seen for 20 minutes in training before putting him in the first team at Cruzeiro. It’s rewarding and it’s proved to me that I was right to believe in certain players.
Ganso and Neymar looked very much at home in Brazil's recent friendly against USA. Were you confident they'd adapt so quickly?
I had a lot of belief in them, so much so that when I was asked at the start of the year whether Dunga should take them to the World Cup, I said that there was absolutely no reason why he shouldn’t. I knew they would rise to the challenge. If you know how to play you don’t need that much time to adapt to a situation, to find your place in a team. Players who lack character can’t do that, but I never had any doubts about those two.
What is the hardest thing about coaching such a big team?
The day-to-day stuff, without a doubt. The kids have made such a big impact that they’re celebrities now. It’s like Beatlemania wherever we go and it’s all happened so quickly too. It’s natural, then, that they start behaving differently. On top of all that young people in Brazil act differently these days, and you have to understand that and adapt to it. There’s changes going on all the time. I try to teach them but at the same time I’m learning too.
Finally, can Santos still win the Brasileirao?
People have to be realistic. We’re in a transitional phase and I don’t know if we can do it. There’s a big gap between us and the leaders (Santos are currently ten points behind Fluminense with two games in hand). We’ve dropped points along the way because of the Copa do Brasil and the team’s gone through some big changes. We need to regroup because we’re still not playing at the level we were before. This is a team that has a taste for winning though, it's something they've learned to savour.