When Silas took his Gremio side to the Estadio Ressacada to face Avai in a Brazilian Cup tie in April 2010 he received a frosty welcome from the home fans, who directed a chorus of boos at him. Such scenes are far from unusual in Brazilian football, although Silas might have expected more in the way of gratitude from the Avai crowd, having taken the club to their first Santa Catarina state title in 12 years in 2009.
A few months later the club from Florianopolis followed up that achievement by taking sixth place in the Brazilian championship, quite a feat for a side that had only just been promoted, and a major improvement on the overall placing of 91st (out of a total of 94 teams) that they achieved in their last top-flight appearance in 1979.
Given that record, Silas was taken aback when the Avai faithful, unable to contain themselves in the heat of a cup tie, made their feelings towards their ex-coach abundantly clear. Such was his disgust that, in the wake of Gremio’s win, he vowed never to work at his former club again, describing the treatment he received as “unfair” and claiming that the fans had been “encouraged” to boo him.
One year on and Avai face another big Brazilian Cup tie, this time in the semi-finals against Vasco da Gama, needing only a goalless draw in the second leg at the Ressacada tonight to advance to the final. And there on the touchline, hoping to guide them to victory, will be none other than Silas, who has been keen to put past events behind him.
“I wanted to go back because of that, because I wanted to clear up any misunderstandings,” he told FIFA.com. “Things like that happen in football, especially in a cup tie. I wanted to come back so that people could see there were no hard feelings. And when it came to the negotiations, everything went smoothly and quickly.”
On the up again
As Silas goes on to explain, any objections to his return have died down. After missing out on a place in the four-team play-offs in the first phase of the state championship, his charges reached the final in the second phase, eventually going down to Chapecoense in the decider, though not without a fight. And since turning their attentions to the Brazilian Cup, Avai’s fast-improving form has seen them knock out both Botafogo and favourites Sao Paulo en route to the last four.
“People really love us here and we wanted to show that we love them too,” he said, referring to his reappointment. “The people who supported me wanted me to come back. And though there were some who were upset, everything’s calmed down now and the hard work has begun to pay off.”
As most football people will tell you, results count for everything. And in Silas’ absence, Avai’s results took a turn for the worse, the team finishing 15th in last year’s Brasileirao after going through three different coaches. In the meantime, Silas took Gremio to the 2010 Rio Grande do Sul state title before being sacked later in the year. He then moved on to Flamengo for a tenure that lasted a mere ten games.
“Porto Alegre’s a tough place for anyone to coach,” he said, taking stock of his time away from Avai. “Falcao (the current coach of city rivals Internacional) is a villain when his team loses to Gremio and a hero when they beat them. Everyone has to go through that. Renato Gaucho is a Gremio idol and yet people still criticise him. It’s just a different culture. Other states have their rivalries but it’s different there. It’s very deep-rooted.
“As for Flamengo, the most important thing was to turn the page on 2010, finish the year and start afresh,” he continued. “The departures last year of players like Adriano, Vagner Love and the captain Bruno created a negative atmosphere that was hard to turn around just like that. The team wasn’t having a good run, and Luxemburgo (Vanderlei Luxemburgo, Silas’ successor in the post) hasn’t done much better. It’s understandable that people are prepared to give him more time, though. He has a bigger reputation and is a lot more experienced.”
Experience is something the 45-year-old former midfielder is acquiring plenty of. “You become more mature, and if I went back to a Flamengo or a Gremio now, it would be a different story. You can’t make the same mistakes,” said Silas, who turned down an offer from Argentinian club San Lorenzo, for whom he excelled during his playing days.
For now, he is focusing on no one else but Avai, and is contemplating a long-term project that could keep him in Florianopolis for the next three seasons, although his current contract expires at the end of the year. “That option is open, of course, but everything has to be done calmly. The club is growing and things are being done exactly the right way. I’m convinced that if they can stay in Serie A for three more years, then they can achieve some big things.”
In attempting to map his goals for the future and drawing on the experience he is picking up along the way, Silas is hoping to follow the example set by four-time title-winner Muricy Ramalho. “The important thing is to know you’re on the right track and to get your head down and work, and focus on the tactical side of things out on the pitch. Here at Avai I can do that, and I’ve got a good reputation to back me up here too.”
Though that reputation will not necessarily make him immune to more booing in the future, it has certainly helped him consign that hostile welcome of a year ago firmly to the past.