As evidenced by four different winning teams in the past four seasons, the Brazilian national championship presents a huge challenge for the head coaches of all 20 competing clubs. A competition spanning a country of continent-sized proportions, with a vast array of long-standing rivalries and a character all of its own, the Brasileiro is further enhanced by its uncommonly large field of genuine title hopefuls.
To better understand the insider knowledge and key areas when it comes to preparing a side for such a long and grueling challenge, FIFA.com had a lengthy conversation with a man who knows just how it is done: Tite, coach of 2011 champions Corinthians.
“In 2011, the fact we were knocked out of the [Copa] Libertadores in the preliminary round ended up creating an interesting situation ahead of the Brasileiro. It meant that we had a transitional period, over the course of the Paulista [state championship], to forge the nucleus of a side. Ronaldo went, Roberto Carlos went and I was able to use the Paulista to give playing time to their replacements and develop a playing style. Now, imagine if I’d tried to do that with the Brasileiro already underway, given how every game is incredibly tough?
“What’s more, last year something fundamental went our way: we didn’t pick up any injuries for the first 13 or 14 rounds of games. That’s crucial when it comes to being able to stick to a general plan. But it’s also necessary to have a fundamental idea of how you want to set out your team, while leaving a little room for any reshuffling. What’s most important is keeping your team together. A lot of sides fall apart over the course of the championship.
“I say ‘a general plan’ because, of course, you can’t stick to a totally detailed plan over such a lengthy competition. It’s impossible to say: ‘Ah, now we’re going to pull clear of the pack’, but it is possible to make plans. In the 2011 season our objective was to make sure we stayed in the top six throughout, because come the last five or ten matchdays the champions tend to emerge from that group. It’s different from the Spanish, English or Italian championships, where a small number of sides pull away early on and the title is always won by one of them.
“In the Brasileiro, though, there are loads of teams that at some point are in the hunt. If you think about last year’s race, Palmeiras were among the favourites during the first third of the championship. Cruzeiro, meanwhile, were hailed almost unanimously as the team that was playing the best brand of football and they ended up getting dragged into a relegation battle. And Santos, due to the Club World Cup, ran out of steam. Given it’s a championship in which so many things can change, it’s vital to maintain some level of consistency.
“This year of course the situation is different, because we’re still in the Libertadores this time. Besides which, I’ve got the advantage of having kept hold of practically all my core players. So, everything’s in place: the players know their roles and how to work with me. It’s a strong squad which, were any changes to be made, should benefit from them. What enthuses me most is that, despite the group’s level of maturity, we’ve still got room for growth.
“Not that I’m saying we’re under less pressure after winning the Brasileiro: that just doesn’t happen in Brazil. One thing I do have is more control because I know the players better, but the pressure never goes away. It’s not easy being a big club in Brazil because every year there are 12 or 14 clubs battling it out for the title and only one can win. Practically any other result except the title is seen as a failure. Staying among the front-runners and clinching a Libertadores berth eases your way a little, but even so, the wave of criticism is huge. The difference at Corinthians is that the criticism you receive is higher-profile.
“The level of equilibrium [between the sides] is absolutely tangible. Not just because of the sheer number of teams in with a chance at the title, but also because every game can potentially turn difficult. For example, late last year we got criticised from all sides for a week because we lost to America-MG, who people thought were pretty much already relegated. Then what happened the following week? They went and beat Fluminense too. That’s not the kind of thing you’ll often see in European leagues. Here, if you don’t get your approach right you’ll lose. The standard of the fitness coaches, the coaches and the infrastructure have all improved here, so the gap has narrowed. Every team is dangerous. Ability-wise teams are levelling out and so, to tell the truth, it’s only small details that separate sides.
“For example, one of the teams that are really difficult to face are Goias [Editor’s note: Goias are currently in Serie B]. It’s very difficult to play there because of the climate, which is really hot with very low humidity. I’d been told that they liked to play a high-tempo right from the off to wear their opponents out. So, I remember that I tried to turn the tables on them. I asked my side to start really fast in the first period, during which we scored two goals, and then we saw the rest of the game out. Those are the kind of alterations you have to make: it’s like a continental championship.
"What did I say to the players in training today? ‘Now’s the time when everyone will get opportunities to play’. That’s because this year we won’t be able to do things the same way [as last year]. Players coming back from injury can’t play every Wednesday and every Sunday, for example. So, every single one of them needs to be ready, because now’s the time, during this opening period, that I’m going to need to use my squad. That can be hard to grasp, both for the fans and the players, but every three points we pick up now are worth the same as those we pick up further down the line."