Life is never easy for the coach of the Brazilian senior side, and current incumbent Mano Menezes would have known that full well on taking the reins back in 2010. His mission on his appointment? None other than producing a perfectly-running Seleção machine in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and, if possible, leading his charges to a first ever gold at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012.
And having just missed out on the latter objective, with Brazil taking silver after final defeat to Mexico, the already huge pressure that comes with the Canarinha job has been cranked up still further. Before said Olympic campaign had concluded, FIFA.com enjoyed a long chat with Menezes, who discussed a range of issues including some of the general aspects of his role, the style of football that has taken Spain and Barcelona to the top of the tree, and how coaching Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos at Corinthians has helped him in the Brazil hotseat.
FIFA.com: In 2010, you stepped up from club football to become a national-team coach. Was there any area of your new role that took you by surprise?Mano Menezes: We still have a few difficulties caused by Brazil’s domestic footballing calendar, which really makes the life of the Seleção coach much more problematic. The main issue is the lack of longer periods to spend with the players, particularly during a [transitional] phase like we’ve been in up until now, with few established players. We’ve had to assemble a squad and scout new players. We couldn’t afford to just stick with the same guys as before, as they probably won’t be on the scene come 2014. So, having to do all that in a short space of time, with very few opportunities to spend lengthy periods with the players, was and still is the hardest part of the job.
In contrast to a club side, where you’d typically choose from a first-team squad of 25 to 30 players, when it comes to A Seleção you have a vast pool from which to choose. Does that mean that you can come up with a playing philosophy and then pick the players who fit in with that?
That’s the big difference from club level, particularly in Brazil. At a club you set out your way of playing depending on the characteristics of your players. In the national squad, you can choose how you want the team to play and then look for the players best suited to carry that out. Of course there’ll be changes in direction along the way, and you have to adapt to them. For example, sometimes a player you didn’t have such high hopes for ends up fitting in better than you expected. But the basic rule is this: you can shape how you want the team to play.
The personal side of coaching, such as how you deal with players off the pitch, must be very different at club level and with the Seleção, right? Do you have to change the way you handle your squad?
That’s right. Your approach is different, because you’ve not got as close a relationship with the players. At a club you do have that closeness and, what’s more, you need that in order to tackle certain issues. The big difference is that the players get more of the limelight at their clubs, but once they come to the Seleção, they need to share the attention. Whichever direction a player looks [in the dressing room], he sees another man who’s also a hero at his particular club. So, you need to set your ego aside for the benefit of the group as a whole.
In your view, is the manner of Spain and Barcelona’s recent success an isolated phenomenon, which could only have come about with that generation of players, or has it changed the way football will be perceived?
In football, winning teams always make a mark and have an influence over a given period. They go on to be hailed as examples to follow and, from that moment on, they change the way others behave. That’s because they become the teams to beat and in order to beat them you need to really understand them. You’re definitely not going to start copying them, because there’s no need to and the conditions aren’t right, but you certainly do need to understand their methods, their playing dynamic and their footballing philosophy.
But, given the way those teams now play is less about tactics and more about a certain style of play, in which keeping hold of the ball is a priority, it’s even more dependent on having quality players isn’t it?
Indeed, you can’t reproduce that way of playing to the same degree without the right players. At least, you can only do so on a much smaller scale. If you look at Barcelona, during recent years they’ve played every which way, using every tactical formation around. They did things that made you look and say to yourself: “They can’t be doing that, it’s not tactically possible.” And, despite that, the team went on to achieve a great level of supremacy. That could only be possible with that squad, with those particular players.
Prior to taking the Seleção reins, you coached a Corinthians squad featuring a global superstar in Ronaldo, who generated a fierce amount of media frenzy. Looking back today, do you think going through that has helped you cope better with certain situations at national-team level?
That experience has helped me and without a doubt it’s had an influence on my time in this job, because people look at your work and see how you handle yourself. They examine your ability to take on the responsibility that comes with being coach of the Seleção Brasileira. And what I really learned from working with Ronaldo and other great players – such as Roberto Carlos, who was also at Corinthians during my tenure – is that you have an extremely straightforward relationship with them. You have to be very clear and very objective. Great players don’t like to beat around the bush, they like to get straight to business. You need to discuss with them those issues that really need broaching, work out where each of you will stand in the relationship and then stick to what you’ve agreed. Then you won’t have a problem. I once heard a coach say that “great players cause few problems”, and it’s true. The ones that give you the most trouble are the others, those that just think they’re great players. So, you’re better off just having great players! (laughs)