Intense pressure is something that unequivocally comes with coaching the most-supported club from within its country in the world. And having operated the Flamengo controls masterfully over the past nine months, Joel Santana will now be charged with one of the most demanding tasks in international football: leading the host nation at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
The 59-year-old will assume his maiden national team post on 5 May, replacing fellow Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, who has quit due to "personal reasons", in the Bafana Bafana hot-seat.
"I'm delighted," said Santana. " . Now I will dispute a World Cup. I didn't know if I would ever receive another proposal like this, one that was impossible to turn down. Anybody would have accepted this offer in my position. It's the time to think of my family."
received a very good offer and it's always been a big ambition
to coach at the World Cup
Parreira, fully aware of the expectations of a South African public desperate to see its team impress when the 19th edition of the FIFA World Cup hits African shores for the first time, recommended Santana to the South African Football Association. And now the dreams of a national rest upon his shoulders.
But Joel Santana, born on Christmas Day in 1948 and nicknamed 'Papai Joel', has been making wishes come true for quite some time, especially during his two latest spells at Flamengo. First, in 2005, he took over with the side playing hopelessly and staring the unthinkable - relegation from the Brazilian Championship Serie A - in the face. However, the tactician masterminded six victories and three draws from the Rubro-Negro's final nine matches to keep them among the elite, before leaving the club to try his luck in Japan.
When he returned to the Gavea in late-July 2007, he was tasked with repeating the feat. Flamengo were marooned in the penultimate position at the halfway stage, but an incredible run of form - one which encouraged 70,000-plus supporters to take in their last five home matches at the Maracana - culminated in them finishing third and qualifying for the Copa Libertadores 2008.
This term, Santana has guided Flamengo into the last 16 of Latin America's showpiece event and to the Taca Guanabara crown, which booked them a two-legged date with Botafogo in the final of the Campeonato Carioca, the second of which will unfold on 4 May after this Sunday's opener.
"It's always difficult to leave Flamengo," admitted Santana, a coach renowned from standing on the touchline with his trusted clipboard. "But I want to leave on a high by winning the Carioca (State Championship) title. "I'm happy that I'm being recognised outside Brazil. It shows that my work is not all that bad."
Flamengo's footballing vice-president, Kleber Leite, added: "He has always dreamed of coaching a team at the World Cup."
Santana's career as a no-nonsense defender may have been brief and unspectacular, but his coaching service has been quite the opposite. He is the only gaffer to have won Carioca State Championship crowns with Rio de Janeiro's 'big four' of Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco, whom he also led to the Brazilian Championship and Copa Mercosul (a forerunners to the Copa Sudamericana) prizes in 2000.
Now, with the FIFA Confederations Cup little over one year away, Santana is poised to undertake his biggest challenge to date. Bafana Bafana failed to progress beyond the first phase in their two appearances at the FIFA World Cup in 1998 and 2002. Can 'Papai Joel' deliver the present of a success at South Africa 2010?