It is no accident that Rene Simoes is often referred to simply as 'The Professor'. The Rio de Janeiro-born coach is every inch the thinking man, a student of the game and a thoughtful presence on any touchline. His latest assignment, to get foundering Costa Rica's 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying campaign afloat, may well be his trickiest to date. However, Simoes has no fear, only honest zeal for this newest challenge.
"When I was first contacted for the job, I thought, 'two games - what can I do in two games?' But I phoned around to [former Costa Rica coach and fellow Brazilian] Alexandre Guimaraes and other people who know Costa Rican football, and I started to get interested," he told FIFA.com. "I began to think, 'yeah, why not?' It's not impossible. We'll have our fate in our hands."
Simoes has coached women's teams (leading his native Brazil to an Olympic silver at Athens 2004), youth sides (in both Brazil and Iran) and vaunted clubs in his homeland, like Coritiba and Fluminense, over the last two decades. His travels, which have taken him to three continents, are varied to say the least.
We must focus on this first game and not worry about the USA or the play-offs or Argentina or anybody else.
"The principles of the game are always the same," said the coach who insists on "living, driving, going to the cinema" in each country where he works. "But people everywhere are different and you must motivate them in different ways. Jamaicans are not the same as Iranians or Brazilians. You need to understand people and their culture first."
The 56-year-old's greatest claim to fame came in 1998, when, midway through his tenure at the Jamaica reins, he led the Reggae Boyz to their first-ever FIFA World Cup. France 1998 was the first-ever appearance at a world finals for an English-speaking Caribbean side and the overhaul that took place in the island's football was down, in large part, to Simoes. "As a coach I have many moments that make me smile, but as a human being my achievements in Jamaica make me happiest. We changed a culture there," he said, smiling.
Simoes's current position represents perhaps one of his most complicated. Costa Rica roared through the semi-final qualifying rounds in CONCACAF and then led the pack in the final hexagonal for months on end. However, the last three matches have seen crisis set in. Three straight losses, no goals scored and eight conceded brought the sacking of Rodrigo Kenton, and 'The Professor' took over with only three weeks to prepare the side for the two remaining qualifiers. Currently in fourth place and out of the running for the three automatic berths in the region, the new man will need better performances, goals and points.
First up is Trinidad and Tobago, a team Simoes guided in 2001 and 2002. He even famously benched current T&T coach Russell Latapy - then a player - for a disciplinary violation, adding spice to the weekend's duel. Trinidad and Tobago, already out of contention for South Africa, will be playing only for pride when they visit San Jose on 10 October, but this offers little comfort to the Brazilian.
"I know Trinidadian football," insisted Simoes, whose second game in charge will come four days later against USA in Washington DC. "They will play a tough game; they will play a freer game. In 2001, when I coached Trinidad, we went to Honduras after we were eliminated and we beat them in San Pedro Sula with ten men! So I will not look past them.
"We must focus on this first game and not worry about the USA or the play-offs or Argentina or anybody else," he added, making sideways reference to the fact that the fourth-placed finishers in CONCACAF will meet the fifth-placed South American team - possibly Argentina - in a play-off for one of the last spots at South Africa 2010.
I want only strong men in my squad. I want winners, thinking players who understand we must win now.
Simoes refuses to allow the short preparation time to become an excuse. "When you start talking about the weather or the surface of the field or the amount of time you have, that's an easy way to lose a game before you even kick off," he remarked. "We want to think, 'yes, we can do this.' So let's use the time we have and do it."
The new coach also stamped his authority on the squad list from the start, calling old captain Luis Marin out of retirement, recalling 35-year-old Rolando Fonseca and dismissing Gilberto Martinez. "I want only strong men in my squad," he declared. "I want winners, thinking players who understand we must win now."
"When I think about football I see it like bullfighting. The matador is obliged to kill the bull, but he doesn't run up to his face and shoot him with a big gun. There is an art, a dance, a ballet. I want my teams to win, but to win beautifully."