Fenerbahce buoyed by Zico's Brazilian touch
One of the most frequently heard clichés in football is that great players don't always make great coaches. People evidently forget the top players who have made the transition smoothly, with Zico a prime example. Considered one of the most outstanding talents ever to put on a Brazil shirt, the 'white Pele' worked wonders with Japan after taking over the reins in 2002, masterminding a Kirin Cup victory in 2004 and sealing qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
Disappointed by his team's early exit on German soil, however, Zico brought his four-year association with the Japanese to an end when he resigned this summer. But he remains as determined to succeed in management as ever, and will now be hoping to bounce back with Turkish giants Fenerbahce, one of the country's most popular clubs. The Istanbul outfit could hardly have made a more high-profile appointment to celebrate their centenary, while their new boss is already relishing his first mission on the Old Continent. "I wanted to coach a European club and I'm happy to be doing that at Fenerbahce, who are in the middle of something special in their centenary year," he declared. "It's a great challenge and I'll do everything I can to do a good job and get the right results."
With that in mind, the former Flamengo star has decided to give his new club a distinctly Brazilian flavour, not least in the dug-out. There he will be joined by his brother Edu Coimbra, who occupied the same role for Japan, while Moraci Sant'Anna will be sharing all the expertise he learnt as physio for the Selecao.
On the pitch, the side already had a slightly samba feel to it thanks to defender Fabio Luciano and midfielders Marco Aurelio and Alessandro de Souza ('Alex'), who all helped secure runners-up spot in the Turkish league last term. They have now been joined by two of their compatriots in the form of defender Edu Bracena from Cruzeiro and ex-Sporting Lisbon striker Deivid, the latter purchased to fill some sizeable boots. The ex-Bordeaux and Santos marksman has been asked to help fans forget France international Nicolas Anelka, who recently returned to England following two fine seasons in navy blue and yellow.
Zico also made his mark on the transfer market with the capture of Athletico Madrid forward Mateja Kezman. After two lacklustre campaigns, in Spain last season and with Chelsea before that, the Serbian international is no doubt keen to rediscover the form that made him such a constant menace during his four years at PSV Eindhoven.
Those players join a side that already contained its fair share of talent, with Ghana midfield sensation Stephen Appiah and Turkish internationals Rustu Recber and Tuncay Sanli at the top of the list. All in all, Zico's new outfit look well prepared to challenge for serious honours both at home and in Europe.
Without their summer signings, the Istanbul giants experienced a mixed start to the new season. Stunning in the league, where they registered three wins in their opening three games, Fenerbahce nonetheless let a chance to contest the UEFA Champions League slip through their grasp. A 3-1 defeat in the away leg of their third-round qualification tie with Dynamo Kiev left Zico's men with a huge task for the return encounter at the Sukru Saracoglu, where two goals from Maksim Shatskikh cancelled out efforts by Appiah and Kerim Zengin, thus ending the home side's bid.
That was a real blow for the Brazilian coach and his team, who will have to cope with being absent from the high table of European football in their centenary year. "We let our chances of qualification go in the away leg," explained Zico after the match. "But the important thing is that the team fought for victory right up until the final whistle."
Buoyed by that spirit, the former Selecao captain quickly set his charges new targets: "Unfortunately we didn't go through, but we're going to keep working hard and concentrate on the UEFA Cup and the championship." A 2-1 defeat away to Sakaryaspor a few days later came as a fresh disappointment, yet Fenerbahce can still content themselves with lying top of the table ahead of Besiktas and Kayserispor on goal difference.
With 16 league titles to their name, the club share the Turkish record with Galatasaray, and Zico would love nothing more than to send his new employers one clear of their great city rivals as a 100th-birthday present. If he can do that, then the 'white Pele' so beloved in Brazil and Japan would surely assure himself of idol status in a third country.