Ricardo triggers Tricolor revival
Not so long ago, Ricardo Gomes's fame was no greater than that of any former Brazil centre-back. Few in his home country kept close tabs on a burgeoning coaching career in France, most likely due to the unexceptional record he had with domestic clubs.
It was, therefore, something of a surprise when, in June, Sao Paulo appointed him to replace Muricy Ramalho, the man who had just led O Tricolor Paulista to the three consecutive Brasileirao titles. Rather than a household name from the country's managerial merry-go-round, the club sought somebody who had not worked in Brazil since 2004, and whose CV was held in higher regard in the French game than at home. A risk, perhaps, but certainly one that was well thought out.
Gomes took charge for the eighth game of the season under considerable pressure, with the champions lying 16th in the Brasileirao. Since then the team has recorded nine victories, two draws and two defeats - enough to take Sao Paulo back into top four and the Copa Libertadores qualifying places.
"When I arrived people were talking about relegation. Now, after two or three wins, they're going crazy saying how the champions are back,'' the coach told FIFA.com at Sao Paulo's training ground.
In fact, the resurgence of Sao Paulo has created quite a stir, with the club's supporters again filling the Estadio Morumbi and chanting 'The champions are back'. Indeed some have even taken to sporting replicas of the iconic facemask worn by Jason Voorhees, that famous character from Friday the 13th, who keeps coming back from the dead.
"I'm still getting reacquainted with Brazilian football culture, how people jump to conclusions, for better or worse,'' admitted the former Fluminense, Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain defender with a hint of humour.
Gomes also played in the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ and was due to captain the side that triumphed at USA 1994 until injury forced him out of the squad just before the first game. His playing career ended at PSG in 1996, when the 31-year-old made the move straight into coaching, winning the French Cup and League Cup double with the Parisian giants in 1998.
The following year he began his first spell in Brazil. There were stints in charge of Sport, Vitoria, Guarini, Cortiba and Juventude, the majority of which brought modest returns to the clubs concerned. After a frustrating period in charge of the Brazil U-23 side that failed to qualify for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament in 2004, and brief stints at Fluminense and Flamengo, Gomes returned to France.
There, his Bordeaux side were Ligue 1 runners-up in 2005/06 and he managed another League Cup title in 2007. Then came the move to Monaco, his last port of call before returning to Brazil.
In France, Gomes gained a reputation that Sao Paulo supporters would scarcely believe: that of an overly pragmatic coach. Ironically, he is now praised as the man who has supposedly allowed the team to play with more freedom than his predecessor Muricy Ramalho. "More than different coaching styles, what matters is the squad,'' explained Gomes.
"A coach should know how to play in different ways according to the players he has at his disposal. Bordeaux were on the verge of relegation and it wasn't a squad you could play open football with. Sao Paulo, although going through a bad patch, were already a solid, well-organised unit."
In that case, why such a poor start? "It's difficult to say. Under Muricy there were three years of unprecedented success and all the pressure that goes with it, so that's bound to take its toll," he said. "In any case, my team take after me. They have long been trying to maintain possession of the ball better over ninety minutes, but this takes time. Luckily, when we do have the ball we can threaten the opposition."
When it comes to answering questions, the 44-year-old is indeed pragmatic. Disinterested in accolades and comparisons he is well aware that success as a coach in Brazil is no foregone conclusion. "I just want to be a successful coach, no matter where," he said. Now on course to achieve this in his homeland, he can take satisfaction from the fact that Brazil has finally rediscovered Ricardo Gomes.