Guimaraes thriving on Panama challenge
Like a thrill-seeker constantly in search of a new adventure, Brazilian-born former Costa Rica coach Alexandre Guimaraes has moved from challenge to challenge since taking his beloved Ticos to world football's biggest stage for the second time in 2002.
Now, after ending his second spell in charge of his adopted nation, the 47-year-old has thrown himself fully into his latest quest: that of leading Panama to their first ever FIFA World Cup™ finals.
While he puts the finishing touches to his preparations for an action-packed 2007, the congenial coach was delighted to make space in his diary for FIFA.com. Up for discussion were his recent appointment, the swathe of coaching changes across the CONCACAF Zone, the task before new Costa Rica coach Hernan Medford and the first steps in his bid to put Panamanian football on the map.
FIFA.com: Senor Guimaraes, 2006 ended with you taking charge of the Panamanian national team. What was it that made you accept the job?
Alexandre Guimaraes: To tell you the truth, when I came here with Costa Rica I could already sense that Panamanian football was making big strides. It was something that you could see in how the fans responded to the team, their passionate support and the quality of the players on the park. When you throw in the fact that the U-20 side have appeared at the world championships for their age group, the future looks very bright. I didn't think twice before taking on this challenge.
What was the situation like when you first arrived?
The first impression I had was of the sheer level of expectation surrounding our work from everybody concerned. In turn, as I already mentioned, the stage is set for football here to continue to grow over the next few years so, depending on how well we do our job, things have the potential to go even better. The fact of the matter is this: the raw ingredients are all there; all that's left is to find the right recipe. We've got the passionate support of the fans behind us, federation staff who are willing to listen and a great bunch of people. If you add in the fact that the players have already shown their willingness to improve, then we've got everything we need to do a good job.
Why do you think you were given the position, and what was it that gave you the edge over your rivals for the post?
Of course there were other candidates for the job, including some top-quality coaches, who all have my greatest respect. I think that the reason I was offered the job was the experience I've picked up both in (FIFA World Cup) qualifiers and at the last two World Cups. That's why they've brought me here, so that everything I've learned in Korea/Japan and Germany can be used for the good of Panamanian football. Our goal is to reach the World Cup finals for the very first time.
You mentioned your FIFA World Cup™ experiences. Do any memories stand out in particular?
There are two very different types of experience: during qualifying, and at the World Cup itself. For the moment, I really hope that what I've learnt in Germany and Korea/Japan will still be useful in 2010! (Laughs) As far as qualifying is concerned, the fact that we (Costa Rica) qualified for two consecutive tournaments earned us a great deal of respect, although at the same time it can be a double-edged sword. The players know that I'm a good coach, and that's vital. We're not going to leave anything to chance as far as the upcoming qualifiers are concerned. Every team has a chance of making it through.
Panama, Mexico (Hugo Sanchez) , Guatemala (Hernan Bolillo Gomez), Costa Rica (Hernan Medford), USA (Bob Bradley) , and Jamaica (Bora Milutinovic) all have a new man in charge. Do these appointments signal a change in the CONCACAF coaching scene?
These changes are going to be good for the region as a whole and will mean that the next set of qualifiers have an extra edge. All of these guys, with the exception of Medford and Bradley, are vastly experienced, which will make the competition even fiercer. We're all aware of the importance of having been given time to prepare (prior to the start of qualifying), something the respective federations have clearly taken on board. There are always two stages in any project: you need to lay the groundwork before you can reap the rewards. That being the case, we're currently in the first stage, observing the players and working on the training field to make sure we're in top form when it counts.
Have you had a chance to speak to new Costa Rica coach Hernan Medford yet?
Not yet, but I firmly intend to do so. He's got a difficult period ahead of him because he'll have to oversee wholesale changes in the make-up of his squad. But he's got the fans and the press behind him, as well as an excellent coaching staff.
Have you thought about how it will feel when you take on the Ticos?
I already went through something similar when I played against Brazil. However, there is a footballing maxim that applies in this case: no two games are ever the same. We'll have to see what happens when it's time to face Costa Rica. Football's capacity for the unexpected is one of the things that make it the game it is. You've got to be grateful for everything that comes your way.
One last question, would you mind telling us what you wished for on New Year's Eve?
When I raised my glass, I wished for good health and harmony for my family, and for Panama! I hope that everything turns out well both for the senior team and the Olympic side, and that I can manage to get my message across to the Panamanian players. I need them to get a feel for our coaching and working methods so that we can hit the ground running once qualifying starts.