x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Can Leonardo buck the Brazilian trend?

The game's greatest talent exporter can hardly send enough young footballers to satisfy the appetite of clubs in Europe, but those clubs hardly look twice at the men who might have helped shape their talents.

Wanderley Luxemburgo sat in the head coach's office at the Real Madrid training ground and said candidly: "In Europe they think Brazil is the third world and that we struggle to organise things." Luxemburgo he told me this some four years ago, as we discussed the strangely low number of Brazilians who have landed jobs coaching the elite teams of Europe. Luxemburgo was then one of the exceptions. He lasted less than a year in the Spanish capital.

He was right to think Brazilian coaches are viewed as sceptically at the top end of club football as Brazilian footballers are regarded in awe. More than a thousand players left Brazil in 2008 to forge careers in European football; almost no coaches did. The game's greatest talent exporter can hardly send enough young footballers to satisfy the appetite of clubs in Europe's, but the chairmen and presidents who invest most readily on those athletes hardly look twice at the men who might have helped shape their talents. Carlos Alberto Parreira, who guided Brazil to the 1994 World Cup, once told me he thought Brazil did have some catching up to do, at least on countries like France, Italy and Spain, in streamlining its systems for training coaches. His one appointment at a major European club, Valencia, immediately after his World Cup win, was brief and unsuccessful. Fifteen years on, his compatriots' stays in big jobs are still brief. Zico, the Brazilian player of the 1970s and 80s, was sacked by Fenerbahce of Turkey last year, though he has bounced back somewhat as head coach at Russia's CSKA Moscow.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, Luxemburgo's contemporary, lasted barely six months at Chelsea to be replaced temporarily by Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman, and now Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian who has just left AC Milan. Milan have gone out on a limb with Ancelotti's replacement: Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo. Leonardo is from Brazil. But Leonardo is very much from Milan, too. "I have been here for 12 years," he reminded people on being unveiled as head coach. That's a dozen years combining roles first as a player, creative and hard working in some vintage Milan midfields, and then on the executive staff, involved in recruiting - Kaka came to Milan partly thanks to Leonardo - and planning. He has had an important influence at the club, but for most of the last few years, he has been there wearing a suit. When he steps on to the training pitch with Milan's footballers once they return from their holidays next month, he will be a relative novice. This is his first senior coaching job.

Debutants are hit or miss. At Barcelona, a first-time head coach, Pep Guardiola, has done wonders in his first season. But at Bayern Munich and Ajax, conspicuously, Jurgen Klinsmann and Marco van Basten have just flopped in their first seasons. What Leonardo will bring to Milan is intelligence, ideas, and loads of charm. But he still has a tough job to take on. Milan's squad needs rejuvenating, and just because the head coach is still under 40 - Leonardo reaches that landmark in September - it doesn't mean an ageing squad will shed their years. He also faces the prospect that his key recruit in his previous role, Kaka, may be leaving. He has the Beckham issue to consider. He has a hard act to follow, too. Ancelotti was there for eight years, and won the Champions League twice and the Scudetto. Leonardo will be under pressure to win one of those before too long, to succeed in an area where so few of his compatriot coaches have been invited to try.

ihawkey@thenational.ae