With the battle at the top of the league table stealing all the attention over the past few weeks, casual followers of Brazilian football may have missed the news that Grêmio’s talented coach Roger Machado has resigned from his post at the Porto Alegre club.
His decision came in the wake of two embarrassing away defeats for Grêmio, losing 4-0 to Coritiba and 3-0 to Ponte Preta, results that all but certainly disqualified the club from the domestic title race. Despite an impressive performance against league leaders Palmeiras sandwiched in between, the two losses led the 41-year-old Roger to step down, perhaps jumping before he was pushed.
Having been handed the job after a solid campaign with the modest Novo Hamburgo in the 2015 Rio Grande do Sul state championships, Roger was a breath of fresh air at Grêmio. Instead of following stale principles passed down by a succession of archaic coaches at the club, he brought Grêmio into the 21st century, applying contemporary methods and strategy. His biggest deviation from Brazilian football’s Received Knowledge was his belief the team as a whole was far more important than individual talent. Once a side functions properly in a collective context, individuals are able to flourish naturally.
Roger’s Grêmio side worked tirelessly without possession and their positioning was so well-drilled that they were able to attack quickly and efficiently whenever they won back the ball.
However, their shortcoming was always their squad depth, being constantly forced to look to a mixture of homegrown talent and aging veterans. Roger also deserves plenty of credit in this aspect, developing the careers of Olympic gold medalists Luan and Walace, revitalising the reputations of Douglas, Marcelo Oliveira and Maicon, and helping Giuliano, Pedro Geromel and Marcelo Grohe toward national team call ups.
To replace Roger, Grêmio have turned to a familiar face in local hero Renato Portaluppi (commonly known elsewhere Brazil as Renato Gaúcho), handing him a three-month contract and tasking him with winning the Copa do Brasil. He is seen as a safe pair of hands, having managed the club twice already, but his appointment is also somewhat playing to the gallery.
Renato Gaúcho, pictured alongside Grêmio president Romildo Bolzan Jr
Renato is idolised by the Grêmio fans. He was a key part of the side that won the 1983 Copa Libertadores title and went on to win the Intercontinental Cup of the same year (Renato scored both goals as Grêmio defeated Hamburg 2-1 after extra time). On his latest return to Porto Alegre, Renato will be assisted by Valdir Espinosa, the manager that led the club to that continental and intercontinental double, further underlining the populist twist to this new coaching team.
Renato’s style is uncomplicated: he is a motivator who “speaks the language” of the Brazilian footballer. This could be enough to inspire a brief change in their immediate fortunes and even help them go far in the cup, but on the grand scale of things his (re-)appointment is retrograde.
Unlike Roger, Renato Gaúcho’s coaching methods and playing style are antiquated. His sides play an old-fashioned 4-3-1-2 system with three defensive midfielders, ultra-attacking full-backs, central defenders that rarely step ahead of their 18-yard line and a classic No 10 playmaker. It is no coincidence that Renato arrived speaking highly of 34-year-old attacking midfielder Douglas, saying he will be fundamental to the team. The fear is that Roger’s exemplary work will be undone and Grêmio will topple back into the past.
This raises another question: was Grêmio’s hiring of Roger Machado a one-off? He was brought in last season after Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked, which had left the club with no money to bring in another big name. After a cursory glance through some of Grêmio’s recent coaches (Vanderlei Luxemburgo, Celso Roth, Caio Júnior, even Renato Gaúcho himself) and the astonishing statistic that no manager has lasted a full season at the club since Mano Menezes in 2007, it doesn’t bear well for the future of the project Roger Machado put in place in mid-2015.
If your Portuguese is up to scratch, check out these two excellent articles by Globoesporte.com’s Leonardo Miranda: