Days after the resignation of Grêmio coach Roger Machado, Brazil’s managerial merry-go-round took another spin as Cristóvão Borges got the boot at Corinthians after losing at home to close rivals Palmeiras on Saturday afternoon. Cristóvão managed to stay in the job for a grand total of 85 days.
Saturday’s loss put an end to an impressive streak of 34 matches unbeaten at home for Corinthians, a run which dated back to August 2015 and a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Santos in the cup. However, the club’s recent form has been poor, winning only three of their last twelve league games and taking them out of contention for the Brazilian championship title.
Furthermore, the way in which they lost to Palmeiras caused such disappointment and embarrassment that some form of change had to be made. Corinthians were beaten 2-0 (it perhaps should have been more) by a Palmeiras side without top goalscorer Gabriel Jesus and defensive commander Vitor Hugo, in a match where only home fans were present due to local federation guidelines.
One could argue that Palmeiras have never had it so easy against Corinthians, with the home side never seriously threatening their rivals. In the second half, the home fans sitting in the most expensive seats began to protest against club president Roberto de Andrade. According to Juca Kfouri, the country’s best-known sports journalist and self-confessed corintiano, this was because blaming the manager was not enough “in the face of the parade of mediocrity from the players that wore the black-and-white shirt”.
Cristóvão, at the end of the day, got the blame. Having taken the job in June, replacing the now Brazilian national team manager Tite, Cristovão has come under sustained criticism from Corinthians fans for his perceived timorousness in match situations. The common complaint is that the team have let points slip due to the manager’s lack of adventure in substitutions. While this is not necessarily untrue, it only tells half of the full story.
Throughout 2016, Corinthians have seen their squad steadily dismantled. Against Palmeiras on Saturday, only one member of the 2015 Brazilian championship-winning side (goalkeeper Cássio) featured within the starting 11. Financial constraints have meant that last year’s team has not been replaced with players of any comparable quality. Cristóvão may have been reluctant to make attacking substitutions, but he also had next to no attacking quality on the bench. Football journalist Paulo Vinicius Coelho opined that if you want a coach to do an amazing job in 85 days while the squad is being dismantled, there is no point hiring Guardiola, you’d be better off praying to Jesus.
Clearly, Corinthians could have kept Cristóvão on until the end of the year. The team is in no real danger of dropping far down the league table and are still in the Copa do Brasil, but with the pressure building on the current administration and elections next year, the best political move was to act quickly and throw Cristóvão to the wolves, directing attention away from themselves.
Graffiti on the walls of Corinthians’ Parque São Jorge training complex (Less Luxury, More Football)
The Genesis of the Corinthians Exodus is in the Numbers (I’ll stop naming books of the Bible now), more specifically the numbers on the club’s balance sheets. At the beginning of 2015 I predicted some years of austerity ahead for Corinthians due to some unwise spending, inept administration and the fact that a huge chunk of their revenue is dedicated to paying for the brand new Arena Corinthians. It was obvious that the club had to sell and would be unable to spend big on replacements.
This is highly unlikely to become any long-term crisis, more of a temporary drought to the club’s cash flow. The club’s director of football, Eduardo Ferreira, compared it to nothing more than a belly ache: “Sometimes it’s better to just have a big bout of diarrhoea and deal with the problem now, instead of having to put up with pain for days and years”.
In the short term, Corinthians’ plan is to keep Fábio Carille, a coach who has been at the club for seven years, in a caretaker role until the end of the season. However, conflicting reports from within Corinthians suggest that this will depend on his early results. The club are undoubtedly looking at the examples of Zé Ricardo and Jair Ventura (son of 1970 World Cup-winner Jairzinho), caretaker managers who have stepped in and turned things around this season at Flamengo and Botafogo, respectively.
Looking ahead to next season, the news that Roger Machado is now on the market will surely pique Corinthians’ interest. Upon leaving the club to take over the Brazilian national team, Tite has indicated Roger as an ideal successor, someone to continue his ideas and methods, but the ex-Grêmio coach was reluctant to make the move.