Yesterday, Grêmio and Atlético Paranaense played out a 0-0 draw in the Brazilian league.
So? Why does this warrant a whole article, Zetona?
To answer that, we have to keep in mind the current coaching situation in the Brazilian league.
Good coaching, let alone attack-oriented coaching, has been something of a rarity in Brazil recently, which owes to a whole number of factors: a large number of “big”, historically successful clubs compete for a small number of actual prizes and titles, which means fans often have unrealistic expectations for success; many clubs give fans opportunities to buy memberships and vote on management roles, which gives them a level of influence that, if they’re impatient or overly demanding, can pressure the management into rapid-fire coaching changes; the resultant culture means clubs move for proven quick-fix coaches instead of trying to implement long-term plans to grow and develop their football, which usually just means hiring Joel Santana for the fifth time; and the CBF’s coaching licenses aren’t valid in Europe, which keeps Brazilian coaches out of big-ticket jobs abroad.
A deeper dive into the issue is beyond the scope of this article: suffice it to say that Renato Gaúcho’s twenty-month tenure in charge of Grêmio is the third-longest of any coach in the Brazilian top flight (and Enderson Moreira and Mano Menezes, the top two, have him beat by only about two months). That was enough time for him to turn the Porto Alegre club into arguably the strongest team on the continent, sweeping to last year’s Copa Libertadores title on the back of slick passing play and attacking football. It doesn’t hurt that Grêmio have one of the best squads in South America, boasting World Cup hopefuls Marcelo Grohe, Pedro Geromel, Arthur, and Luan, as well as young talents like Everton and Ramiro and proven veterans like Léo Moura and Bruno Cortez. Arthur and Luan may well represent the future of the Seleção’s midfield, and if anybody is in pole position to take over the national team coaching job whenever Tite departs, it’s Renato.
Which all means that anybody hoping to make a name for themselves as a coach has to go through Renato and his Grêmio side. Enter Fernando Diniz, maybe the most ambitious coach in the entire country. He first drew national attention for his exploits at the head of São Paulo state minnows Audax, where he instilled a fanatical devotion to Barcelona-style tiki-taka passing play. It was a philosophy that led to occasional embarrassments, but it also produced one of football’s great underdog campaigns: Audax reached the final of the 2016 São Paulo state championship, beating national giants Corinthians and São Paulo to do so. After bouncing around between similarly low-tier clubs for much of the next year and a half, Diniz finally got his big break this year, landing his first top-flight job with Atlético Paranaense. Despite his lack of top-flight experience, Diniz seems to have adapted well: earlier in April, Atlético won the Paraná state championship, notched an impressive 3-0 first-leg win against Newell’s Old Boys in the Copa Sudamericana, and beat Chapecoense 5-1 to end the first round of Brazilian league action on top of the table.
All this set the stage for yesterday’s matchup. Rarely has the Brazilian league had two coaches so intent on, and successful in producing, attacking, aesthetically pleasing football—and yesterday, they faced each other for the first time ever. It’s the sort of game that warrants a writeup no matter what the result. Let’s dive in. Continue reading