Luxemburgo clings to power

Tim Vickery in Rio de Janeiro says Chile may be too hot for comfort
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A Samba school paraded around Morumbi stadium, in São Paulo, before Brazil's World Cup qualifier with Argentina on Wednesday. Less typically Brazilian was the sight of the crowd in bobble hats, shivering in the winter night.

A Samba school paraded around Morumbi stadium, in São Paulo, before Brazil's World Cup qualifier with Argentina on Wednesday. Less typically Brazilian was the sight of the crowd in bobble hats, shivering in the winter night.

Even less typical was the fact that Brazil began the game languishing fifth in the table. The danger of the four-time world champions not making it through to 2002 was minimal, though, even before Wednesday's 3-1 win over their old rivals. Four of South America's 10 countries are sure of a place in Japan and South Korea, with the fifth playing off against the champions of Oceania. Over a campaign of 18 games, it is almost inconceivable that Brazil will finish outside the top two. Indeed, with Paraguay, Uruguay and Colombia all held to a draw, Brazil have already moved up to second.

Even so, the present campaign was never going to be easy for the giant nation's favourite target, the coach of the national team.

Two years ago, Wanderley Luxemburgo was cheered in the streets of Rio as he made his way to take over the national team after France 98. He is not being fêted any more. For many Brazilians, joy at beating Argentina was tempered with the disappointment that Luxemburgo had managed to save himself at the last. Another defeat, following on from the 2-1 loss to Paraguay, would have made his position untenable.

The turn against Luxemburgo, in part, goes with the territory. So high are expectations that it is all but impossible to be both popular and the coach of Brazil. Even in adversity, signs of Luxemburgo's competence have shone through. His vision of the game is excellent; he has repeatedly identified weaknesses during a game and improved matters with shrewd substitutions. But if he is strong as a coach, he is weak as a man, and pressure has made him weaker still.

Invariably seen at pitchside in an expensive suit, Luxemburgo confesses that the idea is a hand-me-down from Franz Beckenbauer. But on the original it looks natural; Beckenbauer, after all, was so elegant on the field it looked as if he was playing in a three-piece. On Luxemburgo, it comes across as an artificial act of self-promotion. His vocabulary, full of the techno-babble of "upgrades" and "macro-plans", fits him worse than the suits. In a recent bid to impress, he told journalists about "a French writer called Goethe". He is ridiculous precisely because he has no sense of his own ridiculousness.

Anxious to remind people that he is in control, Luxemburgo has made repeated capitulations to press and public opinion which have been the most startling aspect of Brazil's campaign so far. A series of players have been parachuted in, to the considerable detriment of team cohesion. Terrified of the São Paulo crowd, Luxemburgo brought in Edilson of the local heroes Corinthians for the game against Ecuador. The young striker Ronaldinho made way for him, under the allegation (denied by the player and his club) that he was overweight.

In came the press darling Romario; when he dropped out he was replaced by Edmundo, who, not fully fit and asked to carry out marking duties, was predictably sent off. For the match against Uruguay in the Maracana, former Flamengo favourite Savio was drafted in, forcing a change to an unworkable system. Brazil saved themselves with the half-time introduction of the attacking midfielder Alex, who was then left on the bench against Paraguay, sacrificed for the latest media favourite, Djalminha.

All of the arrivistes played one game and were not heard from again. Rather than blaming himself for the constant changes, the coach pointed the finger at his players, who "need to wake up in the competition". The 3-1 win over Argentina was not his triumph; forced to stick with the same squad who had gone to Para- guay, there was no chance to wreck cohesion with populist gestures. In the event, he was saved by Vampeta, Alex and Ronaldinho, players he has wronged in recent times.

Saved, that is, at least until next month's trip to Chile. Santiago is a difficult venue for visitors, and another defeat would set Luxemburgo running from the hounds once more.

Comments