Britain's first Brazilian manager lifts Livingston

Click to follow
The Independent Football

You could have forgiven Livingston for wanting to have nothing more to do with South America. A year ago, they lined up an Argentinian with a World Cup on his CV and all it brought was an unsavoury incident that soured their season.

Now they have a Brazilian whose claim to fame is unearthing Ronaldo. At least Marcio Maximo Barcellos will be around long enough to take in a Scottish Premier League game.

Britain's first Brazilian manager makes his bow on Saturday when his club open the campaign away to Partick Thistle, which is more than Sergio Berti, last summer's big recruit at Almondvale, managed. The Argentinian's disgraceful act in spitting on his teenage colleague Richard Brittain in pre-season saw Berti's contract cancelled before the former Parma star even kicked a ball in the SPL.

"It was the catalyst for all the troubles we had at this club last season," David Hay, the chief coach, said. "There was a cloud over the place because of that."

Livingston have been the missionaries of Scottish football in the new millennium. The club that was in the Third Division eight years ago, until it changed name - from Meadowbank Thistle - and location, has come a long way in a short time. They finished third behind Celtic and Rangers in their first top flight campaign in 2001-02 and reached the Uefa Cup.

All the insular antecedents have been swept away by the club's millionaire chairman, Dominic Keane, and Hay - the former Celtic manager - who has shared the managerial duties in the club's rise.

A diverse cast of Argentinians, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Africans and even Trinidadians fill the West Lothian club's dressing-room. Now, Livingston want to take a step forward and join the Old Firm élite on a more permanent basis.

Maximo made just that pledge when he took over. "Of course Celtic and Rangers will always be favourites," he said. "However, my mission here is to try and surprise them."

That was certainly the case two seasons ago. Rangers were beaten at Almondvale and Celtic also lost points to the then newcomers. However, Keane felt a breath of fresh air was needed after finishing ninth last term, especially if he was to fill his impressive stadium's 10,000 seats on a regular basis.

"We wanted to do this a year ago, but the Uefa Cup got in the way," said Keane. "David and Jim Leishman [who has returned to Dunfermline as general manager] were part of the history here but we wanted to put a new team in place and the time was right for a change. I think Marcio is the right man for the job, but I have no doubt it will also put a lot of pressure on us, as far as the media is concerned."

Maximo simply shrugs his shoulders at that prospect. "I do not feel confident if there is no pressure," said the 41-year-old. "If it's not there, I think there's something wrong. Some people break under pressure but I have lived with it all my life."

Maximo entered coaching when a near-fatal car crash ended his playing career in Brazil. He followed the well-worn - and lucrative - route of Brazilian coaches to the Middle East, with spells in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as a spell as national coach to the Cayman Islands.

But it was his time with the Brazilian FA as coach to the country's under-17 and under-19 squads that is the most intriguing aspect of his background. There he spotted Ronaldo and gave the phenomenon his big break at the age of 15. Ronaldinho was another to come under his care.

However, Maximo is quick to play down the link. "I have not come here to dig up another Ronaldo," he said. "I have come to get each player to play to his full potential. Players are like diamonds, you need to polish them. You need to shake them so that their qualities come to the surface."

The effect has been noticeable on Fernando Pasquinelli. The young Argentinian forward floundered for much of his initial six months after arriving in January, but two goals in the defeat of Fulham on Tuesday in a friendly at Almondvale has Maximo purring in anticipation.

Already, Maximo has made an impact in the dressing-room. "The most telling attribute is his respect for the players," said the club's captain, Stuart Lovell.

Maximo actually applied for the vacancy at Fulham before being put in touch with Livingston. However, Lothian answered his call instead of London. "I want to be an ambassador for Brazilian football in Scotland, and Livingston will be the embassy office," he declared.