Brazil men's national team coach Tite made it clear last week that he will be leaving his post after the 2022 World Cup. This was hardly a bombshell. He had made similar remarks on the same Brazilian TV show back in November 2018. But his latest statements will only spur the imminent search to find his successor.
Much can happen between now and Qatar. There is still time for reputations to be made or broken before the World Cup. But what is striking is that at this moment there is no clear Brazilian candidate to step into Tite's shoes. Might Brazil be a few months away from having a non-Brazilian in charge of a symbol as important as the national football team?
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This would certainly seem to be the direction of things. A few months back an offer was made to Xavi Hernandez to join the Brazil coaching staff as an assistant, with the idea that he would take over the top job after the World Cup. The call of Barcelona proved more seductive. But at that point Brazil had made it clear that they were willing to break the taboo and appoint a non-Brazilian. This is in part down to a lack of domestic options. There is clearly no prejudice against South American coaches in top class European football. But Brazilians specifically have not been able to make impressions in the Old Continent.
Indeed, it is even hard to find Brazilian coaches elsewhere in South America. Former international centre back Antonio Carlos Zago is in charge at Bolivar -- but his hold on his job will be weakened if the Bolivian side are knocked out of the qualifying rounds of the Copa Libertadores this week. And if Brazilian coaches can make little headway abroad, they are losing space at home. Almost half of the country's first division clubs are now coached by a non-Brazilian, with Portuguese and Argentines leading the way, and space also for coaches from Uruguay and Paraguay.
Some of these are new and will not last. Others have already made their mark. Argentina's Juan Pablo Vojvoda did a sensational job last year with Fortaleza, taking them to fourth pace in the league and qualifying them for the Copa Libertadores for the first time. He could now be a victim of his own success, with expectations much higher and the club facing a gruelling schedule of matches and travel. But if he can keep up the good work then he might become an outside candidate for the Brazil job.
A Portuguese coach is more likely. The name of Abel Ferreira is frequently floated. The Palmeiras boss has two consecutive Libertadores titles to his name, and took Chelsea close to a shoot-out in the recent Club World Cup. And if his style of football is not sufficiently crowd pleasing there is always his compatriot Jorge Jesus, who took Flamengo to paradise in 2019 -- and who also has the benefit of being out of work following his recent sacking by Benfica. The arrival of Jorge Jesus to Flamengo nearly three years ago was a turning point. His Flamengo side broke the mould by playing a high defensive line and being set up to attack. The side were not only victorious, they were a joy to watch -- and it left the "safety first" Brazilian coaches looking poor by comparison.
The Brazilian coaching fraternity have complained that their qualifications have not been accepted by UEFA. But this is a red herring. It hardly explains why European clubs have not been running across the Atlantic to make them offers. Their historical contribution has often been overlooked, harshly obfuscated by the individual brilliance of the players. The back four began in Brazil, and Mario Zagallo's 1970 team were fascinating pioneers of 4-2-3-1.
But more recently they have accepted too readily the problems of the domestic Brazilian game -- too many matches, poor pitches, too much pressure not to lose. It has put them in a straight jacket of mediocre pragmatism -- shown up by the swagger of the Jorge Jesus' Flamengo, or with much more modest resources, by the dynamism of Vojvoda's Fortaleza.
The stakes are high, then, for all the Brazilian coaches in this year's first division -- which kicks off in little more than a month's time. If one of them can come up with an impressive piece of work in the next few months, then he could be chosen to lead O Seleção. Failing that, the once unthinkable will become the probable, and the five-time World Cup champions will seriously consider handing over its football team to a coach born outside its borders.