Opinion, by Robbie Blakeley
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In football (soccer), there are various forms of assessing the work of a manager or coach. How he shapes his teams, style of play, substitutions made during the course of a match, signings suggested to the directors, repertoire of tactical systems, the legacy left behind at a club and, of course, results.
No manager can survive in football without results. But in the game so many factors can affect the outcome of any given match, which can be especially significant across a tournament or league, it would not be just to appraise a manager’s input based purely on results gained on the pitch. That sentiment rings truer for Cuca than any other Brazilian coach.
For over a decade now Cuca has been at the forefront of Brazilian football management, ever since his stint in charge of Goiás in 2003. When he arrived at the club halfway through the 2003 Brasileirão the club were rooted to the foot of the table. They finished the season in ninth place.
Two years later the club finished third and earned a spot in the following year’s Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League. New coach Geninho had reaped the spoils of Cuca’s earlier travails.
Cuca has spent time at a host of major clubs in Brazil including São Paulo, Flamengo, Botafogo, Grêmio and Cruzeiro, but no one benefited from the “Cuca effect” quite like Fluminense in 2009. That year, he saved the Laranjeiras club from what looked an almost certain relegation in October.
After making an uninspiring start of the 2010 Campeonato Carioca he was dismissed from his charge and coach Muricy Ramalho, who had won three successive Brasileirão titles with São Paulo between 2006 and 2008, was installed. He would go on to win the 2010 Brasileirão with Fluminense but Cuca’s role in assembling that squad, in installing a match-winning mentality in players short of self-belief, is wrongfully overlooked by the club.
Those responsible for removing him failed to recognize the upward trajectory he set in motion during the second half of 2009 that would lead to national glory a little over a year later. In short, he has always been looked at as Brazil’s loveable loser, doomed always to be second best and never earning the glory others seemed to inherit from his efforts.
With Atlético-MG’s Copa Libertadores success last week, Cuca’s stock has justifiably risen. The continental crown is recompense for ten years of hard, and often unrewarded, graft. His Atlético side finished runners-up in last year’s Brasileirão, but boosted by their attacking trio of Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Bernard and a seemingly reformed Jô, played the finest, free flowing football in the country.
When the title went to Fluminense Atlético’s directors stood by their man in the same way Corinthians stood by Tite in 2011 following a premature elimination from the Libertadores. The following year they were continental and then world champions.
Atlético’s decision has proved to be right. Cuca is respected across Brazil for his daring brand of football but has always been questioned on his failure to land a major title. His reward has come at last.