Saturday 20 October 2018

The man who lifted Brazil’s fallen giants

In tears when he was overlooked for the job in 2014, Tite's chance came two years ago and he has seized it in style

Brazil head coach Tite speaks to his players during training. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Brazil head coach Tite speaks to his players during training. Photo: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Jack Lang

Few children anticipate Christmas with quite the same bug-eyed glee palpable in the Brazilian advertising sector when the World Cup rolls around. This nation of 200 million souls lives for football, and football sells - especially when the Selecao are involved.

Neymar, naturally, is the gilded kingpin of the scene, and the cast list this year has expanded to include Gabriel Jesus, Willian and Philippe Coutinho, other notable Brazilian stepover-envoys who look set to shine in Russia. Yet the star of the summer's most memorable television spot is not actually a player at all. The advert, for a major bank, features a rousing patchwork of aphorisms delivered by the Brazil coach, Adenor Leonardo Bacchi.

It is pitched as "a team-talk for all Brazilians", and while one might reasonably wonder what exactly all that has to do with current accounts, the lofty tone neatly captures the 57-year-old's standing in his country.

He may be just two years into the job but Bacchi - universally known as Tite - is already well on the way to achieving national-treasure status after engineering a remarkable turnaround in Brazil's fortunes.

The Selecao were in a parlous state when he took the reins, still haunted by the spectre of the harrowing 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany and hamstrung by a lack of vision from on high.

The reappointment of tetchy company man Dunga had struck most as an obvious backward step, and, sure enough, by the time he exited the stage, two galling Copa America failures later, Brazil had slumped to sixth in their World Cup qualifying group.

Tite embracing star man Neymar. Photo: Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images
Tite embracing star man Neymar. Photo: Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Fresh impetus was needed and the Brazilian football federation finally decided that Tite, who had been reduced to tears upon being overlooked in 2014, was the man to conjure it. That faith was repaid in double-quick time: Brazil embarked on an eight-match winning run, becoming the first team to book their place in Russia. There has been no let-up since.

Born into a family of modest means in Brazil's temperate south, Tite was first spotted by another future Brazil coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, on whose recommendation the youngster won a professional contract with Caxias.

His nickname dates back to that time: he went by Ade until Scolari, mixing him up with another youngster, introduced him as Tite. But only when a middling playing career was cut short by injury, at the age of 27, did he find his true calling.

Not that he knew it then. "I never dreamed of being a manager," he wrote recently, "but as a young man who still lived for football, I went down the path of coaching."

Fatherly, enthusiastic and protective when the occasion demands, he is beloved by the players, while his collaborative approach behind the scenes, where he has a small army of back-room staff, has also won him admirers. He goes about his job with seriousness, but also with a smile, which goes a long way.

"I would kill for Tite," Marcelo said last year, and he would probably have 22 accomplices if it ever came to that.

From a distance, all of this might seem slightly surreal. This, after all, is a manager who has never managed outside Brazil, let alone in one of Europe's top leagues. Yet while Tite might be a late bloomer on the world stage, his quality has never been in doubt in his homeland.

"I'm not surprised he's doing so well," Scolari, who led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, said.

"Of course, the Brazil job is bigger than any club job, but Tite has always been a good coach. Always."

His CV, which boasts two league titles, one Copa Libertadores and a Club World Cup (memorably sealed against Chelsea) with Corinthians, certainly attests to that, and there is no doubt that he is a tireless student of the game, to the extent that he took a sabbatical in 2014 to read up on the latest tactical theories and embark on fact-finding missions to Real Madrid, Boca Juniors and Arsenal. He watched all 64 games at that summer's World Cup, jotting down observations in a notebook, and his appreciation of Germany's 4-1-4-1 system is evident in the way Brazil play today.

"Tite breathes football and loves to learn," his agent, Gilmar Veloz, said during his client's year off.

"He wants to know about other coaches, how they won titles, how they turned certain games around."

Carlo Ancelotti is one of his managerial heroes, but more recently the influence of Pep Guardiola, with whom Tite has developed a blossoming long-distance friendship, has grown stronger: it is no accident that there could be three Manchester City players in his side this summer. "The talent is always there in Brazil, but now Tite and his coaches have put it all together in the right way," Guardiola said last year.

"You see how comfortable they are with the way they play."

Gabriel Jesus, who plays under both men, believes they are cut from the same cloth: "They're very similar. Both place a lot of value on the team's intensity, shape and pressing."

The side look more coherent than for a decade, thanks in large part to an overdue rejig of the squad.

Coutinho and Casemiro, previously in and out of favour, have thrived since being made fixtures in the starting XI; Alisson has been a revelation in goal; and Paulinho, who first made his name under Tite at Corinthians, is a player reborn. Then there is Jesus, the coach's pet project, thrust into the deep end as a teenager and tightening his grip on the No 9 jersey with every passing month.

Crucially, the personnel changes have been guided by an underlying tactical plan. One of Tite's biggest tasks was to solve the problem of Neymardependencia, Brazil's chronic over-reliance on their best player, and while no one is doubting the forward's importance, there are at least other attacking avenues to explore now.

There is more movement, more combination play, more swagger. Throw in a commitment to pressing higher up the pitch and you have an altogether more modern side.

The question now is whether Tite can take Brazil all the way, banishing what he calls their "little ghost" - the lingering mental scars of the Germany defeat.

"I think they are in very good shape," added Scolari. "The team is really well organised; every player has a role that suits his skills.

"There's a good team spirit in the group. So, I see a Selecao that can go far. They can reach the final."

Former Brazil midfielder Gilberto Silva is even more optimistic. "The team is really well prepared," he said. "Tite and his technical team have trained them well. The players have really got behind the way he works, which has allowed him to implement his footballing philosophy. He is studious, but he has got everybody putting the effort in - that much is clear when you see them on the pitch. They have a great chance of winning in Russia."

If they do, expect their cerebral, quotable coach to be immortalised in statues as well as adverts. (© The Daily Telegraph)

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