A change of coach is never the best way to prepare for a World Cup, especially when it comes less than a month before the tournament starts. Yet that is exactly what Brazil chose to do before heading to the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015, a move that even the incoming coach has described as less than ideal.
As it turned out, however, the switch was not as traumatic as it might have been. It came about just a few weeks ago in June, when the Brazilian Football Association (CBF) set up a new partner organisation – the Brazilian Beach Soccer Association (CBSB) – to run the national beach soccer team. The newly founded organisation’s first step was to relieve the incumbent coach of his duties and replace him with someone very well known on the Brazilian and world scene: Junior Negao.
A Seleção legend, Negao was one of the pioneers of the sport in Brazil in the 1990s and went on to skipper his country at the first four FIFA Beach Soccer World Cups, the last three of which ended with him lifting the trophy.
Then followed a move into coaching and two stints in charge of the national side. The first of them came in 2013, during which he steered Brazil to third place at that year’s world finals in Tahiti, followed by a second spell that ended in November 2014, all of which means that this third appointment – timing aside – has hardly come as a surprise.
“Obviously it helps that I know the players really well and that my whole background is in Brazilian beach soccer,” Negao told FIFA.com. “The process that led to this change is not important anymore. What’s important is our interest in the sport and in a renewal that is essential for Brazil right now."
We need to take one of those big steps forward right now, but as a team.
He added: “The sport started out with some great football players like Zico, Junior, Edinho and Claudio Adao, who were followed right afterwards by my generation. Our third generation, which included people like Buru and Mao, kept the results going, but there’s been a huge gulf since then.
“That’s why I said to Rodrigo, Bokinha, Datinha and Catarino that it’s their turn now. In 2013 Bruno Xavier was just another name but he went away as the best player in the world. We need to take one of those big steps forward right now, but as a team.”
Eyes on the prize again
Six members of Negao’s squad are under 27 and the process of renewal is one that clearly excites him. Quite apart from the fact it has come about so suddenly, the success of that process will also hinge, to begin with at least, on the presence of experience in the team.
One man who can provide it is veteran goalkeeper Mao, now 36, who just happens to have played the same number of beach soccer world finals matches in his long career.
“I know I have an important role to play on and off the pitch,” said the custodian, who is about to appear at his seventh World Cup. “I’ve been playing for A Seleção since 2006 and I’ve seen a lot of changes since then, not just in terms of coaches but of Brazil’s status in the world game, from our four consecutive world titles to the levelling-off of standards around the world and to our current quest to win the World Cup back.
“Things have changed for us a lot, but the whole standard of the sport has changed too. There’s been a lot of development in every country, which, to be honest, is fantastic for the sport.”
The days when Brazil routinely swatted their rivals aside, when Negao was a player, have long since gone, as Negao the coach knows full well. Yet while he is not expecting those days to come back, he is hoping to see a new Brazil emerge.
“Brazil were the ambassadors of the worldwide development of the game, but in some ways the legacy we’ve inherited is not a good one,” he said, on the eve of his side’s Portugal 2015 opener against Mexico. “What I mean is that it was great to win so much and to do it with style, but we can’t expect that anymore because it’s not going to happen. Times have changed. They’ve changed so much in fact that you can’t expect Brazil even to win. We need to regain our status as champions.”