São Paulo’s Sweeney Todd: How Muricy Ramalho is killing the game

February 5, 2008 at 12:22 Leave a comment

ram1.jpgTo my knowledge, Muricy Ramalho does not wield a straight razor. He doesn’t need one. Just watching his team is enough to make you want to slit your own throat.


After seeing São Paulo produce yet another scoreless bore away at Ponte Preta, it’s time to speak out against the coach who is draining the life out of the game.


Ramalho took over at the Morumbi in January 2006 and his record of winning the Brasileiro (Brazil’s national league) in successive years is difficult to argue against. But the fact remains that under Ramalho, São Paulo have become the best ever cure for insomniacs.


Tactically, São Paulo are painfully predictable. They are set up not to concede and not to lose. This may seem logical but this approach is needlessly applied to every game. Regardless of the quality (or lack of it) of the opposition, there is a conspicuous absence of sustained attacking play and a desire to win by a clear margin.


Ramalho’s game plan goes like this: nearly everyone behind the ball at all times. Knock the ball forward to Dagoberto or Aloísio (when he’s fit) who will dive for a free kick near the opposition’s area. Use Rogério Ceni or Jorge Wagner for direct free kicks on goal or crosses for Adriano/Aloísio to head. Oh, and did I mention get everyone behind the ball?

In this year’s Campeonato Paulista, São Paulo have already produced two 0x0s in six games. They have put away only seven goals, which makes them the lowest scoring side in the top nine.


A coach might be excused for such a defensive style if he did not have the playing personnel capable of producing attractive, attacking football. But São Paulo have talent in abundance.


Let’s reel off just a few of the names: Adriano, Dagoberto, Carlos Alberto, Richarlyson, Jorge Wagner, Joílson, Hernanes.


So, why are São Paulo set up to try to snatch the odd goal when a team containing these players could put three or four past most sides in the Paulista without breaking sweat? 


Ramalho has one of the best squads in Brazil but still chooses to torture football fans. He’s like the kid that gets the best Christmas presents but keeps them stored safely in the box.


Just look what he’s done to Hernanes. Ramalho has turned one of the most naturally gifted players in Brazil into a defensive midfielder. This is a criminal waste of Hernane’s skills. And now the same is happening to new boy, Joílson. Last year, the former Botafogo man was a marauder – a player of attacking verve who was a joy to watch. Now Joílson’s runs down the right or middle are a rare sight. So, why buy a player like this if you don’t want him to perform the same way?


As for Hernanes, he was originally moved into a more defensive role because of a lack of cover in this position. But now options are available to Ramalho that would allow Hernanes to operate in a more positive role either further forward or down the flanks.


In Joílson’s case, it’s clear he’s being made to fit into Ramalho’s rigid tactical system – a system which is bereft of creative ideas. As a rule, Ramalho will make substitutions for injuries or during the closing stages of a match in an attempt to run down the clock. He does not introduce players to try to win a game. It’s only when São Paulo are trailing (which is not very often) when we see the team suddenly come to life.


Ramalho is not the first coach to misuse the riches at his disposal – just look at what Dunga has done with Brazil. José Marinho at Chelsea put us to sleep. Before the arrival of Arsene Wenger, Arsenal were the kings of the 1x0s. Both these English teams enjoyed some domestic success but neither never came anywhere to winning the Champions League. And this brings us to the Libertadores.


While Ramalho’s overly cautious tactics function in the league, they fall apart in crucial playoff stages where goals are required over two legs. In their Libertadores campaign in 2007, São Paulo beat Grêmio 1×0 in the Morumbi. They then lost the away leg 2×0. Was the lesson learnt? We shall see later this season.


Ramalho is part of the new breed of Brazilian coaches who believe that stifling the opposition and not conceding is the only way to success. Mano Menezes at Corinthians is another. His side have only let in three in six games. This sounds impressive until you see that Corinthians have not scored in the last three and are tenth in the table. In his defence (as it were), Menezes has just arrived at a club that has brought in fourteen new players since the New Year. Muricy Ramalho does not have this excuse.


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Jon Cotterill. Commentator/expert/eyes on South American football. São Paulo/Buenos Aires. Trying to shout more.

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