Sports

Two months have gone by since the end of the World Cup, and Brazil are still without a replacement for coach Tite, who stepped down after the competition. Local FA president Ednaldo Rodrigues originally gave himself an informal deadline of the end of January to appoint a new man. That, obviously, has come and gone, and the decision has been made to put Ramon Meneses, the Under-20s boss, in charge for a friendly next month against Morocco.

For some this recalls the extraordinary story of Lionel Scaloni in charge of Argentina. With no previous senior coaching experience, he was made coach of the national side on a caretaker basis and ended up taking them all the way to glory in the World Cup. Could Meneses also be in the long haul?

It is a possibility, but at this stage it looks unlikely. There is one very important difference: back in 2018 Argentina did not have much option. They had sacked Jorge Sampaoli, who was on a fat, long-term contract and had to be paid off. Money was short and Scaloni came cheap. The Brazilian FA are not operating under the same restrictions. They can pay.

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It would appear that Brazil have set their sights on a big-name foreign coach, which is going to prove very controversial. The local coaching fraternity are not happy with the idea, and it is likely that older supporters would also not be pleased. Moreover, can a big name be seduced? Top ranking coaches tend to prefer the Champions League to national team football. The international game has become an arena for rookies or veterans.

There is one name that very much fits Brazil’s requirements. Top of the wish-list is Carlo Ancelotti. It is easy to see the attraction. No one can possibly doubt his credentials. He has worked successfully with Brazilian players — Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and, until recently Casemiro, for example. His ability to adapt is beyond doubt after winning the league in Italy, England, France, Germany and Spain. And, crucially, he is a diplomat, a man who despite a glowing career as player and coach carries himself with a low profile and glorifies in a tranquil style of leadership. The first foreigner to take charge of Brazil will be walking into a potentially hostile environment and will surely need finely honed diplomatic skills. Ancelotti ticks all the boxes.

Except for one. He is not available — for now anyway.

Ancelotti is, of course, employed by Real Madrid, who he has just taken to the Club World Cup title. He is under contract until 2024, and says he has no intention of leaving before then.

But do Real Madrid see things the same way? This was always supposed to be something of a transitional season. The transfer of Casemiro to Manchester United was the first move in a slow dismantling of a midfield which was growing old together. More changes will surely come and they will doubtless be accelerated if Los Blancos are eliminated from the Champions League.

This week Real Madrid play the first leg of their tie against Liverpool, the side they beat to win last year’s Champions League in such dramatic and unexpected fashion. In every match up of the knockout rounds — against Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as in the final, they found themselves under desperate pressure, but Ancelotti kept his cool and they always managed to find a way to win.

Few would expect them to be able to give a repeat performance. And Liverpool, showing signs of a resurgence, will be dangerous opponents. If Liverpool can press with anything like their old ferocity, will Real be able to hold them off once more? Should Liverpool prevail, then Real will surely be tempted to speed up the process of transition by bringing in a new coach for next season.

This is a deal which might suit everybody. Real would not come out of this looking ungrateful and heartless because Ancelotti would be moving on to the prestigious and historic task of coaching Brazil. Ancelotti has been hinting that retirement might not be too far away. Taking Brazil on the road to the 2026 World Cup would be a fitting way to round off a magnificent career. And Brazil would hope to have him in place by the FIFA dates of June, when Ramon Meneses is expected to be otherwise engaged with the Under-20 World Cup in Indonesia.

This would appear to be the most likely explanation for Brazil’s lack of urgency: they are waiting for Ancelotti to be free. Over the next couple of weeks, then, it is up to Liverpool to do Brazil a favour.

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