Halfway through the season, São Paulo are in free-fall, down to 11th in the league but with the potential to be 13th with other teams’ games in hand. They’ve only won one game in six and lost half of them. Their two best players, Jonathan Calleri and Ganso, have moved to pastures new in West Ham and Sevilla respectively. Almost half of São Paulo’s goals came from their two talismans, and they’ve struggled to find suitable replacements.
Just as worryingly for São Paulo, they lost their manager to the Argentine national team, who has had better luck than his old team and convinced the great Messi to come out of retirement and play yet again for the White and Sky Blue.
São Paulo, however, have at least found a suitable replacement for Edgardo Bauza and hired Botafogo’s Ricardo Gomes. Hotly touted for the Cruzeiro job earlier in the season, Gomes’ stock is high after dragging Botafogo out of Serie B and holding their own in the first half of Serie A. The Brazilian manager merry-go-round continues as usual, with Gomes returning to the club he managed to a 3rd-placed finish in 2009 and subsequently to the semi-final of the Copa Libertadores in 2010. This is Gomes’ 16th appointment in 20 years, not an unusual statistic in Brazilian football, where managers are cheap and loyalty cheaper.
Possibly familiar to older readers, centre-back Gomes was captain of the national side during Brazil’s disappointing performance at the 1990 World Cup, getting himself sent off against arch-rivals Argentina in the last 16. Due to captain Brazil yet again during the 1994 World Cup triumph, he was pulled from the squad at the last minute due to injury. Spending much of his career in Portugal and France, he won leagues and domestic cups with both Benfica and Paris Saint-Germain.
At São Paulo, he faces an uphill battle from the beginning. A club low on points and lower in confidence, they’re now nine points adrift of the all-important Copa Libertadores slots with only 18 games to go. The players they’ve brought in are talented but inconsistent. Peruvian Cuerva was the like-for-like replacement for Ganso and has scored three goals in eight games, but often goes missing in games and is unable, at the minute at least, to take a game by the scruff of the neck like Ganso.
Ganso is clearly a hard act to follow. One of the most talented Brazilians, he hit the scene at the same time as Neymar, creating many of the goals that got him his big move to Barcelona. Ganso took a longer route to Europe but has finally found himself at Sevilla, where he can pit his wits against the best.
Calleri is less talented than Ganso, but still a major loss. His height and movement were the perfect companion to Ganso’s vision. Boca Junior’s Andreas Chavez and Chicago Fire’s Gilberto have been brought in to bolster the front line, but neither are very prolific, with Chavez’s best spell coming in the Argentine second division. Add to these two the losses of pacey and skillful winger Centurion to Boca and the tall, bulky striker Alan Kardec to the Chinese Super League, and you’ve got a massively dilapidated squad.
Gomes’s first task will be to try and keep the rest of his squad together. They looked weak at the back against his former club on Sunday with Rodrigo Caio off at the Olympics, and it’s been telling during his long absences away on international duty for Brazil. He’s tipped for a move away to Europe this summer, and Gomes will face a fight to keep his talented centre back.
Next will be goals. Out of the players they have left in the squad their grand total only adds up to 12. And although Cuervo and Chavez have got six of those themselves, it’s hard to believe that either will be consistent. What Gomes does have at his disposal though is a wealth of talent in the midfield, particularly on the wings. Fans of French football may remember Michel Bastos. Olympique Lyonnais’ £15.5million signing spent four seasons at the club. He hasn’t lost any of his creative flair and popped up with vital goals in the Copa Libertadores, but injury has stopped him from making such an impact in Serie A so far this season. On the other side, Gomes will have the blistering pace of Kelvin, on a season long loan from Porto.
Seeing his new club lose so meekly to his old one just days after starting in the role will be an eye-opener to the task ahead. They were uninspiring in defeat, unable to create much in open play and loose at the back.
Gomes wasn’t in charge for the game against Botafogo, but come his first day in the role on Tuesday he’ll need to lift their spirits, and quickly.