Flamengo sweating on the return of Jorge Jesus

The second half of 2019 was a magical time for fans of Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo. They won the Brazilian Championship, topped that with the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League, and gave Liverpool a game in the final of the Club World Cup.

It was not just a case of what they did. It was also how they did it: playing a bold, swashbuckling brand of football, often throwing nine players forward. The team had intensity and expression, with collective swagger and individual talent. They were a joy to watch.

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Many in the stands of Rio's giant Maracana stadium were falling in love with football for the first time or all over again, reminding themselves of the pleasure they felt watching the great Zico in action some four decades earlier.

The architect of all this was Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus. He was appointed in the middle of the year. There was a pause in the calendar while national teams were disputing the Copa America, and he used the time to stamp his imprint on the team -- to get them, unusually for a contemporary Brazilian side, to defend high and keep their foot on the pedal and attack even after taking the lead.

Unsurprisingly, the fans took Jesus to their hearts. He was, and is, the "Mister," the name by which coaches are known in much of Europe. Before every game and during and at the end of many, there was a massed, impassioned chant of "Mister, Mister" ringing around the stadium.

Now his contract is running out.

Flamengo are understandably keen to renew and are confident about keeping their man. They have the financial resources to compete with many European clubs. Jesus will be well paid, and he still has a challenge in front of him. The final of this year's Libertadores is set to take place at the Maracana. No one has retained the title since Boca Juniors of Argentina won two in a row at the start of the century. Flamengo would love to win another title on home ground and then go and have another crack at the holders of the Champions League in the Club World Cup.

Staying in Rio, then, would be interesting in financial and professional terms. But a new factor has emerged to complicate matters. Flamengo's director of football, Bruno Spindel, is optimistic and full of faith that Jesus will sign on the dotted line.

"We're happy with him, and he's happy with Flamengo," Spindel told the club's TV channel. "But the pandemic has taken some of the focus away from the renovation of his contract."

If times were normal, Jesus would have had his hands full this week with the trip to Ecuador to face Barcelona of Guayaquil in the Libertadores. But times, of course, are a long way from normal. And Jesus is a long way from Rio. When the coronavirus struck and football ground to a halt, he went back to his native Portugal to be with his family.

What remains to be seen is the manner in which the pandemic might have affected his thinking. It would seem fair to assume that the current events will leave mental sequels. It is entirely possible that, for those who can afford to think this way, financial and professional questions might now take a backseat to sentimental considerations. Jesus will be 66 in July. It would be understandable if he concluded that he has arrived at an age when he would rather spend his time at home. Spindel might be entirely correct when he warns of the question of focus. His coach might now be focusing on very different objectives from those of two months ago. Having time to reflect can lead people in unexpected directions.

Of course, ever the battle hardened professional, Jesus might brush aside such feelings and wish to carry on as before. But it will be fascinating to see, when football does resume, whether some of the game's big names are disposed to think as much with their hearts as they are with their heads and their wallets.