"Today, there are no coaches," said Pep Guardiola last week. "We are managers of players who are not injured. There is no time to do anything."
Guardiola was talking to the Brazilian TV channel Esporte Interativo, who were anxious to know if he was in contact with his former assistant Domenec Torrent. At that moment, Torrent was in charge of Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo, the reigning Brazilian and South American champions. On Monday afternoon came the news that Torrent had been sacked -- a victim of the time pressures that Guardiola cited.
This is a story where everyone was in a hurry. Torrent paid a price for spending so long working under Guardiola. He had left it late to launch a solo career. At the age of 58, Flamengo offered him a fast track to glory. But a spell in charge of New York City FC in Major League Soccer was hardly a valid rehearsal for the insane pressures and short-term mentality of the Brazilian game.
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- Torrent out as Flamengo boss after just 10 weeks
The experience lasted less than 100 days. In that time, Torrent's team played 26 games, winning 15 and losing six. In the hours since the sacking was announced, there has been media talk of a need to "save the season." This is hardly appropriate. At the halfway stage of the Brazilian league Flamengo lie third, just a point behind the leaders. They are in the last eight of the highly prestigious domestic cup, and have made it through to the knockout stages of the Copa Libertadores. This is hardly a disastrous scenario.
But humiliation plays big in Brazilian society and in Brazilian football. And Flamengo were humiliated on two successive Sundays. First they lost 4-1 at home to Sao Paulo, and a week later they went down 4-0 away to Atletico Mineiro. On social media, many supporters were calling for a change, and on Monday afternoon they got their wish when the news came in that Torrent and his entire backroom staff had been fired.
It is impossible not to feel some sympathy for Torrent. He was supposed to live up to the exploits of Jorge Jesus, the Portuguese coach who led Flamengo during a magical 2019. Jesus, though, did not have to deal with the effects of COVID-19; the fixture pile up, an outbreak of the virus inside the ranks that even forced Torrent out of action for a while and, crucially, a lack of time on the training ground.
Jesus joined Flamengo in the middle of 2019. A pause for the Copa America gave him a solid few weeks to drill his players. Torrent had nothing similar -- and he was also without the player who, it now should be evident, was the most important piece in the 2019 jigsaw. Flamengo have proved utterly unable to replace Spanish centre-back Pablo Mari, who joined Arsenal at the start of the year.
Mari was vital because he was adept at operating and organising a high defensive line, which underpins the footballing idea of both Jesus and of Torrent. In different ways, they seek to play the game in the opponent's half of the field, creating numerical superiority close to the rival's goal. A high defensive line is necessary in order to keep the team compact -- both to open up passing options and to press when possession is lost and stop the opposing counter-attack at its source.
Brazilian teams do not tend to play this way. They would rather defend deep. Many of the centre-backs are slow and uneasy in open space. Every instinct tells them to retreat towards their own goal. Mari, on the other hand, was happy on the front foot, snuffing out danger and swiftly turning defence into attack. He was irreplaceable.
Flamengo's attempts at replacing him were surprising. Gustavo Henrique is too slow and vulnerable for this model of play. Leo Pereira is not much better, though his left foot is useful for opening up the field when the team have possession. Throughout Torrent's time in charge the team was leaking goals. They were not the compact unit of 2019.
All of this was evident even before Jesus chose to accept an offer from Benfica in the middle of the year. Indeed, the loss of Mari may even have been a factor in the decision of the Portuguese coach to return home.
In other words, there is a bigger problem than the identity of the coach and that is the deficiency in the formation of Brazil's centre-backs, who are being prepared for a reactive, obsolete model of play.
Fixing this takes time. In this case, it was far easier and quicker for Flamengo to play to the gallery and sack the coach.