In the buildup to the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti batted away more questions about his future and the vacant Brazil job. It has been that way for a while, and the interest has surely heightened after Brazil FA president Ednaldo Rodrigues finally went public.
"I have him as Plan A," Rodrigues told beIN Sports last week. "I'm saying this openly for the first time. There's no use in hiding this preference."
Rodrigues cited Ancelotti's track record as a coach and as a player, his character and his clear affinity with a number of Brazilian players, and said that he was moving the goalposts. The deadline for Ancelotti to accept the role is reported to be May 25, and Rodrigues admitted that: "I'd like to get to the end of May with this coach or that one, but that is not the way it is. Our radar is on to not make an approach while a competition is ongoing."
He is certainly referring to the Champions League. After Tuesday's 1-1 draw at the Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid are still in control of defending the title in Istanbul on June 10. Therefore, what happens next week in the return leg in Manchester will go some way toward defining the future of the relationship between Ancelotti and Brazil.
Ancelotti has made clear his preference for staying at Real until the end of his contract next summer, and Madrid president Florentino Perez backed his coach last week after their Copa del Rey win. But with the LaLiga title likely going to Barcelona, a change could well be made should Madrid not win the Champions League, freeing up Ancelotti for the Brazil job -- if he wants it.
These, then, are the two obstacles between Brazil and their first foreign coach. Ancelotti needs to be available, and he needs to be willing.
In the meantime, Rodrigues also has to think about a Plan B.
"I'm not taking away credit from coaches from our country," he told beIN. "On the contrary, we have coaches with the same level of competence."
But who are they? The clamour around Ancelotti is clearly the consequence of a lack of home grown alternatives.
But one is emerging. Indeed, in these short few months since the Brazil job became vacant, the star of Fluminense's Fernando Diniz is rising fast.
Diniz has long been the great hope of Brazilian coaching, and over the course of the past year promise appears to have been transformed into reality. He won his first serious title as a coach in April when his side produced a thrilling 4-1 victory over Flamengo to take the Rio State Championship 4-3 on aggregate. And in the Copa Libertadores, Fluminense are the only team to have won all three games. Last week's 5-1 rout of River Plate was the heaviest defeat the Buenos Aires giants have ever suffered in the competition.
Now 49, Diniz enjoyed a solid rather than spectacular career as a midfielder. Perhaps the lack of truly outstanding natural talent obliged him to think about the game, and he is certainly a deep thinker. He has a degree in psychology, and he said last month in a press conference that "the tactical side, although it's the most visible part, is not the most fundamental. The centre of my work is establishing good human relations, so that the players can feel good, that they can make a mistake without being attacked all the time."
In the age old battle between pride and fear as the main motivational forces, Diniz clearly favours pride. Much of his thinking is based on a belief that the players can do more, that all of them, whatever position they now play, were at one time the outstanding figures in street kick abouts, and that some of this spirit can be recreated even in an ultra-competitive professional environment.
He first appeared as a coach a decade ago with a number of minor Sao Paulo sides, all of whom stood out for their commitment to playing out from the back. He was instantly dubbed a "Brazilian Guardiola." It was a label he was quick to discard, with reasons that have become clearer over time.
His opening forays into the first division were not successful. In 2018 he was fired by Athletico Paranaense with the club in the relegation zone, and the same happened the following year with Fluminense. In the normal way, in Brazil's intolerant environment, such failures would have stymied his career. But he was obviously not any old coach. His teams were ambitious and distinctive, and hopes continued to burn that he would come good. His next spell, with Sao Paulo, showed some progress, and even though he was not successful with either Santos or Vasco da Gama in 2021, the call came last year to go back to Fluminense where, finally, the idea began to click. And the differences from the Guardiola school became apparent.
In the system of Diniz there is no necessity for certain spaces to be filled at all times, to have players rotating into set positions. The setup is more free, more anarchic, with the team often grouping together into reduced space, often on one side of the field, at times with both wingers in close proximity. When it clicks it can have the aspect of improvised street football. Those human bonds favoured by Diniz have helped create a team where the players trust each other enough to play in an unorthodox way -- and given that they leave plenty of space for the opposing counter, a method with its own risks.
But the parts fit. When he is in close proximity to the rest of the team, veteran playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso can come up with some of the best football of his strange career, threading passes through for Colombian winger John Arias, who makes the bullets for Argentine striker German Cano to fire.
There are plenty of less glamorous heroes. Olympic gold medal winning centre-back Nino is a far better defender than his ungainly appearance might suggest, central midfielder Andre is a terrific prospect, and the return of Marcelo from Real Madrid has added more quality. There is no more attractive team in South America.
The future, of course, is unwritten, and there are legitimate doubts about the idea of Diniz in charge of the national team. He would not have the prolonged time with his players to forge the human bonds he considers so important. The level of opposition in the business end of a World Cup would be much higher than anything Diniz has ever faced. Would his team have enough structure to cope?
It would be fun finding out. Brazil, then, might end up with Ancelotti, but Diniz is emerging as a Plan B. Either way -- first foreign coach or Brazilian free thinker --- fascinating times lie ahead.