There is no doubt about the outstanding club performance of the week in South America; in the Copa Libertadores, reigning champions Gremio cruised to a 5-0 win over Cerro Porteno of Paraguay.
Most would probably have predicted a win for the Brazilians — but not by such a big margin. The Paraguayans went into the game on a record in the competition of two wins and a draw, the latter a hard-fought 0-0 with Gremio in Asuncion two weeks earlier.
There were no freak circumstances, no early red cards or controversial goals. It was merely a case of a fine team going about its business. Gremio, full of controlled possession and intricate moves, were not handed victory on a plate. They had to work hard to break down tough opponents.
The opening goal came after 27 minutes, and while there had been threatening moments before that point, there had been few clear cut chances. But Gremio did not panic. They kept playing, kept passing, confident in their methods, aware that before long if they kept looking for a teammate, the road to goal would open up. In short, Gremio gave plenty of signs of being a well-coached outfit.
The man behind them is an intriguing figure. Renato Portaluppi is more widely known as Renato “Gaucho” — or Renato from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, capital Porto Alegre, Gremio’s home town.
Starting out with Gremio, he was a great player in his day, a striker’s ability in a centre-back’s body. He played most of his football on the right wing and was the star man for Gremio when they beat Hamburg of Germany to be crowned intercontinental champions in 1983.
His global reputation is not what it might have been. He had limited opportunities in the 1990 World Cup and was slung out of the squad in 1986 for indiscipline. He played one disappointing season for Roma in Serie A and left for home complaining that he had suffered a boycott from his teammates and that Italian football was ridiculous.
Such bombastic declarations are a big part of Renato’s style. He is currently fond of saying — only partly with tongue in cheek — that he was a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo.
Boastful, vain — this Gaucho seemed made to measure for life as a beach bum in Rio de Janeiro, where he spent most of his playing career.
When he took up coaching, many were sceptical. In 2008, he took Fluminense of Rio to their first final of the Libertadores, where they were beaten in a penalty shootout. This was a fine achievement.
But was he built to last? Surely, he was too lazy to put in the hard work. He would clearly prefer to spend his time playing foot-volley on the beach. He was a strutting peacock who would have a career for only as long as his players were old enough to remember his own exploits on the field.
All of these seemed to be valid reservations. But not anymore. His work in this current spell with Gremio has given the lie to such prejudice. True, he is working in a well-structured club with a fine youth policy, and he inherited a good base left by predecessor Roger Machado, currently in charge of Palmeiras.
But the input from Renato is impossible to deny. The team that won last year’s Libertadores, and that came up with the recent display against Cerro Porteno — it is clearly Renato’s team. Some of the players were virtual giveaways, veterans considered well past their sell by date, such as right back Leonardo Moura, or with careers gone astray, such as left back Cortes.
There are plenty of such cases — players brought in by Renato, and infused with the confidence to show their best. The team has a pattern of play and is sufficiently calm and mature to stick to the plan in adversity. In young central midfielder Arthur and playmaker Luan, there are touches of real quality.
Renato has also had to work hard to overcome the absence of support striker Pedro Rocha, sold to Russia last year. His capacity to cut in from the left flank gave Gremio the ability to play the ball behind the opposing defence. After he was sold, the team’s play became more predictable. But Renato has worked hard with replacement Everton, who is now exhibiting similar characteristics. It was Everton who broke the deadlock against Cerro Porteno, and he scored a second late in the game.
All of this points to the conclusion that there is much more to Renato than the cheap-beach-bum stereotype — one which, to be fair, he has done much to divulge. He may well enjoy lounging around the beach. But he is gifted with tactical and emotional intelligence and a capacity for hard work. He has clearly got the bug and is talking of his ambition to one day become coach of the Brazil national team.
As a player, Renato was a domestic phenomenon. As a coach, there may still be time for him to go global.