When he awoke on the morning of 24 July, Oswaldo Alvarez was not even aware that the nominations for The Best FIFA Football Awards were scheduled to be announced later that day. It was not until the coach, nicknamed O Vadão, received a message from his daughter that he was brought up to speed.
For on this occasion, she was not enquiring as to his plans for the day or sharing a video of a cute animal. She was getting in touch to tell her father, who was enjoying his second spell in charge of the Brazilian senior women’s football team, that he had been named among the top ten football coaches in the world.
“It was very early when the phone went. It was a surprise, I admit,” he told FIFA.com. “I hadn’t even been back a year.”
Alvarez’s surprise at the nomination was not born out of false modesty. The 62-year-old had only returned to take charge of the national side in September 2017. However, his first 12 games in charge saw his team claim 11 wins, one draw and two titles.
Firstly, there was a friendly tournament in China PR, following a draw with the hosts. Then came Brazil’s dominant Copa America campaign, which was also enough to secure the team qualification for the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Tokyo 2020.
At this stage, it should be pointed out that having to adapt quickly is nothing new for O Vadão. Quite the contrary. In Brazilian football, he has long been seen as a coach who is capable of identifying practical solutions, even if they are not necessarily easy ones.
It is thanks to this knack for problem-solving that he has been able to build an extensive CV including spells at big clubs like Corinthians and Sao Paulo. At the same time, he has also earned a reputation for backing young talent. Like a certain Kaka, for example, who won his first professional title under Alvarez at Sao Paulo at only 18 years of age.
Neither should it be underestimated how quickly the coach adapted to women’s football. Despite his vast experience, transferring to the women’s game was by no means an easy move to make. Now he is in the running for the title of the world’s best coach for the second time. His first nomination was back in 2016 when he came sixth, having taken his team to the semi-final of the Olympics in Rio.
“At the time of that switch, I didn’t imagine (the success) either,” he said. “I was looking for a new challenge, to do something different with my career and work in the women’s game. Aside obviously from the dream of managing a Brazilian national team.”
So, exactly what adaptations did Alvarez make during that first spell in charge of the side? First and foremost, there was the formation of a permanent national team. “At the time, only two players were playing abroad, Marta and Bia,” he recalled.
Once he had the best players at his disposal, it was time to address what he considered to be his top priority. “As I saw it, the big problem was the physical side of things, conditioning work,” he said. “They improved in that respect. Today they’re all playing abroad, in much better condition than before.”
It must also be noted that instructions are worthless without a receptive audience. “They’re determined to learn, to put things into practice. It’s a great pleasure working with them,” enthused the coach.
According to O Vadão, now is the time to develop the national team’s work further and introduce more tactical variations to their play. For him, technical ability has never been an issue; it has always been there.
At the end of the day, everyone has to adapt. “I’ve competed in the Copa Libertadores and various other competitions. I’d never taken part in a World Cup, an Olympics, although I’d always studied them. But it’s one thing to study, and quite another to play,” said the Rio 2016 semi-finalist. “The difficulty comes in practice.”
In that regard, no warning via text message will be necessary. The adaptations do not get easier with time, as Oswaldo Alvarez knows only too well. Personal awards aside, now is the time to push ahead and show what he and his team have learnt. For this coach, there is always some change to be made and more work to be done.