Taxing problems

Former Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo has been convicted of not paying his dues, as Robert Shaw  relates. You’d never have a dodgy national coach over here, of course

Is former national team coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo the Jeffrey Archer of Brazilian football? Both have received popular acclaim, been rumbled through du­bious assignations with women and been economical with the truth when it came to documenting their lives – in the coach’s case, taking three years off his age.

But, Luxemburgo is unlikely to join the author in doing porridge despite recently being handed a five-year stretch for tax evasion. Luxemburgo was also fined US$170,000 (£110,000) by the Brazilian court. Luxemburgo’s femme fatale is his former assistant and ex-lover Renata Alves, who testified against him before a congressional committee in 2001. Dur­­ing these hearings, Luxemburgo was censured along with, among others, Brazilian federation (CBF) supremo Ricardo Teixeira and the Flamengo and Vasco da Gama club presidents. Teixeira, an ex-son-in-law of João Havelange, has been so successful in shrugging off allegations of corruption that, despite wide­­spread criticism, one of Brazilian foot­ball’s robber barons won himself another four-year term as CBF president. At this rate it look like he still wants to be in power if as hoped Brazil hosts the World Cup in 2014.

Luxemburgo was not so fortunate with Alves, who repeatedly alleged that Luxemburgo was creaming off money through deals with players’ agents during his time as national coach. It was an era when several players apparently made a handful of appearances simply to make them more exportable. Alves also ex­plained that he was evading tax. But Luxemburgo’s tenure of the hottest seat in Brazilian football ended as much because of failures on the field as for any fiscal corruption. Surprise defeats to Chile and Paraguay in 2000, as well as a disastrous exit from the Sydney Olympics, were enough to send him packing.

Luxemburgo, now coaching Cruzeiro, refuses to discuss the prison sentence but most observers believe that the various appeals process will keep him out of jail altogether, just as former international striker Ed­mundo has effectively wriggled free from a four-and-a-half-year sentence after being found guilty of man­slaughter following a fatal car accident.

Luxemburgo’s rise, through win­ning national titles with Palmeiras in 1992 and 1993, then with Corinthians in 1998, was also accompanied by a clear attraction to the limelight. He made a habit of appearing at games in designer suits. In 1998 he promised one player a Cartier watch if they won the title – Luxemburgo obliged when Corinthians triumphed, but at the time was supposedly earning over $1 million (£650,000) a year, a fortune in Brazilian football.

These inflated salaries have been beyond Luxemburgo since his return to club football in 2000, but he has not avoided regular spats. He fell out with wayward midfielder Marcelinho Carioca at Corinthians – the player accused Luxemburgo of being a malign pre­sence during a service at his evangelical church. Prior to that, many commentators believed jealousy lay be­hind his sparing use of Ronaldinho.

Many still view Luxemburgo as the most convincing alternative to Carlos Alberto Parreira as national coach. One of Luxemburgo’s prodigies, Alex, has help­ed Cruzeiro to set a cracking pace in the extended national cham­pionship, which now runs for almost nine months – at the start of the year they had a run of victories that lasted over 30 games.

So could Luxemburgo return to the hot seat? Top Brazilian journalist and broadcaster Juca Kfouri believes that “it will be difficult for the CBF to be brave enough to hire him because he will still have to face a CPI enquiry again”. Kfouri, who is one of Brazil’s foremost anti-corruption campaigners in the media, is also sceptical of Luxemburgo’s coaching credentials. “He is a a good coach without being exceptional and he can’t be compared with Tele Santana and Parreira.”

While Luxemburgo seems likely to clinch his fourth national title by December, his longer-term plans may include a return to Flamengo, where he is said to feel he has unfinished business. While over 20 of his peers have already been sacked since March, the controversial coach with a prison sentence hanging over him now looks to have one of the safest jobs in Brazilian football. Yet his comments after leaving the national post in 2000 have a resonance for all Brazilian coaches. “Nobody wants to look at your work, they want to make an instant judgment. That moment came with the Olympics for me and it is the moment that is put above all the other work you do.” But for the moment, at least, he is not incarcerated.

From WSC 199 September 2003. What was happening this month