Thirty-four years after leading Brazil’s Gremio to the world club title as a player, Renato Portaluppi has a chance to do the same as a coach.
A lot has changed, however, since Renato’s two goals gave Gremio a 2-1 extra-time win over Hamburg SV in 1983.
Back then, the title was settled by single match in Tokyo, then considered an exotic soccer location, between the champions of Europe and South America. Teams from Africa, Asia, CONCACAF and Oceania were not invited.
The mass exodus of South American players to Europe had not started and the contest was evenly-balanced.
Nowadays, the Club World Cup is an unwieldy seven-team tournament organised by global soccer body FIFA and dominated by European clubs.
The dynamics of modern football mean that the best South American, Asian and African players play against, rather than for, the teams from their continents.
European champions Real Madrid, the title-holders and runaway favourites to win this year’s tournament in Abu Dhabi, boast a glittering array of cherry-picked stars and even most of their reserves are full internationals.
Others teams, however, have basically three types of players; young ones who have yet to move the Europe, older ones who have gone and come back home to finish their careers at home and those who are not good enough to make the move.
The tournament has produced only one-European winner since 2006 when Brazil’s Corinthians beat Chelsea 1-0 five years ago.
Gremio, however, may at least have a better shot than some of their predecessors thanks to a tweak in the South American calendar.
The Copa Libertadores final is now played in November, instead of July, which means that Gremio can carry the momentum of their title win to Abu Dhubi and also that they can keep their team together.
Previously, South American teams would often have sold their best players by the time the Club World Cup came around six months after the Libertadores final.
Although Gremio, the club where former Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made his name, are renowned for a rough, physical style, Renato has got them playing an attractive passing game.
The 55-year-old, popularly known as Renato Gaucho, was himself a flamboyant winger in his playing days who was famously dropped by Brazil on the eve of the 1986 World Cup for breaking a team curfew.
Gremio enter the fray in the first semi-final on Tuesday when they meet the winners of Saturday’s game between African champions Wydad Casablanca and CONCACAF’s Pachuca.
Real Madrid play Wednesday against either Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds or Al Jazira, who also meet on Saturday.
Al Jazira qualified as champions of United Arab Emriates, the host nation, and beat Oceania champions Auckland City in a preliminary tie.
“I like winning and that’s what we are going there to do,” said Renato. “It’s a great chance for me to become world champion as a player and as a coach.”
Gremio goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe regarded that his side would be rank underdogs if they met Real in the final.
“They’ll be huge favourites due to their general level and quality but it doesn’t cost a thing to dream of being champions,” he said.