ItÃ¢ÂÂs no secret in Brazil that Santos coach Emerson Leao has a serious beef against foreigners Ã¢ÂÂ especially Argentinians. HeÃ¢ÂÂs the one who, in 2006, scared away Carlitos Tevez and Javier Mascherano from Corinthians Ã¢ÂÂ for which both might be thanking him right now.
Tevez, especially, suffered in LeaoÃ¢ÂÂs paws. In his first game in charge the coach took the captain's armband off the Argentinian, who had to cope with his manager joking about the playerÃ¢ÂÂs difficulty in speaking and understanding Portuguese (or Spanish, for that matter). Ã¢ÂÂIt was my decision. Do you understand a word of what he says?Ã¢ÂÂ, he asked a reporter. Ã¢ÂÂMe neither. So thatÃ¢ÂÂs it. I even tried to explain my decision to him, but he also didnÃ¢ÂÂt understand,Ã¢ÂÂ laughed Leao.
Even off the pitch, the white-maned gaffer never misses an opportunity to nudge BrazilianÃ¢ÂÂs Latin American neighbours. Ã¢ÂÂI have an Argentinian friend who owns a restaurant," he once said. "Every time I go there, I say to him: Ã¢ÂÂYouÃ¢ÂÂre a fine man, despite... Despite youÃ¢ÂÂre..., I wish you all the best.'"
The grudge might come from Leao being ambushed and assaulted by Rosario Central players in the 1997 Copa Conmebol final, after his Atletico Mineiro side won the championship. The gaffer had his jaw fractured because of the blows and needed plastic surgery. But even that wouldn't justify his xenophobia (if indeed anything could).
So when Santos president Marcelo Teixeira announced the signing of no fewer than four foreigners, Leao roared again. Ã¢ÂÂI didn't ask for any of them. Those signings scare me, because I know nothing about them. But weÃ¢ÂÂll have to see. IÃ¢ÂÂm not forced to give them playing timeÃ¢ÂÂ, said the coach, before changing his mind (after a brief word from his bosses) and saying everyone would get a shot.
The new faces at Vila Belmiro include Equadorian midfielder Michael Jackson Quinonez, Chilean forward Sebastian Pinto, Argentinian striker Mariano Tripodi and Colombian midfielder Mauricio Molina. We havenÃ¢ÂÂt seen much from the first three, despite all of them having already had match experience, especially Tripodi. But Santos fans are very excited about 26-year-old maestro Molina, who led Medellin minnows Independiente to the 2003 Copa Libertadores semifinals but hasnÃ¢ÂÂt settled anywhere since. In his few games, Ã¢ÂÂMaoÃ¢ÂÂ has already showed amazing skills, and he could be the playmaker Santos have needed since Ze Roberto returned to Germany last year.
Even Leao canÃ¢ÂÂt hide his enthusiasm Ã¢ÂÂ well, sort of. Ã¢ÂÂThis guy has got game. He needs to be fit though, which he isnÃ¢ÂÂt,Ã¢ÂÂ grumbled the gaffer. On Tuesday night, Molina gave Santos the victory against a treacherous Chivas side in a high octane Copa Libertadores match with this absolutely gorgeous left shot.
Can you imagine what he'll be like when heÃ¢ÂÂs fit?