Many people can go their entire lives without receiving that one desired job promotion. For Óscar Ramírez, it took just two weeks. It’s yet to be determined if that says more about the coach’s supreme qualifications or the Costa Rica Football Federation’s (FEDEFUTBOL) current state of uncertainty.
After naming Ramírez the assistant coach for Costa Rica’s national team earlier this month, FEDEFUTBOL interim president Jorge Hidalgo officially introduced “Machillo” as the team’s head coach on Tuesday. It was widely assumed the job would fall to the 50-year-old former Alajuelense manager following Paulo Wanchope’s fateful brawl and subsequent resignation last week.
The beloved Ramírez, who steered Alajuelense to three consecutive national titles from 2010 to 2012, now finds himself in the position of taking over a team that has not won a match in nearly a year and faces a litany of off-field scrutinies. At Tuesday’s press conference, he called this upcoming challenge the most difficult of his life.
“I know the responsibility of what I’m getting into,” he said. “I understand the commitment and I’m going to give it my best.”
La Sele‘s faithful can only hope that “Machillo’s” best is enough to climb the national team out from the mound of controversies and setbacks that have buried it recently. Wanchope’s disgraceful bow out (or chop out) was the culmination of a winless period that saw former FEDEFUTBOL president Eduardo Li detained in Switzerland on corruption and bribery charges and ended with a frustrating loss to rival Mexico in the Gold Cup.
On the field, the 2015 version of La Sele looks like the mirror opposite of the 2014 team that enjoyed historic success at the World Cup. A once lock-down defense, one that did not allow a single goal in Brazil that wasn’t on a penalty kick or with a man down, has opened up the way for opponents with constant miscommunications and holes in the backfield.
Defenders who were so good a year ago, like Giancarlo González, Michael Umaña, and Júnor Díaz, looked pedestrian under Wanchope’s relaxed, “player’s coach” style.
The retooling of the defense now becomes a top priority for Ramírez, and he should be well-suited to make a quick transformation. Over the years, he’s come to be known for strategies that emphasize stout defenses, not flashy forwards, to control possession and limit the other side’s opportunities.
And in terms of coaching style, it’s no secret that the strict, often militant demeanor of former headman Jorge Luis Pinto produced impressive results on the field. Though Pinto’s eventual removal after the World Cup had a lot to do with players’ and management’s averse feelings toward the Colombian manager, his aggressive defense neutralized the talent gap between Costa Rica and the world’s premier lineups like Italy, England, and Uruguay.
Ramírez, however, enters with the advantage of having coached and known most of these players before. “Machillo’s” stature looms large in the Costa Rican football landscape and merits immediate respect from its top players.
The promotion to head coach made sense on so many levels that Hidalgo and FEDEFUTBOL didn’t even waste time putting an interim tag on Ramírez while they looked for other candidates. Plus, as Hidalgo said last week, with friendlies a few weeks away and the all-important 2018 World Cup qualifying games starting in November, the federation had to make a fast choice.
On Tuesday, Ramírez asked the press for patience as he works out the team’s problems on the pitch over the next few months. His debut on the sidelines comes Sept. 5 against world power Brazil, followed by a Sept. 8 meeting with Uruguay at National Stadium in San José.
“Right now I need some time because its a short turnaround to prepare for these games,” he said. “In these two friendlies we’re going to be going up against two former world champions, so they’re not going to be easy games.”
Ramírez said Tuesday that Uruguayan Alejandro Larrea is expected to join his staff as the third assistant next to Luis Marín and Luis Gabelo Conejo.