What ex-Arsenal and Barca hero Sylvinho can learn from Henry disaster
September 12, 2019
Big things are expected of the Brazil coach when he arrives in Europe this summer – but the same was said about the France legend in Monaco
When Bruno Genesio stands down from his job as Lyon head coach after Friday’s match against Nimes, he can reflect on his role with a feeling of satisfaction having accomplished his mission to get OL back into the Champions League.
It was, however, achieved in a scrappy and dissatisfying manner from the point of view of the fans, who will be egging on Chelsea to beat Arsenal in next Wednesday’s Europa League final, as that will offer their club automatic entry into the group stage proper rather than leave them with two rounds of qualifying to negotiate.
Whether Lyon dive straight in with the big boys or are forced to wade through the treacherous waters of the preliminary fixtures, they will have in charge of them a man who knows Europe’s biggest competition intimately.
Sylvinho, winner of two European Cups with Barcelona, will be the figurehead to lead Lyon into their new era, supported by club legend Juninho, who has been installed as the new sporting director.
Amid a backdrop of protest from the fans, unhappy with the performance of the board, coaching staff and players this season, comparisons have been drawn between his appointment and that of Thierry Henry as Monaco head coach last October.
Henry’s relationship with his former club lasted a mere 20 matches and four months, during which time they plumbed new depths as the former Belgium assistant struggled to cope with the demands of man-management in a major role.
There were other handicaps, of course, including poor summer player recruitment and a plague of injuries, but there is little doubt he underachieved.
Given that Sylvinho’s career has mirrored that of the France legend, he will be aiming for a very different fate at Parc OL.
Both the Brazilian and Henry joined Arsenal in 1999 and would go on to reconnect in Barcelona, where both played out their last meaningful days of their top-level careers in Europe.
When they moved into coaching, both started out as assistants and had significant spells at national level, with Sylvinho serving as Tite’s right-hand man with Brazil and Henry a key figure in Roberto Martinez’s Belgium set-up.
While Henry had limited experience at club level, Sylvinho has cut his teeth with four years in various club jobs around Brazil and with Inter in Serie A.
Indeed, ex-Nerazzurri coach Roberto Martinez has been one of his chief sponsors in the media, talking up the potential impact he could have at Lyon.
“He’s a good coach and a great person, he really knows football,” the former Manchester City manager told Eurosport. “I’m sure he’s ready. He will achieve great things.
“When he was at Inter with me, he did absolutely everything. What struck me most is that he was tactically very prepared. He will opt for an offensive game. Next season, Lyon will play a nice game.”
Sylvinho arrives in France with no past experience of Ligue 1, yet tasked with revolutionising one of the country’s leading clubs.
Despite their third-place finish this season, there is a sense of underachievement, both in terms of their non-existent title challenge and with regards to a silverware drought that now stretches back to the Coupe de France in 2012 – a dire period for a club so accustomed to success over the last 20 years.
What can Lyon expect from their new boss tactically, then?
As he has never taken charge of a team previously, it is difficult to know exactly what his philosophy will be, but given that he has worked closely with Tite, it is likely his thinking mirrors that of the Brazil coach.
A modern, possession-based approach with a lot of attention to pressing and counterattacks is likely, with Tite having held long discussions with the new Lyon boss about Manchester City.
Indeed, Brazil have used some of Pep Guardiola’s ideas, such as moving the full-backs into a central midfield position when facing a low block.
Furthermore, one Brazil insider described his fitness levels as “absurd” and suggested that the Lyon players can look forward to a good deal of physical conditioning.
However, Sylvinho is not just about brawn; when put up in front of the press he has spoken well about tactical questions, no doubt catching the eye of Juninho, who was ultimately responsible for his appointment.
Former Arsenal team-mate Emmanuel Petit says this acumen has long been evident in the South American.
“He was someone with intuitive intelligence who knew how to respond to tactical problems on the field,” he told RMC. “He had a mentality that was incredible, always getting up when it was hardest, always having the right word.
“He’s broken the tradition of the Lyon, and that’s not going to please everyone at the heart of the club, but OK…
“He was a guy who would always question the importance of each drill at training. He had Guardiola and Arsene Wenger as coaches. He’s been brought up in the schools that practise the play that Lyon want.”
If Henry’s failure at Monaco was partly caused by his inability to relate to his players, Sylvinho has a long track record of being a more down-to-earth personality.
As former Barcelona goalkeeper coach Juan Carlos Unzue told L’Equipe: “He was always willing to bring something to the group, regardless of his personal situation, whether he was starting or not.
“This kind of player is ideal to become a coach. He did not lack ambition, but he accepted his role.”
In short, things were never too straightforward for him during his playing career, which drove him to learn to forge strong relationships with those around him and to ask his coaches about the intricacies of their plans.
Despite apparently being well prepared for the tests ahead, he is currently crossing the final bridge required to take up the Lyon reins as he is in Italy finishing off his UEFA coaching qualification, which he is expected to pass next month before taking charge in the Rhone Valley.
Then, the challenge begins for real. For once, this is not a time to be following in Henry’s footsteps.