At 57, coach Alexi Stival ‘Cuca’, one of the most experienced in Brazil, it is the lifeblood of the very young Santos dressing room, on which he has managed to impress the necessary ambition to return it, ten years later, to a final of the Copa Libertadores.
‘Cuca‘, which in Brazilian slang means’ head’, It is a kind of lifeline that the Santista board always resorts to when the team is on the brink of shipwreck. The last time they called him was in August of last year, in the middle of a serious institutional and financial crisis in the entity.
With no margin to just sign, with the president dismissed and the threat of non-payment to the players, the coach born in Curitiba He accepted the challenge and sat on the Santos bench for the third time.
Nobody gave a penny for this team at the beginning of the season.
Absent in all the pools for the fight for the titles, ‘Cuca’ shielded the changing room of the storm that surrounded the club and embraced a generation of young footballers who had been making their way in the lower categories.
Coach found in players like forwards Kaio Jorge and Marcos Leonardo, aged 19 and 17 respectively, midfielder Sandry (18), midfielder Lucas Lourenço (20) or winger Lucas Braga (24), the nerve that the squad lacked. In addition to recovering other more experienced ones like Marinho (30) for the cause.
The average age of the team, from which other great figures such as Pelé, Robinho or Neymar emerged, does not reach 24 years this season.
This coupled with his offensive style has made him Santos believe in himself again to the point of reaching, against all odds, the final of the Copa Libertadores that will be played on Saturday at the Maracanã stadium against the Brazilian Palmeiras., which he also trained.
Along the way they eliminated Boca Juniors, Gremio de Porto Alegre and Liga de Quito.
Not the week he was hospitalized in November after suffering from covid-19, a condition that worried everyone due to his history of heart problems, did he affect a locker room that blindly believes in his ability to form a pineapple and his conciliatory spirit.
Before sitting on the bench, Cuca was a professional player from 1984 to 1996.
The promise of becoming a footballer was repeated to his father as a mantra from a young age as he helped him cut bamboo to make furniture or paint the neighborhood houses, odd jobs that his family subsisted on. Then I went to school.
It was before he was 20 years old when necessity made Cuca start his playing career. According to him, his father suffered a heart attack and they did not have money to pay for the operation, but at that time a modest Rio Grande do Sul club, Santa Cruz, made him an offer and he accepted it without hesitation.
His first salary was sent to his father so that he could have heart surgery. “He underwent surgery and he lived for thirteen more years,” he said in an interview with Santos.
From there he began his career as a player, with a fierce character and a joker with his teammates, which led him to wear the shirt of some of the great Brazilian clubs such as Gremio, Internacional, Palmeiras and even Santos, in 1993.
Before, he also briefly wore the Real Valladolid shirt, in Spain and came to don that of the Brazilian team in 1991.
Two years after hanging up his boots, Cuca began his career on the bench at the head of Uberlandia, in Minas Gerais, although he only gained national notoriety in 2003 when he went on to coach Goiás, which he saved from a decline that seemed safe.
That feat later led him to direct several of the main Brazilian teams, such as Sao Paulo, Gremio, Flamengo, Botafogo, Fluminense, Atlético Mineiro, Santos and Palmeiras, among others.
Al Santos led it in 2008 and 2018, the latter year in which he was forced to resign at the end of that campaign for health reasons.
With Atlético Mineiro he won the Copa Libertadores in 2013, and three years later he won the Brazilian Championship directing Palmeiras.
His current contract with Santos ends in March this year, although the board has already announced that they will speak with him after the Maracana final for his eventual renewal.