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Portaluppi, the irreverent Gaucho making history at Gremio

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Portaluppi, the irreverent Gaucho making history at Gremio

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By Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Renato Portaluppi became the first Brazilian to win the Copa Libertadores as both a player and a coach last month but the charismatic Gremio manager is known in his homeland as much for his off the field exploits as his brilliance on and around it.

Portaluppi, who is commonly known as Renato Gaucho, is famous for his outspoken bravado, his playboy lifestyle and disdain for things like reverence, humility and study.

He rose to fame as a player with the Porto Alegre club, helping them win the Copa Libertadores for the first time in 1983.

He achieved 'legend' status a few months later when his two goals gave them a 2-1 win over Hamburg SV in the final of the Intercontinental Cup, the forerunner to this week's Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

After leaving Gremio he enjoyed successful spells at Fluminense - where he famously scored a title winning goal that went in off his stomach - as well as at Flamengo, where he fought a good-natured battle with Romario for the top goalscorer prize and the right to call themselves 'the King of Rio.'

A season in Roma didn't work out and he was dropped from Brazil's 1986 World Cup squad after coach Tele Santana discovered him sneaking into the team hotel after a night on the town.

But it is in Porto Alegre and Rio where he feels at home and where fans most connect with his obvious his lust for life.

When Pele once mentioned he scored 1,000 goals, Portaluppi replied, "one for every woman I've slept with." He once chased and caught a vulture – the symbol of Flamengo - thrown on the field by fans. He also raised eyebrows earlier this year by declaring himself superior to Cristiano Ronaldo.

"Without a doubt I think I played better than he does," he told ESPN Brasil. "I would like to see Cristiano Ronaldo playing at the clubs I played at, some of them where we never got paid for three or four months, and winning trophies like I did."

COACHING EXPLOITS

Portaluppi began his management career with lowly Rio side Madureira in 2000 and has spent most of it going to and from three clubs.

He coached Fluminense four times and Vasco da Gama twice, but is greatest success came at his home town club.

His third and latest spell in Porto Alegre began in 2016 after a year's sabbatical from coaching.

While colleagues such as Tite spent a year out in Europe watching and learning from Mourinho and Guardiola, Renato went to the beach, where he could lie back and enjoy his favourite sport, futevolei.

"Those that need to learn and study can go to Europe," he said. "Those that don't can go to the beach. Football is like riding a bike. Those that know, just know."

Such statements prompted widespread chuckles but Gremio's performances have silenced his critics.

Not only did Portaluppi lead his team to the Libertadores for only the third time in their history, they won the Brazilian Cup within months of his taking over and this year finished fourth in the league, even though they often fielded reserves.

His Gremio players have warmed to his unorthodox ways and swear his irreverence has a positive side.

"He is honest, he has an unshakeable self confidence and he knows everything there is to know about football," captain Pedro Geromel told Reuters.

"He is always drawing analogies with his own playing career and that makes him a fun person to be around. But it doesn't mean he isn't prepared. We know who our rivals are and where they are strong and he has helped us greatly with that."

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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