Any football follower cannot help but be interested in the Brazilian national soccer team’s fortunes.
The Selecao’ or ‘The Selection’, to put the term into its English context, have over the last couple of decades been a port of entry for one looking to fall in love with the game.
Any neutral fan or football purist cannot fail to have been bowled over by the natural conveyor belt of talent that this sprawling South American country has produced over the years.
From Pele, Didi, Vava and Zagalo in the 60s, to Garrincha, Carlos Alberto and Pele (again!) in the 70s.
Then to the Socrates, Zico, Careca and Junior era of the 80s that was then followed up by the 90s to early millennium period of Romario, Bebeto, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, Brazil have been a team that the world has fallen in love with and that continues to dazzle with its astonishing record of always producing star after star.
Despite a successful entry into the new millennium when the ‘gold and green’ captured the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002 for a record fifth time.
It does appear that the aura that has so long been an embodiment of their success and reputation has faded somewhat and Brazil are no longer the force that they used to be.
It is tempting for one to write this having just watched the opening game of the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013, a game in which Brazil dominated from the start to finish and won comfortably in the end; but having also watched the recent friendly with England.
I will put the case forward that this is a team in general decline or to be generous, at the wrong end of their oft-successful cycle.
The mere fact that the CBF have re-engaged Felipe Scolari almost a decade after their last world title triumph reinforces the point.
The international game has become highly tactical, more of a team game where the old adage of the sum of the parts being lesser than the whole has come to the fore in recent times in emphatic fashion.
In this case the sum certainly includes the coaching staff. Gone are the days when an individual could quite simply steer his side to glory with minimum assistance from his fellow players and a simple pat on the back from the coach.
Individual brilliance almost certainly guaranteed a world title then but New Zealand’s astonishing achievement of three draws in the 2010 World Cup signalled that the rules had changed.
Spain ensured back-to-back European triumphs sandwiched between the 2010 World Cup with a talented group of individuals who passed teams to death in a collective style that did not have an out-and-out performer but several players all playing to their collective strengths.
While Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are an obvious case in point, others like Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were all outstanding as was Vicente del Bosque’s flexible rotation of players albeit in an unchanging formation.
Fast forward to Brazil 2014; Big Phil has a cast of talented youngsters most of whom are unproven on the international stage or in the European league while those who have established themselves like David Luiz, Julio Cesar, Marcelo, Luiz Gustavo, Dante, Fred and Daniel Alves all fall into a conundrum of being either not at the peak of their powers or struggling to hold down a place in their club sides.
Of the European based contingent, only Silva, Hulk and Oscar are on song and in form for their respective sides.
Indeed in the absence of skipper Silva, a defensive partnership of Dante and Gustavo or Luiz would be cannon fodder for any of the top sides. Granted all three play for top European sides but Dante and Gustavo have been in and out of the Bayern Munich squad while Luiz’s style of playing is like one in the streets of Porto Alegre or on the beaches of Rio makes him a coach’s worst tactical nightmare.
In midfield the tactical and technical efficiency of Sandro is a big miss due to the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder’s injury and though Paulinho may come good eventually, he needs to be tested in the jungles of Europe’s elite leagues.
The latter point goes true for Hernanes and the jewel in the piece, Neymar Junior.
He has nine months to test himself in the La Liga and at a team where he is certainly not going to be top billing, well at least not right away anyway. In the recent friendly against England, Phil Jones used fair means and foul to shackle him and this worked as the prodigy cut a frustrated figure and failed to influence the game against a team that is also searching for its soul.
If Neymar felt hard done by at times, he can expect this week-in, week-out on a Saturday or Sunday at the Calderon, in Bilbao or at the Bernabeu.
And there will be the small matter of the UEFA Champions League at testing venues like the Ali Sani Yem Stadium, the Iduna Signal Park and San Siro, to mention but a few.
Europe is no place for softies as he is likely to realise. The absence of Shaktar Donetsk’s Fernandinho and Rafael da Silva of Manchester United seems hard to justify as well.
What of Scolari himself? The highly acclaimed coach’s previous methods while in charge in which he instructed his players to foul are second nature to teams like Paraguay, Uruguay and most of the European nations. That will not work this time. The suspicion is when things are going well for him, his sides look swashbuckling but when things are not going his way, even he struggles tactically to adjust and re-tune the side.
This Brazilian side will not strike fear into the hearts and minds of opponents as they currently measure up.
The tests will truly come and my suspicion is it will take much more than just victories against Mexico and Italy to convince him of a possible triumph on home soil.
This is one stereo in which if the frequency is kept clear, the beats and rhythms can create a truly samba genre filled with flavour but should the signal strength prove to be poor, the discord is quickly reflected in the stands by fans and the CBF.
The latter will stick by him seeing as there is little time to try an alternative before the world jamboree kicks off in 12 months’ time.
After all, this is a job that tests the character of the man much more than his actual ability to perform it.
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