Opinion: Dante a deserved call up, but should Luiz Gustavo join him?
In a time when the Brazilian economy and trade market is booming, the country’s most famous export continues to be world-class footballers to Europe. There was a time when the biggest leagues on the continent could cherry-pick the finest young players from Brazil, but those days are now coming to an end. The improved environment of the Brazilian league, leads to more home-grown players earning call-ups, earlier, and that is to the detriment of those plying their trade in Europe.
FC Bayern are playing some of the best football in their history, according to head coach Jupp Heynckes – set to be replaced by former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola in July – racking up a nine-point lead over Bayer Leverkusen, as well as, an incredible goal difference of +37 from 17 league games. Heynckes has recovered the assured, disciplined style of their game, based around the use of two Brazilian players both reaching the peak of their powers.
In central defence, Dante has been an outstanding performer in 2012 for both the Bavarians and Borussia Mönchengladbach—who he helped to a UEFA Champions League spot last season. His improvement under Lucien Favre at Gladbach saw him marshall the side's back-four—a unit that became notoriously difficult to penetrate due to the defensive excellence of Dante and partner Martin Stranzl.
The persistent injury woes of Daniel Van Buyten forced Bayern head coach Jupp Heynckes and new sporting director Matthias Sammer to strengthen last summer. The 29-year-old Brazilian was the perfect fit for the club, providing aerial dominance, power and a player comfortable with the ball at his feet. According to official league statistics, his pass completion rate this season has been 92.3% from 1048 attempts*. Likewise, he has completed 60.8% of the 232 challenges he has attempted.
It is no coincidence that Dante has played all of Bayern’s matches in the first-half of the season and they have conceded only seven goals. Dante and Badstuber struck up a perfect balance at the heart of their backline this season. Now, though, the onus will be on the Brazilian to be the reliable figure given Badstuber’s unfortunate injury, sustained in their 1-1 draw against Borussia Dortmund in December.
Further up the pitch – but not by much – midfielder Luiz Gustavo has excelled when on the field for FC Bayern, showing his reliability when called upon before Javi Martinez’s transfer record move from Athletic Bilbao. Gustavo has featured in nine games this season with three goals, which is best-ever season tally so far, even at the halfway point of the campaign.
The 25-year-old was capped twice by Brazil in 2011, but has been frozen out of the national team setup despite his decent domestic form in Germany. Gustavo prefers to sit in front of the back-four, breaking up opposition attacking moves in the FC Bayern half of the field. His positioning has complemented Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos well in the midfield – but Gustavo has stood out for his dominant and efficient performances. Physically, he is athletic and aids FC Bayern’s pressing game in the middle of the park, and is also strong in the tackle.
Gustavo will probably struggle to play regularly in the second half of the season, given the level of competitiveness in the first-team squad. However, he is a very useful option for Heynckes during their assault for a quadruple this season.
It’s a new era for Brazil under Luiz Felipe Scolari, with 18 months to the FIFA World Cup in 2014, and Dante has already been called up by the experienced coach. As Felipão looks to add top level experience to the squad, which lacks a natural defensive midfielder, it seems a no-brainer that Luiz Gustavo will be joining him in the Seleção later this year.
Submitted by Ross Dunbar - @RossDunbar93. Ross is a freelance football writer and senior editor for Bundesliga Football UK.
*As of 18 January 2013