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Tim Vickery Column: On the trail of Brazil’s 1982 team

Paulo Roberto Falcao style of play should have inspired a generation
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This is a big week coming up; for the Brazilian teams in the Libertadores, for example. Gremio have already, and very impressively too, made sure of their slot in the knock out phase, and so have Atletico Mineiro – now re-enforced by Nicolas Anelka (more on that next week). Cruzeiro look to have saved themselves with last week’s win away to Universidad de Chile, but Atletico Paranaense, Flamengo and Botafogo are caught in a dogfight.

It is also a big week for a TV project I am involved in; a documentary on Brazil’s much loved 1982 World Cup team. The completed programme should hit your screens a couple of weeks before the World Cup – it is being made for FIFA, and will be offered to all broadcasters who are owners of the 2014 transmission rights.

Our completion deadline is fast approaching. These are the final few days in which we can do interviews. So far we have swept up most of the players – and have plenty of archive footage of Socrates, who is sadly is no longer with us.

It looks as if time has run out on chasing right back Leandro, and also centre forward Serginho. But there is one sector of the team that has not yet been covered, and needs urgent attention over the next few days – the central midfielders.

Cerezo is in Japan; we have sent over questions to be put to him there and have set up the interview. But I will be unable to conduct the process as I would like if we were face to face – which makes this week’s trip down to Porto Alegre especially important. We are going to meet Falcao, the ‘king of Rome,’ the elegant midfield presence who so typified that 1982 team.

One of the great ironies of the process is that Falcao had not played for Brazil for some time before joining up with the squad on the eve of the tournament. The fact that he was playing for Roma meant that he was not available for the qualifiers – and so one of the players who is seen as a symbol of 1982 had to be re-integrated into the team at the last minute.

This is an interesting line of questioning – how was he accepted by the group? Did his international experience proffer on him a role of leadership in the dressing room?  Did he warn his team-mates about the threat offered by Italy before that fateful 3-2 defeat?

But even more interesting from my point of view are his thoughts about the consequences of Brazil’s early elimination, especially in terms of his central midfield position.

The striking thing about the performances of the 1982 team is the circulation of the ball. There was very little dribbling – only in the last few metres of the field. Player after player has stressed that coach Tele Santana was firmly opposed to dribbling in the middle of the field, which he saw as an invitation to the opponent’s counter-attack. Instead, the ball moves, hypnotically and beautifully, from sector to sector. And always at the heart of it are the two central midfielders, Falcao and Cerezo, who stamp their authority on the game with the range of their passing and the audacity of their movement.

This was always a vital part of the Brazilian game. Think, for example, of how defensive midfielder Zito scores the decisive goal in the 1962 World Cup final against Czechoslovakia with a move that takes him from one penalty box to the other. Or his successor Clodoaldo, pushing forward to hit home the vital equaliser against Uruguay in the 1970 semi final, and then waltzing his way through the Italy midfield at the start of the move that leads to that famous Carlos Alberto goal in the final.

But Zito and Clodoaldo were also holders – far more so than either Falcao or Cerezo. In 1982 Brazil’s specialist defensive midfielder was Batista, and he was not even on the bench for that game against Italy.

The conclusion, even reached by Tele Santana in the 1986 World Cup, was that Brazil would have to tighten up in the middle of the pitch – and so began the process whereby they started selecting centre backs to offer cover in front of the centre backs, protecting the forward bursts of the full backs, but renouncing the opportunity to elaborate from centrefield as the 1982 team did so wonderfully.

Dorival Junior, who as a coach made his name with the Neymar-Paulo Henrique Ganso Santos side of 2010, argues that in the obsession to spring the full backs, Brazilian football has forgotten how to pass the ball through the middle of the field.

The great Tostao blames Brazil’s recent conception of midfield play for the fact that Ganso has so far come nowhere near fulfilling the expectations that were constructed around him; “He should have been prepared, all the way through the youth ranks, to play from one penalty box to the other, marking and attacking as do the great talents in this position, such as Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, Yaya Toure, Modric, Pirlo and others. But the midfield in Brazil has been divided into those who mark and those who attack, and players such as Ganso have been squeezed out.”

Tostao accepts that a change is on the way, with the likes of Paulinho, Hernanes and Ramires capable of both marking and attacking, but he still feels that Brazil is lagging behind in this area. And surely he has a point. 1982 should have inspired subsequent generations of Falcaos and Cerezos. Instead, it is hard to find them here in Brazil. I can hardly wait to delve into such issues with Paulo Roberto Falcao.


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