Tim Vickery Column: Brazil may want to look further afield in order to regain reputation
A depressing flashback, from seven years ago.
Brazil have just won the 2007 Copa America. They beat Argentina 3-0 in the final in Maracaibo, Venezuela.The result was a surprise. Brazil were without the likes of Kaka and Julio Cesar. Argentina were close to full strength, and had played some lovely football during the course of the competition. Brazil, though, had done their homework, and identified Argentina’s left back Gabriel Heinze as the weak point. They counter-attacked through his zone with brutal efficiency. But it was not the only thing they did with a certain brutality. Argentina were a passing team, built around Juan Roman Riquelme and his link with Juan Sebastian Veron and the young Lionel Messi. Brazil, though, never allowed them to get into any kind of rhythm. Play was broken up by foul after foul after foul. If memory serves me right, Brazil conceded something like 45 fouls in the game – considerably more than they did in the recent World Cup quarter final against Colombia. It left a nasty taste in the mouth.
But after the match, when Brazil coach Dunga walked into the press conference, almost to a man the Brazilian press corps stood up and applauded. Aghast, I looked across at my colleagues. Are you really happy to win like that? Are you really so mediocre? Does the greatness of your tradition really mean so little to you?
With Dunga now re-appointed, those same questions appear pertinent once more. Because what has happened to the Brazilian national team over the last few weeks surely is worthy of deep reflection – something much more profound than a criticism of a message on a baseball cap or a call for more commitment. During the World Cup, even while the national team was winning games it was losing friends .
Some might see this as proof of the idea- foolish but alarmingly prevalent in Brazil – that there is no connection between winning and playing well. Dunga has argued in the past that calls for Brazil to return to the type of movement of the ball the team showed in 1982 were all part of a European plot to ensure the trophy ends up elsewhere. Clearly no one told the Spain side of four years ago, or Germany’s class of 2014 – both teams base their game around possession of the ball. After the Barcelona of Pep Guardiola raised the bar, Brazilian football, domestic and national team, has looked alarmingly antiquated and depressingly unimaginative.
As Brazil reeled away in shock from the 2014 World Cup, there was one obvious starting point in a bid to reconstruct – go and talk to Johan Cruyff. Not, I hasten to add, with the idea of putting the Dutch master in charge – his coaching days are behind him – but for a chat on the way forward. World Cup after World Cup, Cruyff criticizes what Brazil have become. Typically, nationalist idiots in Brazil are enraged by this stance, and hurl abuse at him. But this is perhaps the world’s most influential thinker on attacking football. If he criticizes Brazil it is because he thinks their team are capable of much better – and can anyone now feel that they have the right to disagree with him? What ideas might Cruyff have on how to rebuild, on who to coach to the team, on which training methods and philosophy of play to be employed?
Taking a consultation with Cruyff would send out a message – to the fans, that a bold new era is about to begin; to the players, that there are interesting times ahead; to the sponsors, that Brazil really are concerned with regaining their position as everyone’s favourite other team.
But going to talk to him would require a cosmopolitan outlook, and the CBF is in the hands of old time petty nationalists. One of the reasons that Dunga was announced with such haste was to prevent momentum building for a foreign coach. In Tuesday’s press conference, Dunga was keen to present himself as modern and in touch with current trends in the game, merrily dropping names of those he had worked alongside while covering the World Cup. But there was a low point – when he referred to how impressed he had been by Gimenez of Colombia. Presumably he meant James Rodriguez. One hopes he will have done more homework on his opposition before meeting Colombia in September. And more to the point, one hopes that when Brazil come up against such a talented opponent, the aim will be to keep him quiet without the repeated fouling of this year’s quarter final, or that Copa America final of 2007. Brazil’s tradition deserves better.