Renato Augusto-not Brazil’s best player, but certainly they’re most indispensable
His starting XI is pretty firmly established by now; Alisson (who is admittedly coming under pressure from Ederson), Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Miranda, Marcelo, Casemiro, Renato Augusto, Paulinho, Coutinho (with Willian challenging closely), Neymar and Gabriel Jesus. The likes of Thiago Silva, Filipe Luis, Fernandinho, Roberto Firmino and Fagner are well established back ups.
The Seleção’s long standing centre forward issues have been solved by the emergence of Gabriel Jesus. The dearth of quality back up is a concern, however. The likes of Firmino, Tardelli and Luan are fighting for squad spots and all can play as a false 9. However, Neymar does not dovetail well with this kind of forward.
The PSG man has liberty to roam across the front line and this tends to infringe on the modus operandi of a false 9. If the worst were to happen and Brazil were to lose Neymar, they would likely play Willian on the right and Coutinho on the left. There would be a shortfall in quality, obviously, but that’s pretty unavoidable. The point is, the solution is relatively obvious.
In midfield, Fernandinho would be the de facto replacement for Casemiro. In Paulinho’s role, Tite is still assessing options, with the likes of Fred, Diego and Guiliano all under consideration. But the player that there is no contingency plan for is Renato Augusto, the glue that holds this revitalised Seleção side together.
Renato is best remembered for a four year stint at Bayer Leverkusen, where he operated behind the striker. He returned to Corinthians in 2013 to play under Tite and has reinvented himself as a technical midfield ‘meio-campista’. Augusto was the Velcro that held an all conquering Corinthians side together.
The player moved to China in January 2016, but remained as a squad option under Dunga. But since Tite’s appointment in August 2016, Augusto has become a mainstay of the side, starting every competitive game under his old Timão boss. Latterly, his former Corinthians midfield partner Paulinho joined him at the fulcrum of a new look Brazil team.
Renato Augusto’s rise to prominence was easy to predict once Tite’s appointment was confirmed. The Brazil boss has very specific requirements from his midfielders, they need to be highly adaptable. Tite tends to play without orthodox wingers, instead his playmakers are encouraged to drift in field.
This means that the midfield requires flexibility and gumption to operate. Tite has leant on Paulinho and Augusto because they are well schooled in these requirements. Renato’s job is to basically a process of constant backfilling. Plugging gaps when Paulinho surges forwards, or Coutinho and Neymar wander in field.
He is footballing polyfilla, allowing freedom to Brazil’s more creative charges. But allied with this, Augusto takes care of the football. He is very precise in possession, injecting momentum and impetus into the Seleção’s build-up play. To rehash an old English phrase, he “keeps things ticking over.”
He oils the engine of Tite’s finely tuned machine and the Brazil boss would have a serious problem if something were to happen to Augusto ahead of next summer’s World Cup, because nobody else replicates his unique skillset. Nobody knows the mechanics of a Tite team quite like he does. He is the team’s technical leader.
Tite rotates the captain’s armband to create a sense of shared responsibility, but Augusto is effectively his on-field assistant manager. Ahead of next summer’s World Cup, when the Brazil previews start hitting the magazine shelves and the airwaves, you will hear and read much about Neymar, Coutinho, Dani Alves, Gabriel Jesus and maybe even Casemiro. But in a private moment, I am sure Tite would agree that, while Renato Augusto is not necessarily the best player available to him, he is the most indispensable.