This matter deserves a 1000 page book, so this humble text won’t come anywhere near explaining the problems of brazilian football brazilian football in their totality. Consider this just my two cents.
First of all, brazilian football has always been a mess. It couldn’t be different, since our society is a mess. “It’s not a serious country”, Jean-Paul Sartre once said. Tournaments with complicated rules, that would be changed during competition, intricated judicial landmarks, that would allow a tournament to be won or lost in courts due to small breaches in the rules (last time it happened was TWO YEARS AGO, with the relegation of Portuguesa instead of powerful Fluminense), corruption, manipulation of results, sex scandals. And on the top of that horrendous, scandalous and still ongoing violence (for at least 30 years violence in brazilian arenas is completely out of control). So how come brazilian football is decadent NOW? Is it really?
The biggest brazilian contribution to football was never tactics, or training methods, or organization (lol, what a joke). It was always the talent of our players. A talent forged by our immense football culture. A football culture that has too sides. It’s detrimental to every other sport, since they all struggle. Just take a quick look at our pathetic results at the Olympics, most of them result of individual efforts, with the fortunate exception of the passionate volleyball people.
But it opens space for every kid to be crazy about football. Added to the fact that millions of children have always had oceans of free time to wander on the streets with balls, because most are too poor to afford anything else, playing all sorts of small games, against older boys, in short spaces, trying, learning and observing by themselves, the result is a massive amount of raw talent. I remember watching a TV show where a very young north-american player was explaining to his mom that ‘there are 6 types of kicks’ and thinking: “forget about that, our kids don’t know what they’re doing, but they just do it better”. It’s motor intelligence, not theoretical.
The raw talent is still there. Brazilian players move like no one else. Even with the modernization of the country and the decrease of street football, we can see that there’s still a brazilian way. It’s not a coincidence that we’re still by far the biggest exporters of players. And we are still the most creative and best in 1-on-1 situations, helped by the enormous contribution of our equally big futsal culture.
The biggest problem is the current football philosophy, or the lack of one. From the 60s to the 80s we produced fantastic players in every position because we had a defined football culture. A culture that valued passing, keeping the ball, and individual talent, using the width and depth of the field. We had midfielders like Rivelino, Tostão, Falcão, Sócrates, Zico, Pelé, only to mention the most well-known. Also we had excellent wingers. Jairzinho, Garrincha, Edu. They completely vanished from our football. Nobody never knew how to produce such players. But the coaches would nurture them after they were selected and the systems would fit them. Because we always played attacking football, where we would keep the ball and dictate the tempo.
Unfortunately, World Cup results end up setting the tone of world football and the defeats in 86 and specially 82, along with technological and fitness changes across the planet transformed our football in a pragmatic, tedious, results oriented sport. Even worse, we won 1994 world cup with such style, with two completely defensive midfielders (Dunga and Mauro Silva) and two a little bit more offensive ones that would track down to close spaces. In possession the beasts Bebeto and Romario would unlock the games and we sneaked through every game to the final where we beat Italy in an inocuous 0-0. The world of football reached its bottom. Parreira, the leader of that team, became our prophet. Amongst some of his teachings: “We should always have at least 8 players behind the ball”. “The goal is just a detail”. This created the devastating division between midfielders that would exclusively attack or defend that lasts to our days. After that, name one brazilian World Class midfielder? There’s none. And that’s 22 years ago. Kaka? He was an offensive midfielder who learned to play deeper in Europe, but he was never a box-to-box kind of player. Rivaldo? Yeah, world class, but very offensive-oriented as well.
Without midfielders capable of keeping the ball, our football became a counter-attacking game, dependant of sporadic flashes of talent. Incapable of keeping our best players, our league became boring. Year after year the goal average suffers, with a few exceptional seasons when all coaches appear to wake up to the fact that defensive football will only take you so far. And nobody wants to watch it.
It took the rest of the world about ten years to realize that this is not the way to go. The attacking school of thought that culminated in the Dutch philosophy and was spread by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruijff and is now embraced by Van Gaal and Guardiola (with Ferguson somewhere in between) took over the world. Spanish domination is so big at the moment that it’s hard to deny that it’s a superior philosophy. It’s not hard to link Germany’s success in the last World Cup with the Bayern Munich players coached by Guardiola. Eventually all teams in the world will try to copy it, and new philosophies will appear, which is great for the sport. As long as we don’t fall back into the “parking the bus” method.
Our talent is being misguided. Small children are not accepted in the clubs anymore. Is it a coincidence that the majority of top players of football history are small or at most have average height? Just think for 1 minute about it. But we don’t want them. They won’t become players for exportation. The average height of national brazilian team in the past few years is one of the highest in the world. Brazilian supporters love the “warriors”, unskilled players, usually defenders, who can’t complete a pass but can tackle as a NFL linebacker. The fans have a part on this. They want quality football but will never tolerate a coach who tries new methods. The structure of the clubs will never allow someone with a long term project to transform the club in a crop of excellent players, with the right philosophy, values and, obviously, talent. It’s all about the short term results. A coach like Guardiola would be immediately sacked after a few bad games, while any significant change in any club would require years of cultural transformation. Fortunately we have a few exceptions, such as São Paulo, Fluminense and Santos, who are still producing players like Marcelo and Neymar, but they are an oasis in an immense desert.
The mentor of such transformation could be the head-coach of Brazilian National Team, but after Parreira we had the likes of Scolari (former unskilled center-back, typical sargeant), Mano Menezes (same), and the worst of them: Dunga, the symbol of the bad football of the 90s. The coach of brazilian team is not even a coach. Don’t take me wrong, I have a great respect for Dunga as a person and as a player. It’s nothing personal. But he’s not a coach. He is completely incapable of building a strong team. And even less capable of leading any transformation in our football. He’s not even aware that a transformation is needed. Nothing is wrong in his opinion. We’re being smashed in every tournament because “that’s football”. And he’s in charge of our football.
Yet I think it’s doable. In the back of my mind I imagine myself taking over a brazilian team, with an open-minded president, who will have the vision to build a long term project and when the silverwear start to flow on the correct way, all clubs will follow. After I become a recognized international coach, I do have the intention of planting a seed in brazilian soil. A seed that if won’t make Brazil a better place to live and raise children (I’m not that naive), at least will give our people our football back.
Quick update months after the article was written: I’ve been watching a lot of brazilian highlights and some teams are playing modern football. The risk-taker Cuca is taking his Palmeiras to lead the brazilian league at the moment.
And, most importantly. Tite is the new coach of the brazilian team. The change was quick! Two wins in very complicated games that show that with mininum organization we can still beat most teams, even though I still think there’s a gap between us and teams like Germany and Spain. Light at the end of the tunnel? 🙂