Brazil – the team that plays beautiful football and engrosses the entire world with every single touch. Or at least they used to be. A recent Nike advert campaign depicts football as BR (Before Ronaldo) and AR (After Ronaldo) but perhaps when you look at the exploits of the Brazilian national team you just have Before Dunga and After Dunga – it was possibly the end of Brazil’s joga bonito. There is still the brilliant technique on show but a new era of caution and a time when the likes of Ramires or Lucas Leiva become far more important to the side than the likes of a Neymar or a Dani Alves.
The Copa America could be a chance for Brazil to return to their captivating ways with Mario Menezes at the helm. From exhibitionists to pragmatists the Brazilians are always brilliantly strong and in both depth and skill.
The 2007 Copa America winners look to defend their crown and make it 3 Copa America wins in a row, this time on the enemy soil of Argentina. With the departure of Dunga after the unsuccessful 2010 World Cup campaign that saw Brazil crash out to the Netherlands in a game that showed that the inventiveness and magical football had disappeared in both nations. The then Corinthians manager Mano Menezes was the replacement and he was began to reverse some of Dunga’s previous mistakes with Alexandre Pato and Neymar – two of Brazil’s best – becoming bigger focal points in the Seleção.
There’s little to be said about Brazil’s previous history in football that hasn’t already. They are a team larger than life, they are the Nicks, the Lakers and the Yankees all put together. It’s hard to say “World Cup” without thinking of a particularly brilliant Brazil side or perhaps a flashing image of another Verde-Amarela lifting the trophy. They simply are football.
5 World Cups, 8 Copa Americas, and 3 Confederations Cups… it is impossible to argue with a success rate like that. What separates Brazil the most besides their success is that for a large part of that it seemed like they were playing football from another world altogether.
Brazil’s first adventure in the Copa America came in the inaugural tournament of 1916, they finished third out of the four teams that participated. Uruguay in those days was an entirely different force altogether and at that time Brazil’s preparation for football was amateurish. Perhaps most significantly is that the Brazilian Football Confederation had only been founded in 1914. All the other teams in the Copa America had been governed properly for at least a decade more than Brazil had and it showed in Brazil for a long time.
It was only after the war that Brazil as a footballing force really began to take shape; they finished runners up behind Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup, in front of their own fans. In 1954 they showed more signs of improvement but were knocked out eventually by the Nándor Hidegkuti inspired Hungary team in a match dubbed “the Battle of Berne” for it’s surprising brutality.
The winning with style for Brazil began with the 1958 World Cup, their manager Vicente Feola ensured the Brazilians were more professional, they scouted games of rival teams and even brought with them a psychologist for the players. Pelé and Garrincha were two of the stand out players to make that squad and in retrospect then it was no surprise that they went on to win it. Brazil thrilled the fans in a 5-2 win over a Nils Liedholm inspired Sweden and it began a tradition for Brazil of winning and entertaining.
This was not their first cup win, the first time Brazil won the Copa America was back in 1922 in somewhat farcical surroundings. In Paraguay’s final round robin match against Argentina, in which a win would have given them the trophy, their players left the field in protest to a penalty kick given by the referee for Argentina. After the final series of round robin games Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay were all level and set to play in playoffs. Uruguay though withdrew leaving the final deciding game to be held between Brazil and Paraguay, and much like their first World Cup win, this too was on home soil, and the Estádio das Laranjeiras saw Brazil win 3-0 to lift their first piece of silverware in the year of the centennial anniversary of their independence from Portugal.
The domestic game in Brazil is split in two, with the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A which is Brazil’s main league, and each state also has it’s own championships – although they recently are dwindling in popularity and prominence. Série A usually runs from May until December and was won last year by Fluminense.
Brazil’s most successful teams in terms of trophies are Santos, the club famous for it’s black and white stripes and Pelé, and also Palmeiras the team that plays in green and was founded by the Italian community of São Paulo.
The biggest problem for Brazilian club sides is keeping hold of their best star players, with the riches and fame of Europe a constant and understandable lure to players. Santos have done well lately to keep hold of two of their best so far, Neymar and Paul Henrique Ganso. Although it seems that this summer their strong resistance to European clubs may finally be broken down.
Neymar is the one young star of the team who shines above the others currently; his performances for the national team so far have been very impressive and his talents are clearly shown for Santos every week in Brazil. It seems just a matter of time before a European giant comes in with a big money swoop for the forward and the Copa America will be a perfect chance for him to demonstrate his skills to any scouts watching once more. Many consider Neymar to truly be the future of Brazil, with Pelé and Ronaldo both seeing him as a successor.
Santos no doubt know they can’t keep a player as special as Neymar on their books forever, and will perhaps also be hoping Neymar shines, so they can add an extra R$ 10,000,000 on top of the current estimated transfer fee.
Brazil is, of course, a squad of more than just Neymar. It used to be about the likes of Kaká and Ronaldinho but it seems now under Mano Menezes that these days are over, and it’s time to look to the future once again for Brazil. Although Lúcio will likely be again a main man in central defence, the likes of AC Milan’s Thiago Silva and Chelsea’s David Luiz represent the future. The likes of Neymar, Ganso, Alexandre Pato, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Lucas Leiva, Lucas Silva and Sandro are all young and talented players and represent the future of Brazil.
Yet in spite of that, with the immense talent pool that Brazil has there will always be note worthy exclusions. Real Madrid’s Marcelo has been in top form for the Copa del Rey winners this year but fails to make the Copa America squad – he is dropped in favour of André Santos of Fenerbahçe. The lively Da Silva twins of Manchester United also miss out. Hulk, who has been a huge part of a Porto squad that has wiped the floor with the rest of Portugal won the Europa League in incredible fashion, is another huge exclusion. Not to mention the likes of Ronaldinho, Kaka, Michel Bastos, Hernandes, or Nilmar.
With such a huge talent pool to choose from it’s the kind of criticisms are always inevitable for a Brazil manager. Should they fail to win the Copa America for a hatrick of Copa America’s then a critic need look no further than the manager’s squad selection and the notable exclusions for an easy shot at the manager. Brazil always have gigantic expectations for every competition they enter and this will be no different.
Twitter – @filippoinzaghi