Changing the game
Premiership is helping Brazilians to be more Brazilian
Posted: Tuesday December 11, 2007 11:36AM; Updated: Tuesday December 11, 2007 2:10PM
I arrived in Brazil in 1994, just after the national team ended that long, 24-year wait for World Cup win No. 4. The style of that team had an enormous influence on the country's domestic soccer.
Brazil had floundered for a while, unable to find its way, trying to imitate Holland (1978), Italy ('90) and falling short in between ('82 and '86) when it put its faith in traditional virtues.
In '94, Carlos Alberto Parreira's side played a brand of soccer which was both within the Brazilian tradition -- with a back four and based on possession of the ball -- and also thoroughly modern, using the most scientific methods of physical preparation and a pragmatic balance between attack and defense.
It was little wonder that Brazilian club coaches flocked to repeat the formula.
It meant that everyone was looking for a Mauro Silva and a Dunga to hold the middle. The pair did a wonderful job protecting the center backs during USA '94.
Mauro Silva was a master of reading the game and adjusting his position accordingly, while Dunga, initially nothing but a ball winner, had worked at his game so much that he had developed into a pretty good passer.
But in the rush to protect their defense, Brazilian club coaches overlooked the more cerebral and artistic virtues of the '94 central-midfield pair. Instead, they were looking for purely players who would sit deep, allow the fullbacks to push forward at will and interrupt the opponent's moves by fair means, or more frequently, by foul.
It wasn't hard to understand the dynamic of the situation. With no job security in an environment where few coaches ever lasted more than a year in the same job, the natural tendency was to play safe and play cynical. So began the era when Brazilian club games could feature as many as 100 fouls per match.
It was as if Brazil's teams were playing with two center backs in front of their two center backs -- the logical extension of which is Gilberto Silva, a converted center back, recently making his 60th international appearance in the middle of Brazil's midfield.
In a country that produced giants Zito and Didi in 1958, Clodoaldo and Gérson in '70 and Toninho Cerezo and Falcão from '82, such a change is hard to fathom. But last month at home against Uruguay, Gilberto Silva and midfield partner Mineiro produced performances so bereft of imagination and basic passing competence that a reaction has finally emerged.
Last week at a coaches' conference in Rio de Janeiro, former Real Madrid and current Santos boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo went on the attack. During a roundtable debate on the essence of Brazilian soccer, there was an expression he used repeatedly:
"We're prostituting our characteristics," he said. "Our fullbacks have no conception of marking."