Well well, Dunga’s 5th consecutive win, and 5th straight clean-sheet in charge of Brazil.
Impressive, one might say.
And with a squad that plays like a well-oiled machine, smoothly and attractively – and full of confidence. A total reversal of the anxiety-driven football we saw at the World Cup.
It seems that, indeed, Dunga did learn a few things during his 4 years of exile from football – the necessary break between his two spells in charge of the Selecao. The cranky commander went from being the symbol of pragmatism to becoming the emblematic figure of a more solid, cohesive team. And the key word here truly is team.
Brazil hadn’t played like a team in ages. They had forgotten how. It’s quite surprising that Dunga, a famous contrarian and proponent of “futebol de resultados”, is the sargent in charge of this effectively attractive revolution that is bringing back the vintage Brazilian way of playing. And I don’t mean that purely in a nostalgic way: Dunga is bringing back the vintage effectively – not just for show. He is winning matches by playing properly slick football…who would have thought?!
Let’s hope it sticks.
But, for now: not bad.
Not bad at all, Mr Dunga.
Ok, Dunga. You are back, you are dressed in a proper suit, you are smiling, and you crowned Neymar as your Captain after having refused to take him to South Africa in 2010.
Ok, I get it. You have changed.
And so has Brazil, it seems. Well done on the convincing victory over Colombia.
But it was still classic, vintage you, no? A defensively compact team, strong on the counter-attacks, tight in the mid-field, lacking true creative power up front, and scoring the winner from a set-piece…
Ok. Well, at least Brazil are winning again.
You have my attention. For now.
Let’s see what you can build on this.
Oh, I saw that you called up Robinho. Please don’t do that again.
And don’t even think of calling up Felipe Melo…
Dunga, Brazil’s 1994 grumpy Captain turned 2010 grumpy manager, is set to return to coach the Selecao and lead the 5-time World Champions to Russia 2018.
This absolutely conservative, borderline suicidal move by the Brazilian FA (CBF) only reflects how Brazilian football, and Brazilian society, are managed: development and improvements are marked by spectacular regression.
The path towards 2018 will look a lot like the frustratingly pragmatic path towards 2010.
So much for the “footballing revolution” that was promised following Brazil’s apocalyptic 1-7 defeat against the Germans at the 2014 World Cup semi-final.
Ironically, Dunga was appointed manager in 2006 because the Brazilian FA were looking for an inspirational Klinsmann-like figure. The whole of Brazil had been seduced by the many images of the superbly slick duo of managers Klinsmann and Low, dressed in well-fitted, white shirts, enthusiastically celebrating every German goal at the 2006 World Cup.
Carlos Parreira, Brazil’s manager at the time, was seen as a bit of a dry figure, a tad sad-faced and bureaucratic by nature. The cry was desperate, and the cry was for joy and passion to be infused back into the Brazilian squad after they were eliminated by France in the 2006 quarter-final.
So Dunga was brought in, without any coaching experience whatsoever.
To be fair, he did display passion and enthusiasm – and plenty of it – screaming his head off by the sidelines as though he had been scoring goals himself. And he was, in fact, rather successful in charge of Brazil: qualifying the team for 2010 at the top of the South American table, taking Brazil back to the no. 1 position in the FIFA rankings, and winning both the 2007 Copa America and the 2009 Confederations Cup.
But Dunga was never a good casting director. His favourite players were controversial names – Melo, Grafite, Josue and Elano were far from world class – and his temper and relationship with the public and the media were absolutely atrocious. Cranky, downright rude and just plain unpleasant, Dunga designed a Brazilian squad that was effective, defensively organized and highly physical, but also joyless, cold and distant from the warmth of the fans.
I have nothing but respect for Dunga’s ability to manage a team; he understands how football works and has highly competent organizational skills. However, he is not what the Selecao need, which is respect, hope and sincere fan support – and, above all: change.
But change is not really what the Brazilian FA is all about. Change means letting go of power; it means surrendering control.
Notoriously corrupt and Jurassic in mentality, the Brazilian FA will always choose to keep it in the family.
Dunga’s second spell in charge will create divisions, controversies and general doubt. He’ll select footballers that he needs, or thinks he needs, but not the ones that deserve to be there by virtue of their talent. He will create a team based on muscularity and strength, not beauty or the ability to surprise. In short, Brazil will continue to explore the extremes, lacking the balance they so desperately need.
If 2014 saw Luiz and Neymar hugging fans and generously taking photos with boys who would invade the pitch during Brazil’s open practices, the path towards 2018 will be a throwback to the 2007-2010 season of secret shenanigans and sheer stubbornness – with the media viewed as the enemy, and public opinion rendered pointless.
Indeed, as Parreira said in 1994, magic is dead.
The Brazilian FA have now officially embraced the idea of Brazil as a tough, bully-like, power-thirsty, humourless and overly athletic squad – as we saw during that quarter-final match against Colombia at the World Cup.
In happier days, back in 1982, Brazil’s Captain Socrates famously said that “beauty comes first, victory is secondary, what matters is joy”.
And let us not forget that Dunga deeply detests it when the media reminds us that everyone loves Brazil’s 1982 squad of “losers”, while no one cares about his exceptionally boring 1994 winning team.
So my advice to Brazil is this: stop trying to win.
Somehow, since 2002, that has been the sole goal: to win.
And the cost has been massive: Brazil’s football identity is in the gutter.
Winning is not worth it.
Winning for the sake of winning, whatever the cost, does not produce joy.
It creates powerful enemies. It creates an unhealthy, egocentric, self-righteous attitude that cares only about, well, winning.
That is a painfully childish, empty and ultimately disappointingly unrealistic way to lead any sort of project.
But, most of all, it’s just a stupid waste of time.
The Brazilian FA is just a stupid waste of time.
This Brazil is just a stupid waste of time.
Dunga is just a stupid, stupid waste of time.
It’s all so stupid.
The 2014 World Cup has come to a close.
It’s useful, if not necessarily therapeutic, to remember the very beginning of a tale when things come to an end.
The combined scores of Brazil’s defeats against the World Champions Germany and the Netherlands display absurdly shocking results: 10 x 1 for the visitors.
Brazil have now entered a new footballing category in World Cup history, that of teams that allow staggering amounts of goals into their net. In the Selecao‘s company are now the likes of North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, this is a national disaster for the 5-time World Champions.
Truthfully, Brazil haven’t played stylish Jogo Bonito, or “futebol arte” as we call it, since 1982. Since then we have seen flashes of it here and there, great victories, some defeats, and slightly mediocre Brazil teams that – albeit not made up of ‘artists’ – certainly never managed to taint the legacy of the nation as the spiritual home of the game – as the nostalgically golden standard for beautiful football.
Brazil may not have been utterly brilliant in the last two decades, but they still won tournaments and, more importantly, weren’t as bad as North Korea! Ever!
That image, unfortunately, has now been torn to tatters. Brazil’s football has been conquered, and its future demands a revolution; a profound self-examination.
The brilliantly victorious German reform, which started in 1998 following a dreadful 3-0 defeat against new-kids-on-the-block Croatia, and culminated with their 4th World Cup title at Rio’s Maracana this Sunday, serves as as a powerful and inspirational lesson.
Germany invested in their youth academies, heavily; they reformed their entire approach to football management and administration within the last 15 years. They’ve embraced their multiculturalism and, through it, developed an incredibly strong sense of team-work and classy sportsmanship. They worked at it, diligently and patiently.
Germany are now the standard for modernity and efficient beauty.
Brazilian football must enter the 21st Century too. We must evolve.
But first, a brief pause for nostalgia. Let’s go back in time, all the way to October, 1894. The very birth of football in Brazil.
Let us remember those first steps…
Charles Miller, the son of an Anglo-Brazilian mother and a Scottish immigrant, returns to Brazil after attending boarding school in Southampton, England.
His father awaits his arrival at the port city of Santos, in the State of Sao Paulo. Miller recounts:
On the quay…solemn, as if he were at a funeral, my father was waiting for me to disembark holding my degree certificate. But in fact I appeared in front of him with two footballs, one in each hand … the old man, surprised, enquired:
Additionally, in his back-pack, Miller brought with him a copy of the Laws of the Game.
A few months later the book of rules had gone viral, fiercely spreading all across Brazil; footballs were made and sold at an increasingly frenetic pace, and hundreds of teams were formed.
Charles Miller changed the cultural landscape of Brazil forever, assisting in the development of the nation’s very sense of identity and pride, and thus establishing football as a pivotal element of Brazil’s heritage.
Thus, football was born in Brazil 120 years ago. It has come a long way, and now, more than ever, it needs help.
Brazil once again needs persistent visionaries like Charles Miller.
The World Cup this year was a success, and Brazilians proved to be gracious, warm hosts. But our football needs mending.
We may be on the quay right now, solemn, as if we were at the funeral that followed the 7-1 thrashing against the Germans…
Let us work so that the next 120 years of Brazilian football never reproduce this kind of pain and void. Let us learn from the Germans.
We owe it to Miller. The man changed a country with just two footballs and a book.
Surely, we have better resources at our disposal today.
Let us use them.
One of the key points of discussion and sheer enthusiasm at this 2014 World Cup has been centred around just how phenomenally many goalkeepers have performed.
Well, meet Brazil’s very first man-between-the-posts: Marcos Carneiro de Mendonca – the crucial player behind Brazil’s successful South American title of 1919, and the star of Fluminense’s historic run of victories between 1917-1919. Indeed, one of the most important names in the early days of Brazilian football, and a key figure in the establishment of the sport in the land of Jogo Bonito.
Additionally, his place in history holds particular interest to me, personally, because Marcos de Mendonca was also the father of Barbara Helidora, Brazil’s most prolific theatre critic, and translator/interpreter of William Shakespeare.
Heliodora is about to turn 91 this August, and has only recently finished three new volumes of Portuguese translations of Shakespeare’s Complete Works – all 37 plays! Indeed, Heliodora inherited her brilliant writing skills from her mother, celebrated poetess Ana Amelia.
In fact, Marcos de Mendonca’s stunningly dashing figure and goalkeeping prowess have been immortalized by this delightfully erotic poem by Amelia below – it is one of the first pieces of football writing in Brazilian history, describing the very first time Amelia’s eyes caught sight of the Rio stud in action:
“When I saw you today,
Executing your relaxed, daring and vigorous leap
Like a figure from the Iliad
I trembled in the most intimate part of my being
Swept by a frenetic impulse as if I were before a Greek,
The hero of an Olympiad.
Shaken like Dryad before Apollo
I measure his magnificent figure.
Against the incomparable background of a pale twilight
You threw yourself into space
Tensed all your muscles
Enrapt by the roar of the crowd’s enthusiastic applause
Like an agile God that graciously came down from Olympus
You touched the ground glorious
Fervent and fearless
Perfect in the beauty of the classic Greek sculpture”
– A.Amelia, 1922
“The magic is over.”
Parreira said that in 1994, when he led a highly mediocre, and defensively “unBrazilian” Brazil to World Cup glory in the United States.
Nobody took the statement that seriously then, as four years later Brazil had managed to produce a new dazzling, vintage squad – and a new talisman in Ronaldo – reaching the 1998 final and winning ultimate glory once again in 2002.
The Brazil of Jogo Bonito and bombastic football folklore, for all intents and purposes, still pulsated, alive and well.
But then Ronaldo’s brilliant generation retired, and the team underperformed in 2006 and 2010 (then, with a highly defensive, rustic side led by hard-man Dunga); surely, mere glitches; technical, minor mistakes to be corrected at the highly anticipated “Copa das Copas” (THE World Cup), on home soil, in 2014…
For the most part, Brazilians were sure that all would be fixed this year. Scolari, a highly respected figure, was back in charge, and Brazil had produced yet again another talismanic character: Neymar.
The path to the biggest prize in the world of football had been, relatively speaking, smoothly paved.
The political protests that took over the streets last year hadn’t really affected Scolari’s footbal revolution; in fact, they had given his team hopeful fire: a bombastic victory against Spain at the 2013 Confederations Cup final was the announcement that Brazil’s beautiful game had returned home. Surely, now, Brazil would show the planet that the game was theirs; that they were, indeed, the spiritual home of the beautiful game.
The 2014 World Cup had already exposed the dirty inner workings of FIFA, the corruption and brutal spendings of public money. But no one expected it would reveal, to the entire world, that Brazilian football was, de facto, a walking corpse.
Indeed, Brazil were never convincing at this tournament as potential champions, despite making into the semi-finals. The squad showed little tactical brains, and way too much heart – a volatile, angry, petty heart, determined to win at all costs; even if it meant throwing away their legacy of free-flow, carefree football.
The emblematic face of this Brazil, the face of death, will inevitably become Fred. The astonishingly mediocre striker will be immortalized as the symbol of utter failure – Brazil’s worst World Cup defeat in history.
Truthfully, Brazil were lucky to have made it this far. Chile could have easily taken them out quite early in the tournament. And after 5 games of incredibly anxious and inconsistent football, Brazil were ousted by a truly brilliant, magical, imperial (and merciful) German side.
It could have easily been 10 x 0.
Brazil had only one plan for this semi-final match against Germany at the Mineirao Stadium: to score early in the game, and then to hold on to that result for dear life, displaying that same anxiety previously witnessed in the tournament.
But the first goal was German. And the second. And a third, fourth…
Within 25 minutes, the dream was over.
The psychological collapse was tragically Shakespearean in proportion. It was historical.
The final score of 7-1 punctured a colossal hole into the fabric of the football universe.
Brazil’s dreams had been exposed as mere fantasy.
The reality of this, the greatest and most exciting and controversial of World Cups in recent decades, is one of the exposure of the realities of the game.
And in the end, the discipline, hard-work and class that are so evidently the very structure of how football is administrated in Germany won.
The ‘Maracanazo’ ghost of 1950, when Brazil tragically lost the World Cup final against Uruguay at Rio’s Maracana Stadium, haunts on.
Brazil, the country, and its football, remain a fantasy.
Only now, the dream has become a nightmare.
Welcome to the post-Mineiraço Era.