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Lovin’ the Dunga

April 16, 2013
Dunga: heart and balls!

Dunga: heart and balls!

I’ve been high on nostalgia these days (living in England will do that to you), and on a whim I recently decided to spend some very late and lonely evenings watching Brazil matches from the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups on YouTube (bless those footy nerds for uploading them).

I’ll tell you what I missed from those 2002 clips: Dunga.

Yes, that Dunga that was Brazil’s cranky Captain and later turned into cranky 2.0 manager in 2010.

I love him.


Say what you will about his supposedly “unlikeable” personality, but with Dunga in the squad as a player, Brazil won the 1994 World Cup and reached the final in 1998. And as a manager, Brazil won everything there was to be won ahead of the 2010 World Cup, and the team was back at the very top position in FIFA’s rankings, arriving in South Africa as uber favourites for the title.

Sure, sure, Brazil didn’t win 2010; and, well, yes, that was basically Dunga’s fault, since his sideline tantrums punched the squad into paralysis against Holland in the quarter-final.

However, whenever present (for the most part), be it as a player or manager, Dunga kept Brazil organized. There was a system at play, a formation to be honoured, and a desire to push ahead as a collective that’s essentially gone from the squad post-1998.

I’d go as far as to say that the 2002 Brazil was highly inferior to that of 1998, even though they won in Japan/South Korea. Indeed, they had better individual talents – Ronaldo and Ronaldinho were at the top of their game in 2002 – but as a team, they left much to be desired; and, frankly, won the World Cup mainly due to a very easy campaign: meeting with Germany, their only truly strong opposition in the entire tournament, in the final match.

Much of the Dunga hate still hails from THIS – the man’s historical failure to stop Maradona’s catwalk towards serving Caniggia, who scored the goal that eliminated Brazil at the 1990 World Cup.

Brazilians tend to be very forgiving when it comes to their politicians, but never when it comes to a footballer’s mistake.

But, hey, I was 7 in 1990, so what do I know?! To me, Dunga remains a towering presence in midfield.

The other criticism that’s often thrown at him is the idea that he’s “unBrazilian”: too tough, too crabby, too violent, too pragmatic (both as a player and manager), too conventional, too much without flair…etc etc…

It’s bollocks, really.

Dunga had a specific job to do: to break the flow of the opponent’s attack. And even when he failed, he failed while truly trying to get that job done with all of his might and will – he was never a highly skilled player, but one whose desire to do well was larger than his physical ability, and usually made up for any absence in talent .

Moreover, unlike so many of the “classically Brazilian happy boys” (Denilson, Robinho, Ronaldo, etc etc), he could never be accused of laziness, or of being a sellout, or a mercenary. He played for the passion of playing. In that sense, he was – and this is another criticism often throw at him, although I see it as a virtue – “old fashioned” .

Nevertheless, his most remarkable skill was vision – in both the physical sense, of being able to find a distant striker through exquisite long-balls, and in the sense of pulling the squad together behind an idea; a principal; a collective wish. In short, he was an astute captain who inspired his mates to work hard in order to win – as simple as that; as “old school” as that.

As a manager, Dunga ultimately failed at the World Cup, but we understood his Brazil. There was, again, that strong vision at work in his squad. Many called it  a “pragmatic” team – mainly because, well, they were pragmatic – while others called it “European”, “unBrazilian”. In other words, the same old criticisms that were thrown at him as a player were now applied to the entire squad.

I actually respect him for that – what other player (especially one so, well, average in overall skill as Dunga) was able to transfer his personality into an entire team like that successfully (remember, he won everything but the World Cup; and in 60 matches, Brazil lost only 6 during his reign)?

I say let’s celebrate Dunga, however flawed and lackluster the man was as a footballer – and as a man.

If anything, for his integrity, and for being truthfully in touch with his own nature.

Old fashioned values, but that’s what nostalgia is all about.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Chris Steiner permalink
    January 1, 2014 4:52 pm

    I’ve just finished watching the DVD, ‘Giants of Brazil’. I watched the ’94 finals with increasing interest – becuase of the aforementioned Dunga. In my excellent opinion he won the trophy for Brazil. You’ve mentioned his excellent long passes – and also I will mention his play-breaking – timely and hard tackling followed by almost faultless distribution. Not only long passes that equalled the ability of, say, Hoddle or Kendall but all other distances. I watched all those games and it became almost repetitive – those passes never strayed, never put their recipients under pressure and invariably led to positive build-up play. Strikers get the glory but the true soccer aficionado notices all the team. To me he remains an equal of more feted players – a European in application and robustness but possessing Brazilian nuance.

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