By Gregor Vasconcelos
The Samba is back and the World better be ready for it...
It is early days in July, the World Cup has just ended and with it a very disapointing participation from the greatest footballing nation in the World. The attacking flair and carefree nature of Brazilian football didn't show up in South Africa and that, more than the defeat to Holland itself, was what angered the Brazilian fans. Dunga, who capitained Brazil to their fourth World Cup triumph was given the job after the awful campaign in 2006 in order to restore the order to the Selecao. Many people voiced their concernes over the presence of a previously unexperienced manager at the helm of their country's football and in the end they were right.
To be fair to Dunga, his reign in charge of Brazil was actually very good. He won the Copa America, the Confederations Cup and finished top of the South American qualification group, with a 4-1 win away to Argentina and 4-0 to Uruguay in the process. Tactically speaking, Brazil were extremely organized and hard to break down and absolutely lethal on the break. This however, wasn't what the Brazilians wanted. The appointment of Mano Menezes, has brought in a breath of fresh air to Brazilian football. After Fluminense refused to let manager Muricy Ramalho go, Brazil got Menezes, which was truly a blessing in disguise. Ramalho has a very rocky relationship with the Brazilian media, something that Dunga was highly criticized for (being caught swearing at Brazilian journalist Alex Escobar in one of his press conferences at the World Cup) and is also known for being pragmatic with his football.
Menezes is already idolized by large part of the Brazilian population, the Corinthians fans, the second biggest set of fans in Brazilian football, around 30 million of them. He got the club at the worst time in its history, in the second division and brought them back, winning the Brazilian cup, as well as reaching the final the previous year, and State championship in the process and leaving them 2 years later sitting at the top of the Serie A. A campaign was set up by Corinthians right after the promotion that said "Somos Manos do Mano" (which roughly translates to we are Mano's "bros"), the cheesy nature of the campaign caused many of neutral and rival fans to tease Corinthians about it. Now however, they may be about to find out why the man was so loved.
When he took over the Selecao, Mano already talked about winning the World Cup in 2014 and promised to bring back the Brazil of old, with the style that everyone was claiming for. If you had been locked in a fridge for a month, you wouldn't believe that the match against the USA, Mano's first in charge, was indeed a friendly and not a knockout game in the World Cup. The streets were completely yellow, green and blue, bars were packed with people wearing the Brazil shirt, everyone tuned in to their tvs at home to see the return of Brazil. It didn't disapoint.
The team that had been training together for just two days, gelled in brilliantly and put away a strong USA easily, with the simplicity of the style of football standing out. There was a swagger about debutants Neymar, who scored a stylish uncharacteristic header, and Ganso, who pulled all the strings in midfields. Pato, the other goal-scorer in the 2-0 win, back after being ignored by Dunga for the World Cup squad, Andre Santos, Lucas all returning looked like they should have been there all along. It was a near perfect performance, the only negative was that Brazil had chances to win the match 5-0 or more, but couldn't put them away.
Subsequent games against Iran and Ukraine didn't really display the same brilliance of the debut, but they still showed a Brazil side that commited to attacking football and enjoyed having the ball and passing it around in order to unlock the opposition defences. While Dunga's team on one hand were happy to sit back and wait to be attacked and strike on the break, Mano's Brazil wants the ball at all times and look very comfortable with it in every area of the pitch. To be fair to Brazil, they lost two of their most influential players, Ganso and Neymar, for these games, but when you can bring in Inter wonderkid Philippe Coutinho.
While I've been praising Brazil's ivention and creativity on the ball, it would be a travesty to ignore their off the ball work. Despite being a small team picked to focus on creativity rather than the defensive side of the game, every single player in the Brazil line-up works hard in pressing the opposition and not letting them settle on the ball. They press in a way similar to Barcelona and also play the football similar to the catalans and the one played by Arsenal. It is a joy to watch.
The difference in the two teams is perfect simbolized by the strikers used by both coaches. Menezes went for the small, quirky and incredibly gifted Alexandre Pato upfront (who so far has a perfect 3 in 3 goal scoring record), Dunga chose the effective, but technically average Luis Fabiano. Mano's midfield is also much more geared towards ball playing than the one named by his predecessor. Its not only in attacking department, with Dani Alves clearly a part of the plan and Maicon maybe coming back into the fold in due time, Brazil have the two finest right backs in the game at their disposal. Andre Santos, who was managed by Menezes to his best effect in Corinthians and was left out of the World Cup for the wrong reasons (like his enjoyment of nights out rather than his football) is a much better option than Bastos at left back and is, in my opinion, by far Brazil's left back. The pair of Thiago Silva and David Luiz makes for one of the most solid and best ball playing young centre back partnership in the game right now.
Another thing Mano has over his predecessor is versatility. While Dunga had a fixed group and refused making changes to it despite its clear deficiencies, because said players were loyal to him, Mano is still giving opportunities to everyone who stands out. He's watched many games in the Brazilian league since taking over in order to scout for talent and plans on doing so to Europe. This is something that was rarely done by Dunga. He has also stated recently that he will be looking to give Ronaldinho a new chance for the Selecao after he failed to impress under his previous national manager, which once again shows that he is listening to what the people in Brazil want, which is a great way to keep people on your side. Dunga went against everything Brazil wanted and in the end that was his downfall.
Formation wise, Mano has a preference for a 4-3-3 (or a 4-2-3-1), but he is always willing to experiment with it, as in the game against the Ukraine in which he played with a diamond 4-4-2 in order to have an alternative in case there is an injury to important players to the other formation or if a game calls for a tactical switch.
For all those reason, Brazil are set for the future. They've got an amazingly talented young team who have four years to gel together in time for the next World Cup, a competent coach who is committed to winning as well as keeping the tradition of Brazilian football.
There will be sterner and tougher test to come for Brazil and only time will tell how good these guys will actually turn out to be. As it stands though, Brazil's back and the World better be ready for it.