Monday, July 26, 2010

Mano's Brazil Project for 2014 (or more likely 2012)

By now you will doubtless have heard that the CBF (Brazilian Football Federation) have appointed Luiz Antônio Wenker 'Mano' Menezes to take over the reins of the national team from Dunga. So naturally, the question most readers will be asking (at least around these parts) is how his new Brazil will play. Let's take a superficial look before delving into detail futher ahead.

As for the man himslef, why not let his own words convey his tactical philospophy he intends to impart to the team? This from Monday's (26th July) press conference at his official unveiling in Rio de Janeiro:

"When looking in the sphere of club sides, mostly Brazilian clubs, I don't see much possibility for you to choose a manner of playing and say "Right, we're gonna play this way and this is always the ideal way", but in the case of the Brazilian national team, where you can indeed choose the players, and almost always the best players, to establish a mode of playing, I think it is possible".

" I like to play mostly a 4-2-3-1, which we have seen a lot of during the World Cup, and which in 2006 was the formation I used at Gremio in Porto Alegre where we enjoyed a fine championship... because it gives you that option - it's always good for you to have offensive power - it gives you play down the flanks, there is 'arrival' coming from (the midfield) behind, there is the saída (carrying out of the ball) by the volantes (defensive midfielders)- nowadays saída is very important for providing support, and the European clubs are using a triangle in the midfield and three players further ahead, so perhaps this is route we take over the next few years".

- Mano is the third gaúcho (from Brazil's southernmost state) to occupy the position in this past decade, the other two being Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dunga. A lot of socio-political commentary is being extrapolated from this as to the significance of this trend and whether this affects the culture and playing style of Brazilian football. Much of this, in my opinion, is exaggerated and some of it is even erroneous but it is a tangible currency and satisfies people's perceptions (even inside of Brazil) as to generalities.We will touch on this later in the article.

- The new coach has a solid, if unspectacular curriculum. What is noteworthy is that he has only ever been fired by one of his clubs and as a rule he tends to honour contracts, something laudable in the cut-throat world of Brazilian domestic football with its dizzying turnover of managers. From a practically non-existant playing career (as a non-league centre-back), a P.E. teaching qualification, through regional lower-league coaching up to big club management, notably rescuing relegated giants Grêmio and Corinthians, Menezes has gone about things his way.

The eternal-romantic Sócrates, in an interview with Alex Bellos from the Observer, put forth some opinions and this caused a ripple in the southern media. The bearded legend made a facile (though perhaps not wholly inaccurate) portrayal of southern Brazilians as being harbingers of a joyless, defense-minded football natural to their condition as political and cultural reactionaries in the economically more prosperous south. Pehaps Dunga's demeanour cut an easily identifiable figure for those non-southern Brazilians who sought a pin-up for this archetype, but Mano, like Dunga also of German descent, is popular with the Paulista press whilst still commanding respect in the south and seems to have avoided being pidgeon-holed by the court of popular opinion.

One of the most vexing things about the derisory "European' libel being leveled at those Brazilian coaches who play in a more pragmatic style, is that this very defensiveness has been a purely Brazilian creation, borne out of a need to address the advancing physicality of global football in the 1980s and not some product of European-led evangelisation nor some ham-fisted native attempts at pale imitation.

Yes it is true that many teams such as the West German sides of Jupp Duvall and later Franz Beckenbauer, and to an extent the Italy of Enzo Bearzot, layed out a defensive roadmap for football over the decade, what with their man-marking, three centre-backs, wing-backs etc and would indeed inspire countless imitators across the Old Continent and beyond- but they should no means be re-written as the embodiment of European football's evolution in that decade.

For starters, you had the thoroughly pleasing-on-the-eye game of Portuguese sides that produced Paulo Futre and the 1987 European Cup winners Porto, not to mention Johann Cruyff's tenure as manager of Ajax in the mid-80s and his committment to an ultra-expansive game.

Rather, what we can surmise from the above examples is that there was no singular 'European' football in opposition to a Brazilian or South American style but rather distinctive and diverging ways in which many nations decided to deal with the game's increasing athletic demands. As Tim Vickery succintly noted back in 2007 when lamenting the road taken by Brazilian coaches post-1982, Holland took a pro-active approach by means of initiating pressing (the lessons of which would soon permeate through top-level European football to varying degrees until this very day), the Argentines found this forced and unnatural and so kept their leisurely short-passing game under Menotti- only increasing the tempo of their passing when faced by onrushing opponents such as the Dutch.

Brazil? Well, Brazil opted to beef up their midfield and fragment the team into sectors of responsibilty, hoping that moments of inspiration, the vestiges of their malandragem culture (a quality akin to 'cheekiness', or the 'evasiveness' of a rascal as demonstrated by the street footballer) could settle differences in the final third. Those fleeting flashes of brilliance you saw exhibited at the World Cup between the Luis Fabiano-Kaká- Robinho triangle on the edge of the opponents' 18-yard area are the epitome of malandragem.

Judging by the style his teams have adopted, Mano seems to have broken with this Brazilian conceit, which is something of a paradox. He hails from the most 'European' part of the country (not only in terms of ethnicity but also societal habits, expectations and economic practices) and this is the region whose football is perhaps most doggedly entrenched in the 'two defensive-midfielders' made-in-Brazil school. Indeed, the club at which he made his name known nationwide, Grêmio Fußball Porto-Alegrense, has long cherished the tradition of dogged and distruptive midfield play. Yet Mano at times fielded a Mourinhoesque 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 back in 2006, complete with medium-pressing and doubling-up on the flanks, something of a novelty in Brazilian football - and this with a Grêmio side who were playing in the second division.

What is particularly encouraging for this blogger, who bores anyone who might care to listen, is that the crippling heroin of Brazilian football, namely the central midfield presence of the destructive 'volantes', is something that Menezes has demonstrated a willingness to eschew. This staple of the Brazilian diet has been a constant since 1994 and although Mano has never exactly fielded an Alonso-style playmaking 'centre-half' (let us not even fantasise about a Pirlo-esque regista), when he does play with a double-pivot he at least ensures that one of them is something of a box-to-box all rounder (as was Lucas, now of Liverpool, under his command). When Mano has opted for the 'high triangle' (one holder plus two slightly more advanced midfielders) at least one of the two interiores tends to be a playmaker.

Featuring amongst the new manager's call-up is the implausibly elegant Hernanes who remains a beacon of creativity amongst central midfielders in the domestic game, a fine foil for the more technically-limited and destructive pivot Sandro (Spurs fans, do not expect displays of creativity from this guy, who in my opinion would make a finely composed centre-back). Paulo Henrique 'Ganso' is a more advanced playmaker, a languid trequartista more adept at threading together midfield with the forwards, his game begins on the edge of the final third. Feather-lite livewire Neymar will be expected to follow Robinho's example in a Brazil shirt and marry tactical application along the flanks with incisive running and dribbling.

The new coach wasn't just being courteous when he indicated that he would not tear down the Brazilian side edified during Dunga's mandate. Menezes sensibly acknowledges that the 2007-2010 vintage displayed a level of concentration and professionalism that, sheared of its cloistered training arrangements, its former boss's paranoia towards the media, and not to mention its ideological posturing (witness Dunga's snipes towards the 'losers' of 1982 and even the 'overrated' side of 1970!), does provide a template any coach-elect would dream of inheriting.

In short, we are not likely to see a side anywhere near as expansive as Spain or more forgiveably Barcelona, but we might well see a side not unsimilar to the young German mannschaft. Much more than Dunga's set-up, this will truly be a more recogniseably 'European' or rather a more 'globalised' Brazil side, one which is tune with the tactical demands of elite club competion, such as the Champions' League where the best Brazilian footballers in the world display their talents within a coherent framework. There will be a higher defensive line. The forwards and advanced midfielders will engage in pressing. The central midfielders will have to serve some purpose with the ball rather than kick lumps out of people and act as appendages to the centre-backs. The full-backs (both of them) will have to alternate their forays forward and shift across in 'basculation' movement. And Brazilian media will sit up and take notice. Already fans on the street and the blogosphere has; the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Le Championnat, even the Russian league are broadcast on Brazilian satelite TV. Such observers react and respond to the trends within the game at large and will not settle for the stale analysis of mainstream Brazilian commentators nor their lazy paradigms and ill-informed debates ('defensive vs offensive', 'South American -vs-European football', '4-4-2 or 3-5-2 is the only formation worth playing', et bloody cetera.)

Mano Menezes will simply be easing Brazil into the milieu of modern football which is not necessarily European, or any the less Brazilian for that matter. After all, Brazilian coaches were the ones who buried Brazilian football; now a Brazilian coach will take tentative steps to resurrecting it.

Will he have time and the necessary backing to do so by the time of the 2012 Olympics?


  1. Great article. I just want to make a notice: Altough we here in Brazil have access to almost every top-class league in Europe, those are not really popular. I think it's because we already have a great league at home already, and the European leagues are available only on few channels, most of them not free.

    I really enjoyed the blog. It's hard to fing good foreign blogs about Brazilian soccer.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the article Bruno.

    Yes, perhaps I should have clarified that the vast majority of the Brazilian public only have access to Globo/Record/SBT and as such cannot watch these other leagues. Nevertheless, in more obsessive circles, there is growing interest.

  3. New reader to your blog and twitter pages. fascinating explanation of brazils path and direction from here on out. were you surprised about any name on the list more so than other? obviously this is an experimental team without true veterans but clearly Mano has both eyes on the future. i myself am very excited to see what this team is capable of. i look forward to your analysis in the coming months. i may be in attendance for their first game over the river in NJ. i'll be sure to give you all of my observations. feel free to check out my blog on all things brasil: Rumo ao hexa!

  4. Hi Dave, I'll pay your blog a visit tomorrow.

    Great that you'll be attending one of the friendly games in New Jersey; perhaps you could post an analysis on your blog afterwards (I could tweet it around).

    As for Mano's first call-up I think there are three new components:

    -highly-rated domestically Brazilian players (Hernanes, Alex Silva, Jucilei) who can something different.
    - established foreign-based players who were snubbed/left out of Dunga's squad (Pato, Marcelo, Lucas...): this seems to be a gesture of welcoming them back into the fold.
    - promising youngsters (David Luiz, Ganso, Neymar) who need to be eased into senior international football.

    The elephant in the room is obviously the absence of stalwarts from the Dunga era. I wouldn't read to much into it (aside from the understandable easing-out of ageing players like Lucio and Juan); remember it's summer break in Europe so stars like Kaka and Maicon would be due a rest anyway. These guys will gradually come back into the fold.

    For now, Mano's brief is to blood as many of these youngsters as quickly as possible.

  5. You are on twitter now too? Excellent! I have been waiting for your piece on this for days, glad the wait is over and as usual I'm not disappointed.

  6. Very well written piece. I'm glad I stumbled across this, it is seriously the most informative, insightful piece I have read about Menezes and his plans for Brazil yet. It seems like under Mano's plan, the best bet for the Selecão is for Hernanes to seal a big move to a quality European team. Chelsea fan that I am, I can also see how, and hope that, Ramires is the one to develop into the box to box defensive midfielder type needed. He seems to have all the goods. My biggest worry for Mano is being forced to go too young, too soon. I know Brasil can be pretty isolated sometimes as a media echo-chamber, and I hope it doesn't warp his decisions. Ganso and Neymar, for example, are simply not ready, neither is Pato for that matter, although he is closer. I think they have a role to play, but so should Kaka and Robinho, even in 2014. Anyways, I'll be RSSing your blog. Quality stuff, man.

  7. Great article!

    I'll be interested to see what happens when some of the WC players get back... hopefully someone like Hernanes will get a midfield role instead of a second destructive volante.

    A question, though. With the wide men, Mano often goes slightly lopsided...with one dribbler who is closer to a winger (e.g. Jorge Henrique last year), and one who's more of a striker drifting in (e.g. Dentinho). (Compared to Dunga's system in which the guy on the right, Elano, was an adapted central midfielder.)

    Do you think he'll do this with the seleção?

    In the friendly, I'd like to see Neymar as the dribbler from the left, and Pato just to the right of Diego Tardelli.

  8. Yeah Mahdi, on Twitter now. Having to scale back these blog writings now due to other work committments. Should be back to regular time-wastery come September though.

    How was Iran during the World Cup?

  9. @ Jeremy

    Your comments are much appreciated; hope to count on your continued presence around these parts!

    Hernanes will play the Libertadores semi-finals with Sao Paulo this week, and once the competition is over in August there really is no further reason for him to remain in the Brazilian league - even his club might as well cash in now since he is 25 years old.. his profile isn't going to get any bigger and so no chance of an eventual transfer fee appreciating.
    Lazio made a 20 million bid a while back; his representatives are holding out for more but I doubt they'll succeed in sparking a bidding war.

  10. SnapKakaPop -

    If Hernanes is selected in place of a second volante I will do a victory lap!

    I think Mano might prefer Robinho/Nilmar and Neymar for the wide attacking berths only if he goes for a 4-3-3 in certain games (or if he's chasing a result).
    As you mentioned, the benefits of Dunga's lopsided system is that one of the wide 'attacking midfielders'is often simply an adjunct third midfielder, either a creator (Elano) or a pair of lungs (Ramires/Dani Alves), whereas Mano's lopsided version is more akin to Spain's 4-2-2-2/4-2-3-1 version seen during the World Cup qualifiers with a mobile striker starting from one wing (Villa = Dentinho), and nimble playmaker (David Silva = Jorge Henriqe) on the other.
    That said, perhaps Mano views the left flank (Robinho/Nilmar) as one in which the players already know the drill. Either way, I cannot imagnine Mano tolerating assymetry during the defensive phase; the left, central and right-sided 'meia-atacantes' will all have to work behind the ball.

  11. Timely report Rob, thank you. I kept on checking your pages daily during the world cup, your insights were greatly missed.

    I, too, was encouraged by the call up of young domestic players. I hope Mano continues to build on them.

    About your neighbor down South, any thoughts on who will replace Maradona? Bielsa maybe? Thanks..

  12. @ Chess GM,

    I knew before the World Cup had started that my schedule wouldn't permit me to keep up with the pace of the tournament, hence I preferred to leave the analysis up to others, like zonalmarking, football further etc.

    Now after a bit of respite I can start blogging again and hopefully sift through the tournament for lessons learned, tactical legacy etc (though in truth I don't believe that this tournament was revolutionary or significant tactics-wise).

    As for the AFA, and who they might appoint as new coach: I believe that Argentine public opinion is most favourable towards Carlos Bianchi but his relationship with Grondona and the FA big-wigs is terrible. Martino (after Paraguay's successful campaing)might be an option. There is also Alejandro Sabella who has guided Seba Verón's Estudiantes through a remarkably successful period.
    All these three have experience and authority but there is the question of style: all three are advocates of playing mostly a flat 4-4-2- hardly the system to get the best out of Messi.

    Bielsa? Even more so than in 2002, you could argue that the current batch of Argentine footballers at his disposal are well suited to his style: Messi as a direct (as opposed to a playmaking) NO.10 is the kind of player Bielsa would love to have counted on during his last stint instead of Riquelme and later Veron. Di Maria, Diego Perotti, even Higuain and Tevez would bring speed and guile to his cherised wing positions.

    Who knows?

  13. Dave, if you're still around here...

    I've gone to but haven't been able to locate your blog.

    Any chance you could provide a direct link.


  14. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  15. @Roberticus

    I was in Germany for work during the World Cup. To a degree it was fun to have a country "living" football, but at some point the jingoism was pretty annoying there as well and once Spain beat them, the mood turned 180 degrees and they weren't really singing anymore.

  16. Great site, Roberticus. Will have to visit this place more often as well. (fcb_guerrero from ZM)

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. Nice article, as always.

    Hopefully Mano will shift with time to a single pivot, as he suggests. That will allow for many combinations of midfielder types in the central diamond, accommodating senior players with new ones. And should be most conducive to retaining the positives of malandragem while still bringing symmetry and structure to defense.

  19. FCB_Guerrero

    good to have you on board!

  20. Space Ghost..

    regardless of how they configure the midfield, as long as they can get some imginative passing going from the moment the ball leaves the defence, I'm all for it.

  21. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  22. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  23. Great article. I will be interested to see how Mano decides to balance the team in future matches- most notably in regard to the deep playmaker (Hernanes) to compliment the single volante.

    Dunga phased in a long overdue upgrade with Robinho's positioning, and Mano is poised to take this a step further on the opposite flank. It harkens back to the Jairzinho/Rivellino/Garrincha model for Brazilian football.

    It was only the first match versus USA, but the difference in speed and movement was notable. Opponents tire very quickly when forced to track the likes of Robinho/Neymar/Pato across the pitch- nevermind the fact you have a Kaka/Ganso/Carlos Eduardo pulling the strings behind them.