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?