During the 2010 World Cup, I was among several voices to suggest that, whether Brazil went on to glory or fall at an earlier hurdle, and regardless of aesthetic considerations, this was a team that played with the cohesiveness of club side. More to the point, I reckoned that Dunga appeared every inch a club coach, having managed to instill a mechanical quality in his team's play.
Granted, international football provides less of an opportunity for coaches to impose their model on a squad than is true of their club counterparts. There are, though, some managers who seem to imbue any side with a system that is distinctively their own; whoever hires Arrigo Sacchi, Marcelo Bielsa or Alberto Zaccheroni for instance surely knows that these are not the most holisitic nor improvisational of coaches and that their unyielding methods seem to accompany them wholesale. You want this coach, you sign on for the whole package. So perhaps such coaches, assuming the playing staff are compatible, are suited to making the switch between club and country.
Dunga, when we consider his lack of experience, might seem an odd addition to that crew. But what if he were to take the jump the other way around? Yes, club management is a different kind of gig, surely there is no greater baptism of fire for a rookie than the pressure of negotiating Brazil through an international tournament.
Following his exit from the national team, there was serious talk of Dunga being replaced by current Internazionale boss Leonardo. The speculation was rendered credible by recalling how Leonardo had merely been through a stint as youth team coach before making the jump from various directorial functions to senior team coach within the AC Milan empire. Either way, that still amounted to some serious fast-tracking.
In Dunga's case, there were rumours last year that he might take the managerial reins at his old club Fiorentina, and this time round he is being linked to another team close, perhaps closest, to his heart, Internacional of Porto Alegre.
Overall, the southern Brazilian club has been a success story in recent years, collecting two Libertadores, beating Barcelona to collect the World Club Cup gong and narrowly missing out on the domestic league title in the midst of dubious refereeing in favour of eventual winners Corinthians (according to post-facto comments by Corinthians' own president at that time). The Colorado, along with São Paulo, have perhaps more than any Brazilian club been a model of institutional stability, organisation and youth player production, Alexandre Pato, Sandro and Giuliano being notable examples.
Inter also formed a young Carlos Bledhorn Verri (Dunga's real name) since adolescence, though in truth it was as much Dunga himself who did the forging, by force of his sheer resolve. In a manner which would echo Scott Parker's career at Charlton Athletic, Dunga initially struggled to make an impression as a striker, all bustle and no finesse, only for him to refashion himself as an enforcing midfielder. His European career spells would take him to Pisa, Fiorentina and Stuttgart and would propel him towards his crowning achievement, vindication even, when he lifted the World Cup in 1994.
An admirer of Dunga's Brazil, Michael Cox of zonalmarking.net dissected the system that the disciplinarian coach implanted upon the side between the aftermath of the 2007 Copa America success and the impressive World Cup qualification campaign in South America. It was a pity, others suggested that Spain and Brazil did not cross paths during the finals and we were left with a sense of what could have been one of the great tactical match-ups in history: the world's best possession-based side versus the best counter-attacking side. As Tim Vickery remarked, Brazil were potentially more lethal when defending a corner than were opponents who were taking it.
If only in terms of its assymetry, that Brazil side bore a resembleance to the 4-2-2-2 of the 1982 side whom Dunga held in scant regard. Of course, Telê Santana's central midfield pairing of Toninho Cerezo and Falcão couldn't be further removed from the destructive stylings of the Gilberto Silva - Felipe Melo double act. As with Éder almost three decades ago, Robinho played as a winger-cum-support striker on the left. But for the wide-of-centre role along the other flank, Dunga's preference for the application of an-round player such as Elano contrasted with Santana's use of the artistic Zico playing higher and with licence to drift inside and combine with Socrates, the side's other advanced playmaker. In this later respect, the trequartistas were also representative of the broader difference in style between the sides; whereas Sócrates was languid and imaginative, Kaká was percussive and objective.
How is all this relevant to S.C. Internacional?
Current coach Celso Roth is grudgingly respected but not universally liked amongst the fans, who look at his CV and see a litany of 'nearly-man' moments. As the Brazilian phrase goes, he is the eternal "Paraguayan horse", meaning that he starts campaigns spectacularly well only to fall at the later stages whether on account of insufficient tactical nous or poor psychological masterand just when the going gets tough. It is true that Roth steered Inter to the Libertadores title in 2010, but this was after being hired ad hoc following the sacking of Jorge Fossatti and with the team already at the quarter-final stage. More specifically, the sceptics reckon that even though Roth is adept at organising teams, his vision of the game is too reactive and also derivative.
His predecessor Fossatti had struggled to mould Inter in a 3-4-2-1 shape and with a counter-attacking style, this in a team overflowing with creative midfielders and wanting in quality wing-backs. Domestic results were dissapointing but Fossatti did have the good sense to introduce a 4-2-3-1 arrangement towards the end of his reign which better distributed the players over the pitch and lent the defence more protection whilst thrusting young speedster Taison into a wide-attacking role. Upon commandeering proceedings, Roth did well not to shake things up and so a counter-attacking style took hold - not that a 4-2-3-1 is necessarily conducive to counter-attacking, but rather the ultra-defensive posture of central midfield duo Guiñazu and Sandro ensured that most of Inter's elaborate play restricted itself to in and around the final third.
Since the summit of glory reached in August, things have not gone so smoothly for Inter and Roth. To be fair, such is the precarity of player contracts with Brazilian clubs and so alluring is the interest of European club suitors, standout talents in these competitions tend to be sold on immediately by their clubs who calculate that these players have reached their peak of their South America-based cycle in terms of media projection and so it is better to cash in. Tottenham Hotspur had already signed Sandro months before his bow-out in the Libertadores final, for example, and Inter had to plead with the North London club to be allowed to continue availing of the defensive midfielder right up until he would join Spurs' opening league campaign. This just goes to show the logistical as well as business minefield that Brazilian clubs have to negotiate in terms of maximising yield from their player assetts. With a Libertadores Cup on his CV, Sandro could have been hawked to a higher bidder, but Spurs had offered the cash before Libertadores success had even looked like a remote possibility.
In the wake of the South Africa World Cup, Brazil's sports media was filled with talk of the 4-2-3-1 which, despite its obsequiance across Europe this past decade, is a relative novelty in South America. Inevitably, Roth was accussed of adopting this formation as one might any mere fad and just when it was enjoying popularity. Which is a bit unfair. Would Roth or any Brazilian coach for that matter be unjustified in looking far afield for tactical inspiration? The same critics who denounced this supposed display of fickleness often were the same who simultaneously accused him of stubborness and of being wedded to antiquated tactics such as 3-5-2 or his occassional use of three defensive midfielders. Roth could never please everybody even if he tried.
With this in mind, Inter has begun to rebuild so as to best emulate the team in place during the first half of 2010. However, such rebuilding need not be anywhere near as thorough as that which the likes of Flamengo or Fluminense, other clubs to have enjoyed recent success followed by transfer market depredation, have had to undergo. A replacement was and still is needed for Taison to open up the attack. Zé Roberto was brought in from Vasco da Gama but, bizarrely, Roth has insisted on fielding an advanced midfield trio without the only player comfortable attacking from wide areas.
It goes without saying that 4-2-3-1 is not some kind of monolith and that players of varying styles can be accomodated by it. Even so, if the formation was indeed developed in Spain with the intention of facilitating as many ball-playing specialists as possible, then some of Celso Roth's colourings of the format seem disconcerting. For example, Gattuso-esque midfielders such as Guiñazu and Tinga have often featured in the three-quarters role. Rafael Sóbis, whilst hardly an immobile target man in the Serginho Chulapa mould, clearly struggles to reproduce his best form playing so wide and relatively deep. Then there is the impact of Giuliano's departure for FC Dnipro which, though good business for Inter in terms of cash stumped up by the Ukrainians, served to highlight how little Roth trusted the young playmaker who was ideally suited to any of the advanced midfield positions in the system. Inter now have a similarly-hewn tyro to follow in Guiliano's footsteps. Oscar, who featured in the successful South American U-20s tournament, should be accomodated so as not to leave Argentine enganche Andrés D'Alessandro exclusively burdened with dictating the play, but if Roth was loathe to use Giuliano - what chances him calling upon an even younger talent?
The suspicion prevails that Roth is trying to squeeze players into an immutable system of play when he would do as well to institute a new structure to suit the characteristics of the players at his disposal. For example, the classic Brazilian 4-2-2-2 or even a diamond midfield would make sense in that at Inter have more than two defensive midfielders, two playmakers and three strikers in the senior squad who would be considered part of the 'starting fourteen', if we are to go by the law of 11 + 3 super substitutes. For the sake of dressing-room contentment, it may be necessary to introduce a two-striker system.
If indeed Dunga does land the managerial hotseat at the Beira Rio stadium, it will be fascinating to see whether he takes such a measured approach or whether, convinced of the merits of his system with the seleção, he will try to implement that assymetric formation which was variably4-3-2-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 or 4-2-2-2 depending on who you talked to. What was discernable to all eyes, though, was the torted shape and the diagonal running from the outside-left (Robinho) to the right-of-centre midfielder (Elano, sometimes Dani Alves or Ramires). Each one of the latter three brought his own qualitites to bear on a berth that required diligence and dynamism. Were he to reconstitute this with the current Inter squad, Dunga would find Guiñazu and Tinga can offer the hard running of a Ramires, though no obvious candidate to replicate Elano's quintessentially balanced game. Perhaps Oscar can be remoulded to become something of a box-to-box player (albeit one with finesse), something of a big ask within the context of Brazilian playmakers and the almost Argentine-like reverance they are afforded. In any case, it would surely serve Oscar in a future move to Europe since even playmakers there are expected to contribute defensively.
For the wide-attacking role, Sóbis, though nowhere near as fast as Taison and certainly not anywhere near as tricky as Robinho, could do a job cutting onto his preferred right-foot. The Luis Fabiano-role would be contested by the rangy, aggressive youngster Leandro Damião and new signing, Argentine number nine Fernando Cavenaghi, but it is hard to see Alecsandro, with his lack of composure in the penalty and his earned distrust from the Inter faithful, clambering back up the pecking order to be the targetman. Pedigree would give Cavenaghi the nod but the 3-player limit on non-naturalised foreigners may provide more starting opportunities for Leandro Damião.
Early days yet, but the best addition so far to the Colorado has been Argentine defensive midfielder Mario Bolatti. The player won himself a transfer to Fiorentina in early 2010 on the back of steady performaces for Angel Cappa's Huracán plus, of course, that dramatic goal which clinched World Cup qualification for Argentina in Montevideo. At six foot three inches, Bolatti becomes an valuable bulwark against high balls aimed between Inter's ageing centre-backs, something which Sandro used to provide. The last thing anybody was expecting however, least of all the player himself was that he would notch up three goals in his opening two games for Inter (from a career-total of nine, to date) but apart from understandably ingratiating himself with the supporters, such a feat now provides Inter with an added threat from set-pieces. Dunga, let it be said, placed a premium on well-rehearsed set-pieces as a part of Brazil's offensive armoury.
Taken within the wider context of Brazilian football, and despite the ignimony over Brazil's World Cup exit and Dunga's hostile demeanour throughout the tournament, it is hard to conceive of the 1994 Cup-winning captain being treated with ridicule or even scepticism should indeed he chose to enter club management in Porto Alegre. Unprofessional outbursts aside, no one could accuse Dunga of being managment putty in the meddlesome hands of the Brazilian Football Confederation and its notoriously politicking patriarch, Ricardo Texeira. On the contrary, the former Inter player demonstrated an uncompromising integrity against special interests in stark contrast with some of the shady dealings that have pervaded the gravy train that is and was the Brazilian national team in recent years. If such an experience has not gelded him for the intrigues and pressure of a club coaching job, then he surely will lose no time in trying to impose his will.
As for the implications of what style of football Dunga represents and how his teams, nay before kicking a ball, would be perceived, it is hard to say. It is true he is a poster boy, a convenient one at that, for the kind of dogged, more athletic football that seemed to take hold in Brazil since the dawn of the nineties. But it is not as if Brazilian coaches nationwide have needed any encouragement in following suit as Brazilian midfields became beefed-up, nor have many had the means or disposition to fight a rearguard ideological reaction in homage to the sides of 1982 and 1970.
Arguably the most entertaining club side of recent years, the Santos of Neymar and Ganso would be immensely popular champions were they to sweep to the league title with their customary panache, and deservedly so. But the fact remains that the most successful Brazilian sides of recent years, in terms of silverware have been defensively-minded, and in the cases of São Paulo and Fluminense, even cagey.
A Dunga-led side would not be melifluous entertainers but they almost certainly would be effective, better at doing what most Brazilian sides end up resorting to anyway.