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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Carlos Dunga's letter of resignation to Ricardo Teixeira: July 5, 2010

Carlos Dunga wrote an extraordinary resignation letter to Ricardo Teixeira, President of the Confederation of Brazilian Football (CBF), on July 5, just three days after Brazil's elimination from the South Africa 2010 World Cup by the Netherlands in a 2-1 quarterfinal defeat. Before the World Cup, Dunga had said that he would resign from his coaching duties for the national team whether Brazil won the World Cup or otherwise. In various moments, he complained that the media pressure was intense, vicious and unrelenting. But his letter to Ricardo Teixeira reveals a change of heart as he recounts an impressive list of accomplishments and then notes: "I can only abide by your decision, because, like it or not, it is not my place to question it." Dunga's resignation letter indirectly refers to completing the mission that he began and concurrently reveals his love of the players and their fight, determination and commitment to the Brazilian national football team.

The full text of the translated letter, as published by Globoesporte, is below:

July 5, 2010

Dear Mr. President,

Respectfully, I come to you, first, to renew my thanks for your trust and autonomy, which, without doubt, allowed me, for the four years of services to the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), to develop, alongside the other members of the technical committee, my attributions and inherent functions of the job of coach of the Brazilian national team.

Sadly, the title of the 2010 World Cup was not conquered, but you can be assured by me, my loyal assistant Jorginho, all the other competent and dedicated professionals without exception, and mainly, the untiring and valuable 90 players that have served the national team during the preparation period, especially the 23 that have participated in the campaign in South Africa, that there was no lack of drive, donation, work, dedication and commitment in search of the title, in symphony with the goals previously set by you.

Evidently, since the beginning, by occasion of my signing, it was not, and it could not be assured the sixth world title. First, because of the challenge. Second, because of the complexity of the mission. The title, if possible, was the final objective to be reached by me and the members of the technical committee. With dignity, courage, patriotism, respect, passion, transparency and, mainly, obedience to your determinations, everyone, without exception, worked for that goal. In this sense, without doubt, the mistakes of the past were corrected.

We have renewed the squad of the Brazilian national team, restored our respect and fundamentally, restored the respect for the Brazilian national team and by extension, to the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). The recent polls with the public opinion, the results obtained by the sponsors and, notably, the titles in the pitch, without doubt, confirm this affirmation. In this period, under my command, the Brazilian national team broke many taboos, some of them, if you allow me to remember, lasted for long years, and were overcome in the first phase of the World Cup, and the South American qualifiers.

Now, as it was always the behaviour adopted by me, I can only abide by your decision, because right or not, it is not my place to question it, in the measure that this is the practice adopted in football for a long time, considering that life goes on, the commitments are many and the interests varied and complex. In this sense, offering you the needed tranquility, I hope and trust that I am contributing for you to start your new strategies, with the goal of preparing the Brazilian national team to compete and, if possible, to win the World Cup 2014, which will be held in our country.

Limited to the above, I renew my vows of esteem, respect and consideration, taking the chance to, once more, thank you for the trust and support in me and wishing full success in the command of our Brazilian national team.


Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri- Dunga

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mano Menezes announces squad for Brazil v. USA, August 10 friendly

Just two days after his July 25 appointment as coach of the Brazilian national soccer team, former Corinthians manager Mano Menezes listed his roster for the upcoming August 10 friendly against the United States at the Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

The squad included only 4 members of the South Africa 2010 World Cup team and featured 11 newcomers to the national team.

Speaking of the selection of Menezes, Brazilian soccer federation President Ricardo Texeira pointed to the need for "a philosophy of renovation" in the national team, adding that he had no doubt that the transformation would be in place by 2014.

Menezes's squad selection for the upcoming Brazil v. USA friendly offered a tantalizing glimpse of precisely this concept of renovation by retaining only Dani Alves, Robinho, Thiago Silva and Ramires from the 2010 World Cup squad.


Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Renan (Avai), Victor (Gremio).

Defenders: Andre Santos (Fenerbahce), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Rafael da Silva (Manchester United), David Luis (Benfica), Henrique (Racing Santander), Rever (Atletico Mineiro), Thiago Silva (AC Milan).

Midfielders: Carlos Eduardo (Hoffenheim), Ederson (Lyon), Paulo Henrique Ganso (Santos), Hernanes (Sao Paulo), Jucilei (Corinthians), Lucas Leiva (Liverpool), Ramires (Benfica), Sandro (Internacional).

Forwards: Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Andre (Santos), Diego Tardelli (Atletico Mineiro), Neymar (Santos), Robinho (Santos).

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Carlos Dunga: A Retrospective

By his own admission, Brazil’s most recent national coach Carlos Dunga stamped the national team with a pragmatic, counter-attacking style of play that many critics felt derailed the team from its true roots in attacking, attractive football. Socrates, the legendary Brazilian midfielder and captain of the 1982 World Cup team, lamented the pragmatism of Dunga’s style as follows:

“In these times of football as a business, winning became everything and the game is dominated by pragmatism. It is a shame even at the financial point of view, because Brazil could still be cashing in by using their unique tradition of flair, but we have given that away in order to chase trophies.”

1970 World Cup winner Gerson added to the criticism of Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri (Dunga)in a recent interview by claiming Ronaldinho’s omission from South Africa 2010 was unjustified:

"Holland are a good team but nothing exceptional. Leaving Ronaldinho out of the squad made no sense. So he likes to party? So what? What matters is that he knows how to play football at the highest level. Dunga couldn't train a team of bottle tops."

Socrates and Gerson may well be right in their position that Brazilian born players are not suited to counter-attacking football, but it would be unjust to facilely ignore and deride Dunga’s contribution to the national team over the course of a long and illustrious career.

When I think of Dunga I recall his leadership as a player more than anything else as captain of the Brazilian side in 1994 and 1998. In 1998, he imposed his authority on the squad in a manner that quickly solicited rumors that he was in line to coach the national team soon after his tenure as a player was over. Both in the build-up to France 1998 and the tournament itself, Dunga commanded not only the midfield but the team as a whole. When Dunga captained Brazil against Germany in a friendly in Stuggart in March 1998 in the lead-up to France, coach Mario Zagallo fielded a star studded squad with names that rolled trippingly off any soccer aficionado’s toungue. We saw Roberto Carlos tearing down the left flank, Cafu commanding the right and Ronaldo, Romario and Rivaldo near the mouth of goal with Bebeto on the bench and the young sensation Denilson wearing the number 10 jersey.

In one defensive confrontation between Roberto Carlos and Jorg Heinrich, Roberto Carlos was uncharacteristically about to lose his man as latter cut inside from the flank. True to form as a good captain, Dunga sensed the danger early and sprinted from the center of the pitch to win back the ball and initiate a dangerous counter-attack. Months later in France 1998, he routinely reprimanded his team-mates for failing to win a tackle or execute an incisive pass, even going so far as to feign a head-butt against Bebeto in the second match against Morocco. In the quarterfinal against Denmark, Roberto Carlos missed a defensive bicycle kick close to the edge of the penalty area, allowing Brian Laudrup to clinically dispatch the loose ball into the top right corner of the net, leaving the defending champions fighting for their World Cup lives with the score even at 2-2 in the 50th minute.

Immediately, Dunga began gesticulating to the crowd to inspire his team mates. Ten minutes later, his pass found the magical left foot of Rivaldo, who capitalized on the pasture of space left him by the Danish defense by sending a left footed rocket into the back of the net in what became the winning goal in a thrilling 3-2 victory. Never afraid to express his opinion or assert his authority on the pitch, he became synonymous for leadership, inspirational play and passion for the game. The semi-finals featured penalties against the Dutch with Dunga scoring the critical 4th penalty that, moments later, unfolded into the remarkable scene of he and goal-keeper Claudio Taffarel chest-butting each other in celebration as viewers saw, in tandem, tears of joy from Mario Zagallo, the coach.

As the coach of Brazil, the knives were out for Dunga in the fall of 2008 when the team had been held to three goalless draws against Argentina, Bolivia and Columbia. The national side had failed to score on home soil for a year and there was much speculation that he would be fired if dramatic results didn’t transpire soon. And then Brazil played Portugal on November 19, 2008 in Brasilia at the Garrincha stadium. Sensing there was something on the line, the team emerged in glorious form, passing the ball across all inches of the pitch as if their opponents were hardly present, neutralizing Cristiano Ronaldo and executing a dazzling 6-2 victory marked by a hat-trick by Luis Fabiano. The win marked the beginning of a string of excellent results in the South American qualifiers featuring a 3-1 victory against Argentina that constituted their first win over their arch-rivals in Argentina since 1995. Many had thought Dunga would be fired before the qualifiers were completed but he himself noted how the pressure was unrelenting for a Brazilian coach and, like his mother, who struggles daily with his father’s Alzheimer’s disease, he vowed to never give up.

Brazil finished top of the South American qualifying group, won Copa America and won the Confederations Cup. But their games—and even their victories—lacked panache. Dunga had many virtues as a coach, but the team was always in the process of finding itself, at precisely the moments when it should have found itself. On one hand, Dunga’s belief in hard work and teamwork was admirable for a squad that historically lacked discipline out of an unspoken arrogance in the global superiority of their technical ability. And his coaching philosophy—based as it was on a commitment to the basics of defending—and the importance of the rapport between a coach and his players, was well liked by many of the European based players who sensed how difficult it was to beat European teams who knew how to mark their opponents and impose pressure on the Brazilian full-backs the way the French had done in both 1998 and 2006. But the games themselves were ugly and disappointing, save for the occasional moments of brilliance when Kaka, Robinho, Ramires, Fabiano and company would combine down the center.

Brazil failed to find a playmaker in midfield who could orchestrate attacks, and they deviated from the passing game in midfield that won Spain the World Cup. Socrates and Gerson were right to say that Brazil are accustomed to imposing their games on their opponents and that to play any other way is almost invariably a disaster. And to play with one pure striker doesn’t exactly suit Brazil either, who have succeeded, in recent times, only when pairs of strikers such Romario and Bebeto and Ronaldo and Rivaldo stretch defences, occasionally allowing a third striker like Ronaldinho or Alexander Pato to destabilize defences even further. All this is to say that Mano Menezes, Dunga’s replacement, has his work cut out for him. The way ahead for Menezes not clear, but he is certain to encounter the results of the effort and leadership that Dunga invested in the national team, and will need to remould that philosophy and vision accordingly.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The World Cup of Soccer: South Africa 2010 and Brazil 2014

I looked forward to this World Cup, fervently, out of the belief that something historic or even cataclysmic would happen. Either we would see beautiful, fluid, attacking soccer from Brazil or Argentina or Spain to a degree that recalled Brazil 1970, or something dramatic would happen in a different vein such as a terrorist attack akin to Munich 1972. I had little compelling data to substantiate the belief in either of these claims, but somehow, the combination of “South Africa” and “2010” suggested that something extraordinary would happen. South Africa was different from Japan and Korea of 2002 because many of the games would be played at altitude and in near freezing temperatures unseen in previous World Cups, including those held in Europe.

On one hand it seemed that something truly extraordinary and pivotal was happening with the Brazilian team. They had qualified for the Cup with three games to spare, won Copa America, won the Confederations Cup and created a backline that promised to silence pundits that said Brazil couldn’t defend and relied too much on their strikeforce. And intriguingly, for the first time in at least two World Cups, they didn’t have any serious gunpowder amongst their strikers or attacking midfielders. Instead we saw the first Brazilian squad in decades that functioned like a team, with players who knew how to find each other and grind out a victory in difficult situations without relying on players who could “change a game” like Ronaldo, Rivaldo or Ronaldinho.

All of this was inspiring and suggestive, particularly because Brazil didn’t have minnows near the mouth of goal, either. Luis Fabiano and Robinho could certainly put the ball in the back of the net and anyone who knew anything about football saw how Kaka headed to the dugout at half-time against the USA in the Confederations Cup, in South Africa 2009, and returned to the pitch in unstoppable form to orchestrate Brazil’s 3-2 comeback victory in the final from a 2-0 half-time deficit. Compared to other winning World Cup teams, this year’s Brazilian team was ordinary but promising by virtue of its coherence and record of success. And for the first time in decades, they were blessed with a coach who believed in hard work and discipline instead of players who would celebrate the nightlife with abandon.

And then there was Argentina. True to form, the South American team that qualifies last in a World Cup often does strikingly well, and this year was no exception. We saw flashes of brilliance from Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi against highly competent teams such as Nigeria, South Korea and Mexico. And viewers were treated to the engaging spectacle of Diego Maradona gesticulating wildly up and down the coaches box in light beige suits, pausing to put his fingers to his chin or stroke or his mane of curly black hair. As with Dunga, Maradona’s squad selection was the subject of much debate since he had left out Javier Zanetti and Cambiasso and opted instead for players that he trusted and to whom he was close.

But Brazil and Argentina failed to deliver, as did Spain, even though Spain went on to win the Championship by notching up victories against formidable opponents such as Germany and the Netherlands. Spain played their passing game as best they could, but their victories lacked the goal scoring displays of Argentina or Germany or Brazil. And all in all, the Cup was a magnificent disappointment for the sport and the game. True, we all saw glimpses of brilliance and excitement from Germany, Ghana, Uruguay and even Argentina. But the number of total goals continues to drop from 171 in France 1998, 161 in Japan/Korea 2002, 146 in Germany 2006 and 145 in South Africa 2010.

Everyone will remember the sublimity of Landon Donovan's stoppage time strike against Slovakia, Asamoah Gyan’s extra time goal against the U.S., Diego Forlan’s sublime free kick against Ghana and his long range strike against South Africa. Or the spectacular, curling free kicks from Japan’s Keisuke Honda and Yasuhito Endo in their 3-1 victory against Denmark. And then, there was Germany’s magnificent 4-0 demolition of Argentina heralding the emergence of a new generation of German players in the form of Muller, Ozeil, Podolski and Schweinsteiger in what appeared, in more than a few moments, as quite possibly the greatest team in modern times. Yet the irony was that all of these remarkable teams were eliminated before the final, most pertinently by the Netherlands and Spain.

The Netherlands played well, even if they didn’t play the total football for which they were famous in the 1970s. Arjen Robben’s attacking threat down the right side emerged as a threat to be reckoned with as the games progressed and Wesley Sneider, meanwhile, like all great goalscorers, opportunistically found himself in the right place to put the ball in the back of the onion bag at the right time. Spain, on the other hand, didn’t fail to disappoint or impress. They found their form, for the first time in the tournament, against Germany, pressuring the Germans in midfield with Xabi, Iniesta and Busquets combining to keep their opponents from launching any kind of serious counter-attacking threat. But their strength in midfield interestingly failed to translate into any kind of torrent of goals of the kind that you would expect from creative midfielders that would serve up the ball, on a platter, for strikers of the quality of David Villa and Fernando Torres. True, Villa scored five goals but the team as a whole edged its way to its first World Cup championship on the back of four consecutive 1-0 victories against Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and the Netherlands.

All this is to say the goal machines failed to continue chugging in South Africa 2010, even though we saw plenty of glimpses of them throughout the tournament in different moments. The lack of goals may have something to do with the 4-3-2-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation that teams are increasingly using, with less emphasis on the wingers and more on a frontal attack, straight down the center of midfield that fancies its chances against the traditionally strong central defense. As one might expect, the debate about how to reform the game has begun most fervently in Brazil as they prepare to host the Cup in 2014. Almost everyone has an opinion but refreshingly, no one really has an answer about how to both bring back jogo bonito and ensure that Brazil wins on its own soil. As if it were a political debate of some kind, former players and coaches such as Romario, Branco, Leonardo and others have thrown their two cents in the ring, only for us to see nothing of substance stick in the form of a real vision of how to reform the sport to produce more attacking, attractive football marked by more goals. The good thing—amidst all this uncertainty about the sport and what comes next—is that all of us with an investment in attractive football should take heart from Spain’s victory because it underscores the power of a strong midfield that we should expect to see replicated by teams in serious contention for the trophy in 2014.