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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.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Which Mano Menezes Will Show Up as Coach of the Selecao?

What kind of coach will Mano Menezes (Mano) become at the helm of the Brazilian national football team? For starters, Mano is a fan of precisely the 4-2-3-1 formation that Brazil used in South Africa. He is well known for his ability to restore teams such as Gremio and Corinthians to glory after suffering humiliating relegations to their respective second divisions. And, like his predecessors, Carlos Dunga and Luiz Felipe Scolari, Mano has historically professed a certain pragmatism to football, with an emphasis on winning, even if this means sitting on the lead and hogging ball possession at the expense of going forward to score more goals. Mano's teams have tended to play with two defensive midfielders and score on the counter-attack in much the same fashion as Brazil under the Dunga era from 2006 to 2010.

But in a recent interview, Mano promised to turn his back on a footballing philosophy of pragmatism as the head of the national team.

"We are going to rescue our style. Brazil has it's own way of playing," he noted in an August 3, 2010 interview with Sport TV.

"We want to recover that tradition of being the protagonists, and stop being bit-part actors looking for the rival mistake. The world now plays more similar to that Brazil and we ourselves have distanced ourselves from it."

That said, it's really anyone's guess as to what kind of coach Menezes becomes as he settles into his role as director of the Selecao.

Consider the case of Luiz Felipe Scolari, for example, in leading the Seleaco to World Cup victory in Yokohama, Japan in the summer of 2002. Like Dunga, Scolari was initially known for his commitment to tough tackling and rough, defensive minded play. An ardent supporter of a strong defense and quick counter-attacks, he championed winning at the expense of beautiful football. As coach of Gremio from 1993-1996, Scolari threatened to bench players for not committing enough fouls, and additionally became famous for encouraging player ball-boys to throw balls onto the field when opponents were about to take a throw-in, or having his players solicit the help of local police against visiting teams in the event of an on field fracas.

In Korea and Japan in the summer of 2002, something remarkable happened to Scolari's rough and defensive style of play. Brazil's starting line-up initially featured Roberto Carlos and Cafu attacking down the left and right flanks respectively, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho as the triumvirate "3 Rs" strikeforce, and another offensive midfielder in the form of Juninho Paulista attacking down the center. Fans were dumbfounded by Scolari's offensive formation, especially since the rigidity of his earlier career had given way to a fluid, samba style of soccer where players would routinely switch positions instead of sticking to a predetermined tactical formation. The result produced moments of magic for the Brazilian national football team at a level unseen since 1982. Fans will recall Edmilson's sublime bicycle kick goal in their 5-2 demolition of Costa Rica, Rivaldo's magical goal in the 67th minute against Belgium, Ronaldinho's sublime free kick against England in the quarterfinal to mark a 2-1 come from behind victory and, most importantly, the great strength of Ronaldo in and around the box, scoring 8 goals in 7 games, shaking off defenders shamelessly and putting the ball where it belongs.

But Scolari had at his disposal an extraordinary crop of players, the quality of which Menezes is unlikely to have unless Robinho, Pato, Neymar, Ganso and company blossom into world class talent that can hold their form over the greater part of a decade. Time will tell, but the interesting thing is that, for all the talk of renovation, rebuilding, rebirth and jogo bonito in Brazil, few people in Brazil are calling Ricardo Teixeira's bluff and noting how the Brazilian Confederation of Football's choice of a coach for the Selecao seems disturbingly similar to Dunga and the early Scolari, at precisely the moment when Brazilian football needs radical change.

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