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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.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Brazil's Midfield Under Mano Menezes

Brazilian football currently stands at its lowest moment since Paulo Falcao assumed the responsibility of coach of the Brazilian team after the 1990 World Cup, roughly 20 years ago. Ronaldo has retired, Ronaldinho's career appears to be at a sunset after his move from AC Milan to Flamengo, Kaka has yet to find his form, and the Brazilian midfield continues to lack a quality player of the caliber of Socrates, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Leonardo or Kaka. Mano Menezes introduced new blood into the Selecao after their disgraceful performance at the 2010 World Cup, but the team has yet to gel and display any signs of coherence in five performances.

Mano's midfield selections in the friendlies since he has taken over the responsibility of coach are as follows:

Brazil v. France: Lucas, Elias, Hernanes and Renato Augusto
Brazil v. Argentina: Lucas, Elias, Ronaldinho and Ramires
Brazil v. Ukraine: Lucas, Elias, Ramires, Carlos Eduardo
Brazil v. Iran: Lucas, Ramires, Carlos Eduardo
Brazil v USA: Lucas, Ramires, Ganso

Experimentation is good a thing, and if there's ever a moment to give promising young players experience in the yellow jersey, the time is now. As Mano noted in an interview following the loss to Argentina, Brazil needs to start thinking about a midfield without Kaka and Ronaldinho. That said, Brazilian fans should start demanding one of two things: (1) clearer delineations of midfield responsibility such as the way Dunga had Gilberto Silva take charge of the hard tackling, while Kaka and Elano orchestrated the more creative attacks; or (2) a more explicit commitment to the total football of the 1970s where the midfielders, and players at large, assumed multiple roles and switched positions with one another as the game dictated.

Up front, Brazil has considerable problems as well. While Pato and Robinho are blossoming into quality strikers, they have yet to find their form on the world stage and lack the understanding between one another that should develop from their time together at AC Milan. Meanwhile, Brazil's left back position needs further review as Andre Santos has done well, except in the latter two games against Argentina and France. Against Argentina, in particular, Santos was responsible for freeing Ezequiel Lavezzi to set up Lionel Messi's last minute goal.

The one bright note in Brazilian football concerns the U-20 side's breathtaking South American U-20 championship performance where they emerged as champions. Ney Franco's team demolished Uruguay 6-0 in the final match to take first place and guarantee an Olympic berth and spot in the World U-20 Cup finals. Neymar scored a record 9 goals for the tournament, Sao Paulo starlet Lucas scored 4 goals and Casemiro, also of Sao Paulo, scored 3 goals while serving as both a rock and architect of attacking plays in his midfield position.

While we applaud Mano's commitment to rebuilding a new squad without looking back on the old, we feel the time has come for a more focused midfield formation that, like any good midfield, can create chances for goals and score goals. Brazil has started to rely in excess on the overlapping fullbacks to create goal scoring opportunities and allowed the midfield to stagnate. The midfield must gel first and then allow the fullbacks to express themselves. Maybe the answer will come from Brazilian based players in the form of Paulo Henrique Ganso or Sao Paulo's Lucas and Casemiro.

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