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What We Learned From Brazil’s Last Three Coaches, Part 1

by Zetona

This summer, Rogério Micale led Brazil’s Olympic to their first-ever gold medal, finally doing away with the one nagging goose egg in Brazil’s trophy cabinet—a significant accomplishment, even if the Olympics are a glorified youth tournament. More pertinently, because it taught us a lot about the future of Brazilian football, in terms of young and upcoming players, forward-thinking tactics, and preparation and mentality. But to properly it into context, first we must remember what we were able to take away from Brazil’s other recent coaches. The reason why is simple: we learned a lot from each of their tenures, but little of it was positive.

Part 1 will be devoted to analyzing the work and legacy of Mano Menezes, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dunga in their coaching spells post 2010, to provide a basis of comparison when I dive into Micale’s legacy in part 2.

Now that the intros are done, it’s time to take a nice, objective look at our past few coaches, leaving aside personal biases to really focus on what they did well and where they could have done better.

MANO MENEZES

Fuck this guy.

Mano Menezes was one of the worst coaches in Brazil’s history. Given every advantage you could ask for—a glut of young talent; low expectations from a press and public simply relieved that Dunga was finally out; a series of incredibly easy friendlies against weaksauce sides—he still managed to frustrate and bore everybody who watched.

But he did do a few things right. There were a few things from his tenure that can be spun as positive takeaway.

By which I mean two things. I racked my brain and this was all I could come up with.

2010-2012 was a rough time.

Bringing in youth pays dividends

Mano deserves more credit for how willing he was to integrate young players into the side. In addition to bringing in Neymar, Pato, and Ganso right off the bat, he started the 18-year-old Philippe Coutinho against Iran in October 2010; started Leandro Damião and brought in Lucas Moura off the bench against Scotland in March 2011; and began including Oscar in September of that year. Some of his choices didn’t last—Carlos Eduardo, André and Fábio da Silva are among those who came and went without a trace—but Mano hit more often than he missed, and Pato, Damião and Oscar all undoubtedly enjoyed their best spells to date in a Brazil shirt under his tutelage.

Some caveats. Absolutely everybody would have called up Neymar, Pato, and Ganso right away after the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, in the other direction, it’s arguable that he called up some players too soon, or ahead of more deserving prospects. Was Lucas Moura really best served by coming off the bench in the 2011 Copa America, when he could have been a starter in the U-20 World Cup that year? Why was Carlos Eduardo starting in 2010 ahead of, say, Hernanes? Would Oscar have been such a breath of fresh air had Mano’s midfield not been utter crap before his arrival?

After all, rag on Dunga all you want for it, but Mano was the first person to call up Elias. He did so in 2010 and was still doing so in 2012.

Several of his tactical experiments definitely worked…

I can pinpoint three times when Mano’s side played really, really well and it looked like he was onto something.

The first was Mano’s debut against the USA. Neymar, Pato, Ganso, and Robinho ran riot in that game and there was immediate talk that jogo bonito was back, baby. But then Ganso tore his ACL and Neymar missed out on several games because of his falling-out with Dorival Júnior at Santos. Even after the quartet finally reuinted at the Copa America the following summer (albeit with Ganso greatly diminished due to injuries), Brazil struggled to find that same verve. In retrospect, it’s likely that rather than giving any specific tactical instructions, Mano benefited from the instant chemistry of starting the same Neymar-Ganso-Robinho trio that had been playing together for Santos all year.

The second was in June 2012, when a youthful Brazil took Argentina to the sword in a preparatory friendly for the Olympics. They lined up in a sort of 4-3-2-1 or 4-3-1-2 that looked like this:

Neymar played in a central role that allowed him to run straight at the center of the Argentine defense every time he got the ball, and then spread the ball to the onrushing Hulk and Damião ahead of him. It was maybe his best performance to date in a Brazil shirt and one of Brazil’s all-round best performances under Mano. Yes, they lost 4-3, but this was because Thiago Silva and David Luiz were both injured and they had to rely on the young, inexperienced, and horrible Juan Jesus and Bruno Uvini. Lionel Messi was remarkably quiet throughout, but he got three chances to get in behind the defense and scored a hat-trick. All in all, it was a thrilling performance that, with more work and the return of the first-choice defense, could have been really, really good.

We never saw it again.

The third time was in Mano’s last few months, when he got rid of the injured Damião and went with a fluid 4-2-4-0, with Kaká returning after a two-year absence:

The result? Brazil beat China 8-0, Iraq 6-0, and Japan 4-0; then stumbled against Colombia, drawing 1-1 after Neymar missed a penalty; and Mano was out of a job a week later. Perhaps the system wouldn’t have worked against better sides, but it was a glimmer of fluid football in a tenure often devoid of it.

Now, on to the negatives.

…But if something works, you gotta build on it

And not just tactically. Hey, did you know that Mano was the first guy to call up Fernandinho, back in August 2011? It was pretty confusing at the time, but in retrospect it was an impressive job of spotting a talent hidden in the Ukrainian league. And Fernandinho showed some impressive glimmers from the start, such as this gem of a pass against Ghana. But after an unimpressive game against Bosnia the following February (notable for a Ronaldinho performance in which he seemed incapable of playing an accurate pass of more than five yards), Mano never called him again. Ditto Hernanes, who it seemed was just beginning to find his feet after a long time out in the cold following his silly red card against France. And how about Maicon, who instantly improved the team when he replaced Dani Alves in the Copa America, but missed his flight before the subsequent friendly against Germany and never appeared again?

Come to think of it, Mano shut out a fair few players who displeased him—there’s also Hulk, who missed the Copa America after his heavy touch cost him a chance to equalize against France; and Marcelo, in the same boat after an email scandal. This wouldn’t be a problem if these players weren’t roundly better than the players Mano chose instead. Which leads me to the next point:

Select actually good players, I mean Jesus Christ

So far, I’ve mostly mentioned Mano’s better player selections and tactical choices. They were the exceptions, not the rule. The examples of egregious snubs and inexplicable favoritism are many. Longtime Brazil World Cup Blog readers still shudder upon reading the name André Santos. Instead of the in-form Hulk and Hernanes, Mano brought to the Copa America Fred and Jádson (not to be confused with Michael Jadson, his genius virtual doppelganger). Lucas Leiva, Ramires, Paulinho, and Ralf all played while Luiz Gustavo didn’t. At the end of his reign, fucking Leandro Castán was starting at left-back. But the example that sums it up in my book comes from that Colombia game, his second-to-last game in charge. Hulk, by then a regular starter, was injured. Mano had Lucas Moura, who had come off the bench to score against Iraq the month before, available to replace him.

He started Thiago Neves. He played over 70 minutes and did nothing. He was also included in the Copa America squad the summer before ahead of the likes of Hulk. As far as I can tell, he didn’t play a minute.

Fuck Mano Menezes.

Brazil can win on talent alone. That’s not enough.

This is the big point. The past two entries might not have mattered if not for the single, overwhelming truth of Mano’s reign: the football was terrible. Stale, drab, dull, what have you. Slow tempo, no movement, a desperate lack of creativity and incision, and most damning of all, little attacking intent. Brazil could only beat Romania 1-0 (and with Ronaldo himself on the pitch!) It took a last-second own goal to beat Bosnia and Herzegovina. They edged Costa Rica 1-0 after being outplayed and outshot. After a dour 0-0 draw with Argentina, a joke went around that went something like this: “Por que o Mano não tem carro? É porque ele só sabe dirigir se tem três volantes!”[1]

Apparently scared of being exposed against strong sides, the CBF kept scheduling miserably easy friendlies against the likes of Gabon, Egypt, Scotland, Iraq, South Africa. Not until the very end did Brazil win those games by the sort of scorelines one might expect. Maybe Mano thought it was unnecessary to turn it on against such opposition and risk injuring his players in the process. Maybe he figured that there was no pressing need to switch out the glaring underperformers while the team was still winning. But it meant they didn’t have a clue what to do when it counted. Before the Olympics, they lost 2-0 to Mexico and had trouble creating clear chances. When they met again in the gold medal match, Mano’s team had clearly worked on their shortcomings—they went 2-0 down and had trouble creating clear chances until the dying seconds!

Mano Menezes’ reign suggests that any old mug off the street could become Brazil’s coach and they’d probably still do okay. But it also shows that you need far more to actually achieve any real success.

Christ, already 1600 words on Mano alone, and that’s leaving things like the many glaring defensive mistakes (FUCK ANDRÉ SANTOS) or his decision to start a barely-fit Ganso in the Copa America on the table. Let’s move on.

LUIZ FELIPE SCOLARI

His tenure ended with the most devastating and humiliating defeat in Brazilian history, but there’s still plenty of positives to be had from his impressive Confederations Cup triumph the summer before the World Cup disaster.

Neymar became a bona-fide superstar for his country

Neymar was plenty prolific under Mano Menezes, with 17 goals in 27 appearances, but even so he came under constant criticism for absent displays and horrific misses.

It got so bad that some people on this blog started saying Lucas might be more valuable for Brazil than him. Neymar started slowly under Scolari, only scoring in friendlies against Bolivia and Chile that excluded Europe-based players. Then two things happened almost simultaneously that turned things around: he moved to Barcelona, taking the weight of Brazilian media scrutiny off his back, and he asked for the number 10 shirt for Brazil, taking on the symbolic burden of Pelé’s legendary number.

For the next year and a half, he was unplayable. 22 goals in 29 games. Best player in the Confederations Cup. Bronze Boot in both the Confederations Cup and the World Cup, despite his injury against Colombia. Even as the rest of the team quaked in their boots throughout the World Cup, he looked untroubled by the immense expectation, and despite picking up several knocks he dragged Brazil through two very tough knockout games against Chile and Colombia.

Psychological research suggests that people perform their best when they’re under mild stress, so that they’re jolted out of complacency. Neymar, clearly, has a pretty broad definition of “mild”.

With the right coaching and mentality, even an uninspiring lineup on paper can do exceptional things

Given what happened the following summer, it’s kind of amazing to look back and see what Scolari managed in the Confederations Cup with the likes of Paulinho, Luiz Gustavo, Hulk, Fred, and Julio Cesar as starters. He deserves immense credit for turning a workmanlike band of players into a ruthless, organized, unbeatable side, and for getting the notoriously fickle Brazilian fans wholly on board with the team. Perhaps no moment sums it up better than David Luiz’ goal-line clearance in the final. His teammates had faltered, so he stepped up with one of the greatest pieces of defending in the history of the game—and the crowd roared as loud as it did for any of the goals. Sadly, there’s no video on Youtube of the crowd chanting “Da-vid-Luiz!” for the rest of the half. Scolari fired up the fans, fired up the players, and for one glorious summer created a team that played out of their skins.

Brazil should press aggressively from the start of games

Maybe Scolari’s most valuable tactical contribution was how his team pressed extremely aggressively from the starting whistle in order to build an early lead. It worked a charm: opening goals against Japan and Spain within three minutes, and against Mexico and Australia within nine. Doing the same in the second half of games brought goals within five minutes of the restart against Japan, Spain, Portugal, South Korea, South Africa, and Panama. This is particularly notable because Brazil teams have rarely done this, and because its legacy is readily visible in Dunga’s two tenures: in World Cup qualification for 2010, his team scored in the first 10 minutes of games just twice—in the 6th and 10th minutes of one game against Venezuela. This time around, in the six qualifiers he managed before being sacked, his team scored in the first minute twice. And since taking over this summer, Tite has seen his team score within 10 minutes in three of their six games.

After opening the scoring, these teams have tended to let off the gas instead of pressing their advantage, sometimes letting opponents back into the match. That’s a topic for another day. For now, it’s worth appreciating this positive aspect of Scolari’s legacy.

Perhaps “Jogo Bonito” means something different now

I remember remarking, when Brazil beat Australia 6-0 shortly after the Confederations Cup[2], that it was as close to the fabled jogo bonito as I could remember in my (relatively short) time of following Brazil closely. We’ve achieved a couple similarly large wins since then, but not with this sort of comprehensive attacking intent—Dunga, in particular, would often see out games at walking pace instead of looking to entertain the crowd. That’s why this win stands out. It was against a weak opponent, yes, but Brazil pushed them relentlessly to expose and punish their weaknesses, and the result was a wonderful display of goals, goals, goals. And they did something similar against Spain—setting up the team to press them into losing the ball, and then quickly surging forward on the attack. On a different day, Luiz’ goal-line clearance might not have mattered, because Oscar would have found the corner, Paulinho’s chip would have snuck in, Fred would have buried his 1v1, and Brazil might have been three or four goals ahead before Pedro even got in behind the defense.

No, it wasn’t jogo bonito in the traditional sense—the midfield play wasn’t slick or elegant, and there wasn’t much scintillating individual talent to draw on—but in the team’s best performances, they just crushed their opposition, imposing themselves on the game and looking to score as many goals as possible. Even if, on the face, it was antithetical to Brazil’s footballing traditions, it nonetheless was very Brazilian in one crucial respect: the team sought to impose its superiorities—in this case, physical and mental preparation,[3] tactical organization, and relentless aggression—to the fullest extent upon the opponents. It was fast-paced, exhilarating, and led to appropriately huge scorelines. If the personnel and context make this sort of play the best way to win in big and entertaining style, why not go this way?

Okay. Now for the bad parts of the Scolari tenure. Hoo boy.

A quick note: I won’t be talking about the team’s lack of creativity in midfield, or how they often built up play with long balls from defenders to forwards, because while it was a problem with the team, particularly in tight games like against Croatia, I believe the team’s failings in 2014 were far more due to physical and mental preparation. Or in other words, put the same team from the Confederations Cup final on the pitch in 2014, with their 2013 levels of form and fitness, and fired up after hearing the Maracana sing the national anthem, and they would have swept the group stages, beaten Chile in 90 minutes, seen off Colombia with ease, and made a game of it against Germany.[4]

Be wary of sticking with out-of-form or unfit players, particularly if they were limited to begin with

I’ll try and keep this brief. The core of the Confederations Cup-winning team was either out of form or unfit for the World Cup. Paulinho and Bernard had moved from starting roles in Brazil to bench roles in Europe. Julio Cesar was playing for an MLS club. Jô had just begun what would eventually turn into a year-long goalless drought. Dani Alves was so bad at the World Cup that Maicon replaced him midway through the tournament. Fred spent much of the time between the tournaments on the treatment table due to a series of muscle injuries. Marcelo started the Champions League final on the bench due to injury. Neymar was apparently carrying a minor foot injury into the tournament and picked up a series of knocks as it progressed, even before Juan Zuniga broke his back.

It’s unfair to blame Scolari for this; many of these problems only really became apparent in 2014, when he only had one friendly to experiment with replacements before the World Cup. And the one addition he did make based on that game, Fernandinho, was a good one. Maybe if the CBF hadn’t given Mano Menezes so much time, Scolari could have done more experimenting. But it calls into question his judgment to begin with, that he ended up with so many limited players who could so easily be hamstrung out of their few strengths by, in a few cases, literal hamstring injuries.[5] Maybe Robinho or Diego Costa (more on him later) could have provided the mobility and goals off the bench that Jô couldn’t provide. Maybe Fernandinho could have gelled better with the team had he been included and made a starter earlier than the final game of the group stage. Maybe Willian or Lucas Moura deserved more time once it became apparent that Bernard wasn’t getting to start at Shakhtar.

The team needs to be able to cope without Neymar

While he was on the field at the World Cup, Neymar was easily Brazil’s best player, despite carrying several knocks. After his injury against Colombia, however, the team’s utter inability to replace his contribution became painfully apparent. Again, Scolari couldn’t have predicted that he’d be taken out like that, and there’s no telling whether a Neymar-less Brazil could have beaten Germany even with better preparation. But without Neymar, they were toothless.

Prepare the team for the emotional burden of the World Cup, and don’t use emotion as a crutch for lack of preparation

The picture of David Luiz and Julio Cesar holding Neymar’s shirt before the Germany game became a laughingstock in the face of what happened next, and fittingly. Apparently Scolari thought that the raw desire to win it for their fallen comrade would fire up his players enough to overcome Germany, plan or no plan. Rumor has it he never trained the side for a situation where they were down a goal, and that the starting XI from that game hadn’t played together in training.

But more importantly, the signs of that dramatic collapse were there. Having been ferocious, fired-up underdogs in the Confederations Cup, their victory had once again made them favorites for the World Cup, and the public expected a win. That change in mentality was cruelly apparent from the first whistle against Croatia, and by the knockout stages Thiago Silva was in tears at the prospect of taking a penalty against Chile, followed by a second half against Colombia that consisted of one panicked clearance after another. Whatever Brazil’s psychological preparation in 2014, it wasn’t enough,[6] and that makes Scolari’s failings in training even more egregious.

Once again, I could go on, but now we’re at 3600 words and I need to get to Dunga.

DUNGA V. 2.0

As maddening as these last two years were, and as clueless as Dunga seemed at times, there were some interesting glimmers of hope and signs of progress.

Also, this section will get somewhat more specific than the last two, since being more recent the lessons about individual players are more relevant.

Brazil can make a possession game work

Unlike under Scolari, where the team often looked to bypass the midfield and use the long passing of Thiago Silva and David Luiz to get the ball to the forwards, Dunga’s team often spent long stretches playing the ball out of the back along the ground, often ending with 60-70% possession as a result. It wasn’t as tactically sophisticated as most possession systems—compared to the Barcelonas of the world, there was less pressing, a slower tempo, and a deeper defensive line—but it was a valuable proof of concept, evience that, despite the Brazilian game having for decades eschewed possession play in favor of midfield destroyers and attacking fullbacks, such an approach could still work. The proof is in the many goals Dunga’s team scored after stringing together 10, 15, even 20 passes—against France, against Venezuela, against Paraguay, and others that no longer have video available on YouTube.

This sort of football did not happen consistently (the goal against Paraguay was pretty much Brazil’s only moment of good football in that game), and it seemed to detract from the team’s strengths during Dunga’s first spell, but the reasons for that will wait until I talk about the negatives. For now, Dunga deserves credit for implementing this approach to such an impressive degree.

The false forwards concept worked reasonably well

Dunga’s initial 4-2-2-2 shape called for Neymar cutting in from the left to combine with a nominal number 9, for the first year usually Diego Tardelli or Roberto Firmino, whose main attribute was not his goalscoring ability but rather his mobility. These players dropped deep and moved around to find space, drag defenders out of position and set up teammates for chances (occasionally to beautiful effect). It was a neat idea, and one that seemed to have a lot of potential at a time when Brazil really didn’t have any conventional number 9s worthy of a Brazil shirt. Unfortunately, Tardelli wasn’t worthy of the shirt either, while Firmino lost form in 2015, and by the time Neymar had come back from his Copa America suspension, he was playing off a proper number 9 once more in Ricardo Oliveira.

Now that Gabriel Jesus looks like he could be the striker we’ve been looking for the past decade—a mixture of impressive physicality for his size and stature with a tremendous touch and deadly finishing—maybe it’s a moot point, but it would have been nice to see what a false forward could have done in a better version of the system. Black Matt once pointed out that what Dunga had created wasn’t really a false 9 role, since the rest of the team’s movement wasn’t based around running into the space left when the number 9 came deep. A greater emphasis on movement might have created the chances and runs in behind that were frequently lacking from Dunga’s system. From a player perspective, I’d also like to see what someone like Firmino could do in that sort of role now that he’s been playing it for a year and a half for Liverpool under the tutelage of Jürgen Klopp. Maybe we’ll get to see it now that Tite’s in charge.

Several players made impressive evolutions into starters

Dunga’s player selections were often baffling and bizarre, but he made several good ones, and under his watch several players blossomed into really impressive first-teamers. Filipe Luís became a monster at left-back,[7] and Willian impressed tremendously playing box-to-box down the right wing, like Ramires with more ability on the ball. Dunga also deserves some credit as the guy who made starters of Alisson, Casemiro, and Renato Augusto (even if he only began to properly play well in Rogério Micale’s and Tite’s teams). Perhaps Walace, who had been a bench player in Micale’s setup, also benefited from Dunga’s favor—his decent cameos in the Copa America earlier that summer might have convinced Micale to select him for the Olympic team when Shakhtar wouldn’t release Fred, and the rest is material I’m saving for part 2. Again, there were many, many, exceptions to this, but this is the positives section, so the juicy stuff must wait.

No, wait. This is the end of the positives. ON TO THE JUICY STUFF. And there’s a lot of it, because Dunga’s failings can’t be broken down into two or three simple points as easily as could Mano’s or Scolari’s.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Dunga 2.0 was how little we saw of his 2006-2010 vintage. The organized defenses, deadly set-pieces, and devastating counterattacks were largely gone, replaced by decent possession football that a lack of pressing and movement too often rendered sterile, coupled with surprisingly disorganized defending. It’s like Dunga, aware of the critics of his first spell in charge, or perhaps under pressure from the CBF, tried to stick closer to the traditions of jogo bonito. Perhaps, too, football had passed him by, considering that in the four years between his Brazil appointments his only coaching job was six months or so in charge of Internacional. Likely it was a bit of both—he was both stuck in the past and working outside his comfort zone. Rumors say that many of the players were upset at his antiquated methods and lack of clear tactical instructions. The result? A team that often looked aimless on the field.

Gilmar, George Bush, and coaching assistants

The coordinator of national teams during Dunga’s second spell was Gilmar Rinaldi, third-choice goalie in the ‘94 World Cup side and apparent admirer of Dale Earnhardt’s facial hair. Many on the blog were immediately uneasy with a player agent having such a big say in player selections, and for good reason. It’s possible that some of Dunga’s stranger selections were the result of Gilmar’s meddling, and I believe he was also behind a bigger mess: the rotation of coaching assistants. Dunga had Jorginho by his side for the entirety of 2006-2010, and he’s gone on to become a quite good coach in his own right. This time around, though, each matchday brought a new assistant. These included Rogério Ceni, Juninho Paulista, Cafu, and Lúcio. The constant switching was surely no help to Dunga, especially if Jorginho’s familiarity with Dunga’s tactics and training routines was a big part of their success last time around.

Maybe it was all Dunga’s idea, but I doubt it. Gilmar, constantly present, always giving positive press statements about how the team was “headed in the right direction”, seemed like he had too much power. I got the distinct sense that he was the Cheney to Dunga’s Bush, the malevolent self-interested force behind the seasons corrupting a well-meaning but ill-prepared guy in charge. Though the Cheney in this analogy had more of Bush’s cheery disposition, and the Bush had Cheney’s scowling irritation, and you know what, forget it.

Neymar’s dark side

Dunga made Neymar his captain from the get-go, and at first it seemed an alright move. Yes, he had a petulant streak, but he was the one player at the World Cup who had seemed unaffected by the massive pressure, and during Scolari’s tenure he had grown into the number 10 shirt for Brazil. But as I mentioned before, Neymar seems to have an optimal bandwidth of pressure where he thrives, and carrying the captain’s armband as well as the nation’s expectations was too much. Yeah, it’s ridiculous that Neymar’s lashing out at the referee earned him twice as long a suspension as Gonzalo Jara literally sexually assaulting Edinson Cavani in the same tournament,[8] but it’s his responsibility to keep his temper in check, and Dunga should have known better than to make so temperamental a player his captain. But in the wake of that suspension, he let Neymar keep the captaincy, and Neymar promptly replied with two yellow cards in three World Cup qualifiers, ruling him out of the Paraguay game. Neymar is no longer the captain under Tite, and he appears happy to be free of the burden.

Blacklisting is bad

Dunga had an even worse tendency for excluding players for perceived slights than did Mano. The biggest victim was Thiago Silva, at first temporarily frozen out because Dunga didn’t like that he had cried during the penalty shootout against Chile in the World Cup, and later excised for good after his (admittedly careless) handball cost Brazil in their Copa America quarterfinal against Paraguay. He wasn’t alone: Jefferson and David Luiz disappeared after mistakes in qualifiers against Chile and Uruguay, respectively; Danilo and Roberto Firmino suddenly stopped being called shortly after the Copa America. Black Matt noted that Dunga likes players who deliver for him immediately—but his notion of “deliver” was clearly twisted. Considering how Lucas Moura’s brilliant performance off the bench against the USA didn’t earn him any chances for a whole year while goddamn Elias kept starting, that 36-year-old Ricardo Oliveira suddenly became the first-choice striker, and that Neymar retained the captain’s armband after his tantrum, one wonders what it took to get into Dunga’s good graces.

Friendly matches are no guarantee of proper preparation, especially if you don’t use them to experiment

Dunga opened his second tenure with a record-breaking streak of 11 wins, the best start any Brazil coach has ever had. Ten of those were confident wins in friendlies against some good sides like Argentina and France. The eleventh and last was a nervy, impatient game against Peru to open the 2015 Copa America, settled only by Douglas Costa’s last-gasp winner. And after that, the wheels fell off. Perhaps Tim Vickery has the answer here: Dunga, he argues, “treated an entire season of friendlies as if they were World Cup finals, clocking up meaningless wins to shore up his job security but not changing an outdated model of play.” And he was always reluctant to make substitutions regardless of the situation—against Argentina, for example, he didn’t make a change until the 82nd minute. The end result was not enough experimenting when the stakes were low, and so the elements that had seemed to work in friendlies fell apart in big games. Diego Tardelli had a stinker of a Copa, and Roberto Firmino, who’d come off the bench in most previous friendlies despite clearly outperforming both Tardelli and Luiz Adriano, struggled to adapt.

But more notable was the absence of any backup plan when Neymar was suspended in the Copa America. Surely Dunga must have worried about having to play without Neymar after seeing how Brazil foundered without him at the World Cup. But when pre-Copa friendlies gave him a chance to experiment while Neymar was off playing the Champions League final, Dunga instead seemed content to grind out two drab wins, 2-0 and 1-0, with little eye for flair or attacking. (The second half of the 2-0 win against Mexico remains one of the most boring and aimless halves of football I’ve ever seen.) And after the Copa, with Neymar suspended for two upcoming World Cup qualifiers, including a crunch game against Chile, Dunga still included him in the squad and gave him the whole second half against the United States—time on the pitch and the training ground that might have been better served ensuring the team could function in his absence.

A game of two halves

One of my particular frustrations with Dunga was how his teams rarely put together two equally good halves of football. Most commonly, this meant the team would go into the first-half ahead and then lose focus or succumb to nerves in the second half—as in the Copa America against Peru (in 2015), Venezuela, and Paraguay or the World Cup qualifier against Uruguay. A few times, like in the WCQ against Paraguay, it went the other way and the team clawed its way back into the game after a horrid first half. But it was a constant problem, and it wasn’t just nerves, as had hamstrung Scolari’s team against Chile and Colombia in 2014. Sometimes the team didn’t show up for the first half, or simply stopped trying in the second half—this in particular drove me crazy against Mexico, when the team barely had a shot on goal in the second half.

Was it a problem with motivation? Tactics? Physical preparation? Was it fatigue that forced the defensive line deeper in the second half against Uruguay, for instance, hurting the team’s ability to press, or was that Dunga’s choice? Whatever it was, Tite’s already doing better in this department.

Okay, One Last Thing

Very quickly, here are a couple lessons we could stand to learn from all three coaches, and which weren’t unique to any single one of them.

LOCK DOWN BRAZILIANS WHO COULD TURN TRAITOR

Let me first say that Diego Costa is an asshole, and he deserves every miserable minute of sitting on the Spain bench because he was too impatient to play in the World Cup. Yes, it wouldn’t have been an issue had Scolari called him up for the Confederations Cup after Leandro Damião was injured, thus tying him to Brazil permanently, but only a true motherfucker—and make no mistake, Diego Costa is a motherfucker—switches allegiances not six months after representing his birth country for the first time. Brazil missed having a player like him these past two years, but hopefully now the rise of Gabriel Jesus will fill that gap.

More broadly, under each coach we’ve worried about losing valuable prospects to other countries because our coaches weren’t calling them up. Thiago Motta turned to Italy in 2011; Manchester City’s Fernando only hasn’t played for Portugal because FIFA deemed his appearances in the U-20 World Cup as an “official tournament”; Jorginho appears uninterested in representing Brazil, preferring to play for Italy instead. The big worry right now is around Napoli’s Allan. I believe the Fernando ruling also applies to him, but I’d hate to risk it.

STOP FUCKING CALLING DANI ALVES AND ELIAS

Seriously. Elias was never good enough to start for Brazil, particularly when the likes of Hernanes, Fernandinho, Ganso, Oscar, and Allan were missing out because of it. His presence must inspire some sort of collective delusion among journalists and coaches. It’s the only way to explain this article describing him as “add[ing] an increased goal threat” when he’s never scored in 35 Brazil appearances. By the Copa America this past summer, Dunga seemed to almost be playing him as a number 9! Why?! HOW?! Who knows! That’s the dark magic of Elias.

And don’t get me started on Dani Alves, who managed to lose his starting spot to Maicon under all three of these coaches, only to win it back permanently due to Maicon’s indiscipline.[9] He is now the 11th-most-capped player in Brazil history, but you have to go down to about 52nd on the all time caps list to find a player (Ramires) who is definitely worse than him. I could write 5,000 words about how bad he is, if I had the stomach for watching so much video of him.[10] And now he’s played every minute of every game under Tite! Where will it end?

I leave you with the words of our very own dude_br, writing in exasperation after Alves salvaged his otherwise dreadful performance against Paraguay in March with a magnificent last-gasp equalizer.

See you in Part 2.

You can find more of Zetona’s work on his Twitter or his new website, where he is known to the Internet at large as Dr. #Content.


[1] “Volante” can mean either “defensive midfielder” or “steering wheel” in Portuguese. Translation: “Why doesn’t Mano have a car? Because he only knows how to drive when he has three steering wheels!”

[2] On a related note, that video reminds me that Bernard is so tiny and adorable and it makes me sad that his career has stalled in Ukraine since the World Cup.

[3] Again, talking about 2013.

[4] Though I won’t go so far as to say they could have beaten Germany without Neymar.

[5] Okay, that was a stretch. HA! Get it? Fine, I’ll stop this now.

[6] There are lessons to be learned from the contrast with the 2016 Olympic final, but I’ll save that for part 2.

[7] “AS HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN UNDER SCOLARI,” fume several commenters still upset at his World Cup snub.

[8] Jara received a three-match ban, reduced to two on appeal, for the poke and dive. His club said they would let him go during the summer, but within two months he returned to a starting role—although they did part ways in January.

[9] OK, Danilo was the starter for Dunga’s first year after Maicon stayed out late in Miami, but when he got injured before the 2015 Copa, guess who filled the void?

[10] Maybe that’ll be my next article.