Tomorrow at 11 AM Brazil time (10 AM Eastern, 2 PM GMT), Tite will call up players for next month’s friendlies against the United States and El Salvador. It’ll be his first squad since the World Cup, the first squad of the 2022 World Cup cycle. Here’s what to expect:
The First Post-World Cup Squad Always Sends A Message
Every Brazil coach uses this opportunity to send a message, and that message tends to be “I’m going in an exciting new direction.” This generally means a lot of promising young names people wanted in the World Cup squad, and a clearout of the old, washed-up players deemed most responsible for the World Cup loss. There’s also an accompanying subtext of “the last coach sucked and his player choices were stupid”, but you know what they say about people in glass houses: only one of the Neymar-Pato-Ganso trio Mano Menezes called in 2010 actually panned out while the coach was exposed as completely out of his depth, whereas Dunga came crawling back to Dani Alves and Thiago Silva within a year of making a big show of leaving them out after the 2014 World Cup.
Tite’s in the unique position of still being in charge after the World Cup, but I expect the message will be similar: “I’ve learned from my mistakes.” I’ve read reports about how he realizes that the team’s main shortcoming at the World Cup was in midfield, and that it’s likely he’ll ditch his aging stalwarts like Paulinho and Renato Augusto. He’s also made clear how much he admires youngsters like Arthur and Lucas Paquetá, but didn’t have enough time to observe them in order to bring them to the World Cup. Perhaps he’ll even make the case that those youngsters represent the exciting new direction he would have taken at the World Cup had he had more time to experiment. In any case, it seems extremely likely that he’ll choose a squad full of youngsters.
Here Are The Names Being Thrown Around
Brazilian outlets have been reporting on a number of Tite’s potential choices. It seems almost certain that he’ll bring in Arthur, Paquetá, and Malcom, three players he’s kept an eye on for a while, as well as young Fluminense striker Pedro, whom he’s taken a shine to. The staff has also gone to games to specifically watch promising right-back Éder Militão and Grêmio’s winger Everton, and they’ve spent much of the past week observing other games in Brazil, albeit without clear word on who they’re there to watch. I think it’s somewhat less likely that we see a teenager like Rodrygo or Vinícius Júnior called up, though maybe that’s just me thinking that neither one is genuinely ready to play a major part for Brazil like Neymar was at their age and they’d be better served playing with the U-20 side and ensuring that Brazil has a spot at the 2020 Olympics. Given that the staff has observed Rodrygo’s Santos, that might well be wishful thinking. A couple other names I’ve seen thrown around are Sevilla’s Guilherme Arana, possibly in contention for a left-back spot, and Vasco right-back Yago Pikachu, who deserves a spot for his name alone.
It’s also likely that Tite calls up two or three older players from the league. Center-back Dedé, whom Tite singled out for praise after including him on the World Cup reserve list, seems in particularly good standing, though he’s 30 and any call-up for him would be more to recognize his accomplishments than as part of a long-term plan. Ditto Maicon of Grêmio, also on the reserve list, who’s 32.
Europe-Based Newcomers Will Have To Wait
There’s a belief prevalent in Brazil that it’s better to call players based in certain places at certain times of year, because their domestic leagues are in full swing and they just have “ritmo de jogo” (let’s just call it match fitness). Which is fine, except it’s often used to justify the selection of Brazil-based players because they are literally always playing. Seriously, the first competitive club fixtures in Brazil this year were in mid-January and the last are at the start of December. Now, the FIFA date at the start of September is already dumb as hell, precisely for the reason that it comes barely two or three weeks into most European club seasons, but it’s especially bad for this sort of thinking, because only the English and French leagues kick off (for one round of fixtures) before Tite announces his squad. (Indeed, Globo reports that the squads for the September and October friendlies may be more heavy on Brazil-based players for precisely this reason.)
What this means is that Tite’s going to stick largely to new faces who either play in Brazil or just moved to Europe—among them Paquetá and Pedro in the former category, Arthur and Militão in the latter. He’s been able to observe these players firsthand recently; for instance, his staff monitored some of Militão’s games with São Paulo before he left for Porto. The exceptions will be the European-based players he’s monitored for a long time—I’m thinking principally Malcom, but perhaps someone like David Neres might get a look.
But I’m not expecting someone like Fabinho or Felipe Anderson to get a look in straight away. They’ve never seemed to be much on Tite’s radar to begin with, and they haven’t had the time to play their way into contention for their new clubs. Richarlison might be an exception, given how he scored twice in his first official game for Everton last weekend.
This all leads to particular concern for one player in particular. You know who it is. (It’s the guy in the image at the top of the article.)
What Will Happen With Andreas Pereira?
Belgium coach Roberto Martínez was at Manchester United’s season-opener against Leicester, in which Andreas Pereira, born in Belgium to Brazilian parents, played his first full 90 minutes for the Red Devils, and rumor has it that Martínez intends to call him up soon. It sounds like Pereira strongly prefers playing for Brazil (he petitioned FIFA directly to be able to play for Brazil in the 2015 U-20 World Cup), but it’s always hard to turn down your first full international call (even if some reports claim he’ll do just that and wait for a Brazil call), especially when it’s for a side that just finished third at the World Cup. We know Tite’s staff are definitely aware of the situation, since UOL asked them about it as part of the report I linked above.
Common sense says that just to be safe Tite should call him up (though playing in a friendly wouldn’t seal him to Brazil), but I have to admit, I don’t see that happening tomorrow. In fairness, there’s some good sense behind it: Pereira literally only just broke into the United first team; there’s no guarantee that he’ll replicate his good display in his first outing or that he’ll remain a starter over the coming weeks as United’s regulars return to action; and if he plays badly because he was called up too soon, he could fall out of favor and Belgium could still snap him up. Plus, speaking for myself personally, I’ve never rated Pereira very highly as anything but a dribbler; watching him conduct play from deep against Leicester was the first time I ever really reconsidered that stance. In general, should we call up players who might be at best marginal figures just to keep them from playing for other countries where they might have more opportunities? Not ahead of more deserving players—and for all his promise, Pereira has yet to genuinely live up to his own hype.
On the other hand, were Pereira to accept a Belgium call this month, the optics would be terrible. Not only would it indicate that Tite and co. failed to learn anything from their failure to tie down Jorginho last year, but Brazil would be losing a promising (still just 22 years old) central midfielder to the team that knocked them out of the World Cup in large part due to Brazil’s shortcomings in central midfield. That’s not how Tite would want to start his World Cup cycle; the story would have the potential to be genuinely damaging to his reputation in a way losing out on Jorginho wasn’t. Not to mention that there’d certainly be more value in securing the services of a 22-year-old who plays for Manchester United and might take part in two World Cups than giving someone ten years his senior a brief moment in the sun (coughMaiconcough).
For what it’s worth, Tite did talk to Jorginho during that saga, but couldn’t guarantee him a role at the World Cup; in turn Jorginho, who all along favored playing for Italy, accepted a call from the Azzurri (and didn’t end up playing in the World Cup anyway, but that’s another matter). If Tite’s in contact with Pereira, for whom Brazil appears to be a clear first choice, he might be able to convince him to turn down Belgium’s advances with the promise that he’s in Brazil’s plans and will be called up once he plays a bit more regularly for his club. (A discussion for another time is how many of the players on the selection radar are likely to spend a lot of time on the bench for their new clubs, particularly Arthur, Malcom and Vinícius Júnior.)
On the other hand, maybe FIFA will rule that Pereira already switched nationalities once and can’t do so again, and it’ll all be a moot point.
Here’s my general expectation: Tite will call up more Brazil-based players than we’ll end up seeing in the long term, at the expense of a few established names who won’t be part of this group. Most but not all of those players will be young enough to have some genuine long-term potential, but a few will just be receiving a long-overdue day in the sun.
In goal, I think we get our standard Alisson-Ederson duo, and then a Brazil-based keeper who hasn’t gotten enough love. Fábio and Vanderlei are strong candidates, but I could see Marcelo Grohe getting a nod.
At right-back, Militão seems almost a given, and I’d love to see Pikachu as well for obvious reasons, though he’s recently been playing as more of a right winger. If one of the World Cup players returns, it’ll be Fagner, but his age will count against him.
We won’t see much of a youth movement at center-back. I expect Thiago Silva and Marquinhos to return, but with the likes of Marlon and Rodrigo Caio still in limbo about their long-term prospects, Tite will go for the experience of Geromel and Dedé.
At left-back, I’d rather not see Marcelo return, but I think he will, along with Alex Sandro. Hope Tite surprises me here.
In defensive midfield, I expect Casemiro and Maicon, while we wait for Fabinho to click at Liverpool. Ahead of them in the holding role we’ve got Arthur and Fred, who’ll stay after not getting to play at the World Cup, with Coutinho and Paquetá as attacking mids.
Up front, Neymar is an obvious choice, and I think Firmino returns too. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no obvious backup for Neymar and instead we have three ostensible right wingers. Malcom and Vinícius Júnior have shown that they can work on the left side in a pinch, and where VJ goes, I expect Rodrygo to follow. That leaves one spot for a striker, where Pedro will surely replace Gabriel Jesus, who needs to find his form at Manchester City. The first alternate here would be Everton, who can play on the left or as a false nine, but whose fitness seems quite fragile.
GK: Alisson, Ederson, Marcelo Grohe
RB: Militão, Pikachu
CB: Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Dedé, Geromel
LB: Marcelo, Alex Sandro
CM/DM: Casemiro, Maicon, Arthur, Fred
AM: Coutinho, Paquetá
LW: Neymar, V. Júnior
ST: Firmino, Pedro
RW: Malcom, Rodrygo
Eleven holdovers from the World Cup, more than either Mano Menezes or Dunga retained when they were in this position, though I could see it being less.