Globo Esporte just posted a lengthy interview with Tite, touching on everything from Brazil’s elimination at the World Cup to the prospects of rising talents like Rodrygo and Vinicius Júnior. Because I figure you’d all like a look inside the head of Brazil’s coach, and because there’s only so long that a picture of Paulinho can grace the front page of the site without driving everyone insane, here is the interview, translated in full. 

Tite’s answers are in normal type, the questions asked him are in bold, and Globo’s extra bits of context are in italics.

Tite saw Brazil as among the four best teams at the World Cup, along with France, Croatia and Belgium. Because of that, being eliminated before the semifinal stings, but above all else, a lesson: in the biggest tournament in the world, some decisions need to be taken more quickly. 

Tite, looking at all the actions by the technical commission at the World Cup, I see a very conservative process. For one of the wildcard spots in the team, you chose Taison, who had been with you since the beginning. Later, you decided to keep the injured Fred rather than call someone else. It’s a pretty clear, coherent line of thinking—today, do you think anything different was needed?

If I’d had more time with the Seleção, there are some things I would have done differently. I needed immediate performance and results. I had a problem in midfield, with Renato Augusto too deep, and I decided to add Willian to float around and bring Coutinho inside. Other dynamics began to appear, and today I have a broader view of some of those issues.

You secured the Seleção’s spot at the World Cup in March of 2017. There were still over a year of games to go, and the commission decided to solidify the team rather than open consideration to new names. Was that the right thing to do? 

I’d do exactly the same thing again. Our priority  was to strengthen  the team with tactical flexibility. And sometimes people don’t see that we play, like against Mexico after the first half-hour, with two lines of four and Neymar more central in a 4-4-2. With two central mids, we began to take the ball from Rafa Marquez and showed more aggression. That 4-4-2 didn’t  provide  the same aggression in the friendly against Saudi Arabia. But then say it didn’t work, not that there was no tactical flexibility. That’s the wrong diagnosis. We decided to strengthen that aspect, and other players who could have been at the World Cup went unnoticed. It wasn’t possible to do both.

And what changes and adjustments can still be made?

I don’t believe that transforming a team, putting in a bunch of new faces at once, works. I believe in maintaining a basic structure and moving around its pieces as necessary. Football is a sport of collectivism and complexity, a living organism. If you change too much about this living organism, maybe you can see where it isn’t working, but then improving on that, that’s the challenge.  It’s important to see what didn’t work, but the adjustments are in the subtleties.

If you change a player who articulates play, Coutinho, for a Douglas Costa, you already change the structure. If you bring in Firmino—who keeps being called a false 9, but for me he is a true 9—he plays in the box and leaves it to make intelligent combinations. Firmino can come deep as a fourth-man in the middle, which before was Coutinho, coming in from the side. That’s different from Gabriel Jesus, who has different characteristics: he stays higher up and offers more penetration in behind. Now we have Arthur, who is more of a playmaker, an articulator, a player about keeping play going, movement, the little motor. He offers possession, but not the infiltration of Paulinho. Changing these mechanisms is important, but I don’t believe in transforming a side which, in the qualifiers, played well and enchanted people.

Why are you still calling some players whose performance was deemed poor—like Paulinho, Willian, and Gabriel Jesus—after the World Cup? 

I’ll give chances to everyone who’s been a protagonist in this process until now. We’re not going to blame scapegoats or call for heads to roll, and I don’t want to bar anybody from the chance to continue with the Seleção. Afterwards, on a level playing field, performance is what will decide who stays. We gave opportunities to young players like Paquetá, Richarlison, Arthur, Everton, Militão. And we brought some older players, thinking about the Copa América, like Dedé, Pablo, and Alex Sandro. Our current plan is preparing for the Copa América, and we’re closely monitoring athletes at every emotional, physical, and personal level.

The Seleção will begin its Copa América campaign on June 14th in the Morumbi. Tite knows that the title is important to keeping his job, but he’s not opposed to prioritizing the quality of play. To unite the two, he decided to keep the core from the World Cup, which is rare. In 2015, for instance, Dunga took only seven players from the 2014 World Cup to the Copa América in Chile.

Is keeping only seven players too little? Do you aim to increase this number?

Ethically, I can’t talk about what’s passed. But the core of the Copa América team will be the core from the World Cup team. There will be youngsters, but fewer of those than of players who went to the World Cup. I’ll pay the price of not being manic-depressive, as Tim Vickery put it. In Brazil it’s extreme: either you’re extraordinary, and I feel like I can say that because they treated me like that before the World Cup. “Oh, Tite this, Tite that.” Sure, I like praise, but I’m not an idiot. There won’t be a transformation because there’s lots of very good players playing at a high level. For example, there’s Fernandinho, one of the captains of the best team on the planet.

Some of these players will be very old in 2022. Miranda and Thiago Silva will be 38; Filipe Luís and Fernandinho, 37; Willian and Paulinho, 34.  Do they have an expiration date with the Seleção? After the Copa América, is that it? Are you going to set that end date or will they decide? 

I’ve told some of them, and made it public, that we’re working in stages. I know that for these players to make the next World Cup is very difficult, but I’m not going to discriminate against them. It’s their performance that will determine it. But I know that because of their age, being at the next World Cup is more difficult. I’ll be keeping an eye on that. But I know that they can play at the Copa América, Thiago Silva, Fernandinho, Willian, Miranda, Filipe Luís. But I’ve told them, after that, it’s up to your performance. I’m not going to discriminate based on age. Otherwise it’s too much like just stamping labels on them: this one yes, this one no. Let their play speak for them.

In Brazil, tradition has it that as soon as a World Cup ends, you begin to construct the Seleção for the next one. But it’s very far off, no? 

Athletes show that they still have it, new talents emerge, others that looked like they were sure bets don’t pan out.

Players from other nations announced that they were retiring from national team play after the World Cup. Spain’s David Silva is one example. No Brazilian player did this. Or in other words, they’re leaving it up to you.

If I were the coach of Spain, I’d grab David Silva and say: “Come on, don’t say that, let the chips fall as they may” [laughs]. That’s what I’ll do with Fernandinho.

The Manchester City midfielder still has yet to return since the World Cup, but Tite repeatedly cites him as an example. Fernandinho was one of the players most blamed for the loss to Belgium. He opened the scoring by putting the ball into his own net, and then couldn’t stop Lukaku on the counter-attack that led to the second goal. But none of this has diminished him in the coach’s eyes. 

I know that him and his family were very upset. Nobody feels it more than the families of the players and the coaching staff. It’s not money, we’re representing our country. But I’m not going to let an accident ruin that. I’ll fix the tactical foul that he should have made on that counter, but an  accident? No. Look at how City plays. Look at how he played before that game against Belgium. Maybe he’d have played even if Casemiro weren’t suspended. He was playing so well when he came on as a substitute. And he’s a great leader.

Brazil’s U-23 team will have to finish in the top two of the South American Youth Football Championship to play at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Tite will not coach that team. In this interview, he confirmed what had reported in August, and explained his reasoning.

You won’t coach the Olympic team, right? 

No. There’s a good structure of youth teams at the CBF. You need to follow the players with a magnifying glass, and I can’t. There are so many variables, you need a specialist for that.

Are they in good hands with Carlos Amadeu, then? 

Yes, especially now that Branco has come back to coordinate. There’s a very good staff. Over time, we’ve established a close relationship with the youth teams. Amadeu and Guilherme [Dalla Déa, the U-17 coach] give us analyses of players they’ve already coached, like Richarlison.

While on the subject, Tite decided to take on one of the criticisms that most bothers him: that he turned the Seleção technical commission into a group of friends. With his voice raised he said:

In 2016, we came here with four professionals: me, Matheus Bachi, Cleber Xavier, Edu Gaspar. Anyone who talks about “favors” needs to wash out their mouth. We brought in four professionals and worked from there. Two and a half years on, we’re still the same four professionals. It’s a nucleus, that thinks the same way, that criticizes flaws in the same way. All the others were already here. Did we bring in any more friends? Nobody. Did we change out the doctors, press officers, goalkeeping trainers? No. Did we bring any friends in to coach or coordinate the youth teams? Absolutely not. We formed a team to do this job.

Talking about the Olympics also opened the door to talk about two of Brazil’s biggest young talents: Vinicius Júnior and Rodrygo.

In 2016, the Olympics helped prepare Gabriel Jesus. Perhaps he wouldn’t have started so well with the senior side if he hadn’t first played in that tournament. Will the next one be similar for players like Vinicius Júnior, Rodrygo, Paulinho, among others?

Yes. Not least to understand how they react and behave, because our vision is very similar to that of Amadeu and Guilherme. It’ll be similar, yes.

You said recently that you thought about calling up Rodrygo, but he wasn’t physically mature. Did you think about calling up Vinicius Júnior too? 

Yes, I considered it too. But he was leaving Flamengo, adapting, having not yet trained or played with Real Madrid’s senior team, so it was a particularly difficult time. But I thought about it. And I’ll tell you what I discussed with Amadeu. He said: “Tite, Vinicius has an amazing ability to attract media attention just being himself. He’s very easy to work with. But he brings this incredible media fascination wherever he goes.”

Over time, he’ll mature in his execution and decision-making. It’s not there yet. He’s very much about feints, one-on-ones, but over time he’ll learn to be more collective, look more for the assist, be a little calmer in his decision-making.

Rodrygo has an impressive lucidity. The decisions he makes—Jair Ventura [Santos’ coach for the first half of 2018] told me: “Tite, he looks like a veteran out there, mature in the choices he makes.”  If a player has overlapped him, he cuts inside. If they’ve cut off a passing option, he holds the ball and switches play. If he’s given space, he goes for the dribble. It’s incredible the decisions he makes in the moment.

Is Rodrygo more ready, even being six months younger?

Mentally. His mental game is better. He doesn’t yet have the physical ability, which Vinicius already does. But mentally—Rodrygo’s mental game is like a 25-year-old’s. He already plays for the team. Vinicius is still that individualist, but he seems to have a good head and that bodes well for his development. Knowing how to listen is key to development. He listens and acts.

In that same interview, you expressed disappointment that Rodrygo was sold to Real Madrid (he’ll join them in 2019, when he turns 18). Do you think it slows the development of young players? 

I was lamenting that we weren’t going to have better football in Brazil. I wanted that he stayed longer, like with Vinicius, Paquetá, the whole of the 2015 Corinthians team, Arthur at Grêmio. But foreign teams come and take them abroad.

The midfield was in Tite’s mind the Seleção’s biggest problem at the World Cup. Renato Augusto’s performances fluctuated. Dani Alves, who supported the build-up play, got hurt. Coutinho came inside and his replacement on the wing, Willian, didn’t match his movements. A FIFA technical review produced a map of the average position of every Brazil player without the ball, and showed Paulinho further forward than Coutinho. Tite produced this map:

Look at the positioning without the ball. Look where Coutinho and Paulinho are. Paulinho a bit more forward. The idea was always the inverse, and I have to regulate this. Arthur sits deeper and leaves Coutinho further forward.

Arthur is the key to balance for a nation that produces masses of wingers, but fewer talents who play in the center, the sort of rhythm-makers that Tite sought but never found. [Editor’s note: If this was such a priority, why didn’t Tite lean harder on Jorginho? Jorginho reportedly had his heart set all along on representing Italy, but Tite could surely have done more than call him and leave the decision up to the player.]

Why does Brazil produce so many players who play on the sides of the pitch and so few quality ones in the middle? 

Barcelona’s academies in Brazil use Barcelona’s methodology. No goalie in their academies hoofs the ball up, they build from the back. Their methodology is collective play, triangulations, passing plays. And that develops creative midfielders. Arthur. Maicon, from Grêmio. Renato Augusto, Casemiro, and Fernandinho, who reinvented themselves as articulators.

There’s two Brazilian schools of thought: one of long balls, contact and fouls, of running more and playing less. But there are teams playing the ball. Bahia does it. Ceará does it. I’m not going based on position in the table, but the idea, the model.

Methodologically, if I had to invest in the youth categories, my project would be to have articulation, coordination, speed of thought and execution. And small pitches to accelerate the process of thinking and executing, making decisions that fit the coach’s plans. That system could accelerate the emergence of midfielders like Arthur or Paquetá, who’s more of an attacking midfielder.

You cited Arthur as a deeper player and Paquetá as a more advanced one. Doesn’t Europe create more hybrid players, who execute both functions? Kroos, Modrić, Rakitić…

Yes. Arthur plays deeper, for him to start advancing more will take more time. Tostão said that he’s more like Xavi than Iniesta. That’s clear. Iniesta came from outside to in in the final third. Paquetá is more about arriving in the attack. Maybe because of the difference in methodology, other countries create more players of this type, but I’m seeing them appear more in Brazil.

Note that Tite talked earlier about Paquetá, unprompted. This happened in the press conference for his last callup, too. Without being asked, the coach mentioned the name of the Flamengo midfielder, absent from the list because of the limits imposed by the CBF’s domestic calendar. And here, the praise was more specific.

Your biggest post-World Cup frustration has been not having Paquetá available for two of these three callups? 

Yes. Now there’s less time for him to shine at the start of  this cycle. He thinks on the same wavelength as Coutinho and Neymar. Even without practice—look at how he played against El Salvador, where our obligation was to score 4 or 5, don’t let them shoot, and have their goalie be the best player on the field. And look when he got  the ball: with barely any time in the team and not knowing Neymar, the two of them were playing one-twos without looking. It’s a qualitative analysis, the numbers serve to back it up. But he knew how Neymar was going to move even with his back turned, and went to play the one-twos.

Some players just think differently. He thinks a fraction, a thousandth of a second ahead of everyone else. That’s enough to remove the possibility of marking him. He has that quality. But he’s not an articulator. For me he’s an attacking midfielder. He’s the third in a three-man midfield. He’d be the “enganche” in a 4-2-3-1 or a diamond, not least because he appears in the area and is very good with his head. In one of our tactical training sessions, Matheus [Bachi] was explaining, “We want to work the ball from this side in like this”, and Paquetá looked and said: “You want me to move into the box like this, right?” He already knew and already wanted to do it.

Giving the captain’s armband to Neymar earned Tite a lot of criticism. He revealed this on the eve of the friendly against the United States, the first since the World Cup, in a conversation in the stadium’s dressing room. 

“It was me, him, and the walls,” says the coach. 

You decided to make Neymar captain on that day?

That decision had been building for a while.  I decided to stop rotating the captaincy because that period had already passed and the criticisms were pertinent. National teams are different from clubs, there’s no daily contact between players, and I needed to rethink things.

I’ve read that Neymar is playing as a midfielder for PSG. It’s something of an exaggeration given that his positioning is only somewhat more central than before, no? 

Last week he was back on the left side again. It’s not his routine. I’ve sometimes used him more inside or more outside, with the freedom to roam, because it’s in his Santos DNA: float about right behind the volantes and appear as a surprise element to shoot. But from there to say that he’s playing centrally? Eventually, yes.

Can Neymar be better still? Can he still improve? Can the Neymar of the 2022 World Cup be better than the 2018 one?

Yes. I believe he’ll be better. Because he’ll keep his physical gifts. He’s very gifted physically. The people who help him keep in shape won’t turn him into a robot. He’ll keep his agility, acceleration, deceleration, dodges, changes of direction. He was one of the fastest-accelerating players at the World Cup, even returning after an injury. He still wasn’t completely back, but after our last friendly against Argentina, I talked with Fábio (Mahseredijan, fitness coach) about how he’s already back at a high level.

That means that physically, he won’t decline. But can that make him grow technically? 

He’ll improve from a consistent 6 to 8 performer to a 7 to 9. That’s with maturity, better decision-making, knowing the right times to use energy. He doesn’t necessarily know those things now, but he will when he’s 29. It’s maturity. There are things I only know today.