Recognised as a fundamental factor to international achievement by reformist national team coach Tite – as evident in the trio of Série A-based present selections, and fifteen recent debuts or Dunga-defied recalls for internally-based individuals to the illustrious Brazilian international scene – the foundation blocks of the well-oiled South American footballing machine, namely domestic divisions such as the Brasileirão, had previously been erroneously neglected as a void of inopportunity, to the extent that exploiting the preying eyes of European suitors appeared an begrudging necessity. Without entirely shedding this semblance of economic ensnaring, the pervading culture of inevitable exporting obligation that defined the reigns of pragmatically Brasileirão-averse Dunga, Mano Menezes and Luiz Felipe Scolari has certainly experienced a dissolution under Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, or Tite. Perhaps the longest-serving and most prosperous helmsman in the regional sporting legacies of both Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo states, with 25 non-consecutive years, seven league titles at a range of alternating levels, a Copa do Brasil, three continental cups and two intercontinental trophies – including the FIFA Club World Cup – to his name, and renowned for his eloquence, humility and studious approach, the 56-year-old has injected an immediate remedy to the malaise that festered amongst Dunga’s unconvincing conservative tactics; reinvigorating international fortunes with a run of nine consecutive World Cup qualifying victories, while also proving considerate to his domestic heritage.
Aside from Tite’s poignant appointment however, what evolutions in cultural policy do widely-respected, yet profoundly underachieving clubs in Santos, Grêmio, Corinthians and Flamengo – amongst others – have to attribute tentative recent transitions into continental authority, and are they such that they could survive the loss of Tite’s national stewardship? Realistically, will politically unstable Brazil, as a footballing nation desperately shy of the financial capabilities of European competitors, be eternally and ubiquitously ruled by economic obligations, thus rendering any continental resurgence effectively internationally irrelevant, if at all possible? Irrespective of unparalleled World Cup accomplishment – the foundations of which, in all occurrences other than the transient zenith of 1970, were plotted in now-unimaginable generations of youthfully expressive home-based talent – does the Brazilian footballing establishment demand a drastic self-examination amidst its shortcomings on the domestic platform, considering the Série A represents the sixth-largest population, and ninth strongest economy, on earth? These are the queries posing Brazil’s very psyche, with football as its celebratory sole, and the ability to harness such fervour for more than mere economic gain in the transition of a new era with an increasing value on continuity and balance above high-flying stars.
Certainly, possessing a far more diverse reserve of domestic skills – both in tactical and technical respects – has appeared to be, if anything, detrimental to Brazil’s continental exploits, namely in the Copa Libertadores, throughout their history. Geographically blessed with as vast an expanse of riches as an entire continent could boast, the interspersing cities of São Paulo – the Southern Hemisphere’s most populated –, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Salvador, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre define the sheer audience and mobility the sport inherits; enabling global audiences to realise the obsession in prominent Twitter trends, in particular, proclaiming the latest club saviours and condemning the martyrs of defeat.
Encapsulating such infamously competitive inner-city rivalries as the affectionately abbreviated Fla-Flu of Flamengo vs Fluminense, the Paulista Derby, pitting Corinthians against Palmeiras, the Clássico Majestoso of São Paulo vs Corinthians and Choque-Rei involving Palmeiras and São Paulo, Brazil’s perpetual jousting match for temporary authority undoubtedly saturates their threat on the continental stage; boasting ten different Copa Libertadores victors, yet half with a single win, and only two with a trio of titles – Santos and São Paulo, in comparison with Argentina’s Independiente and Boca Juniors, with seven unbeaten finals appearances and six titles respectively. Between 2010 and 2013, notably, Brazil had four consecutive triumphs in the competition; yet each from a different club in Internacional, Santos, Corinthians and Atlético Mineiro, signifying, in explicit circumstances, the lack of national guidance, potentially also interpreted as an admirable potency of multiplicity many could contrast with Scottish, Greek, Egyptian and Serbian football, for example.
This cannot be solely condemned as the consistently undermining factor to the Brazilian pursuit of pre-eminence in FIFA’s second continent, however. Embroiled, objectively, in an ominous 53% final appearance win percentage – compared to the Argentinian Primera División’s 73% - and trailing their neighbours by seven victories, wider statistics elaborate the truth of general inferiority; Brazil returning only one fewer final appearance, with 32 to Argentina’s 33, but winning only 30.8%, or four, of their 13 final ties with Argentinian sides, and claiming 64.7% of their titles against perceived weaker nations – three times against Uruguayan outfits, twice against sides from Chile and Colombia and once against Paraguayan, Ecuadorian, Mexican and Peruvian representatives.
Obliged to partake in 38 Brasileirão matches in the space of just 204 days – compared to the 282 days the Premier League elapses – almost immediately after completing what, for top sides, would be an eighteen-match, thirteen-week state championship campaign, and while fulfilling anything between Santos’ one and Cruzeiro’s fourteen Copa do Brasil ties and regional cup (the Copa de Nordeste, Copa Verde or Primeira Liga) fixtures, which saw Copa Sudamericana qualifiers Cruzeiro, notably, line up another five times, the demands of the mystifying Brazilian seasonal structure drain fitness levels drastically, certainly in comparison with Argentinian exploits. A mere 27 Primera División matches in a serene 261 days, when coupled with, at most, six Copa Argentina matches from the round of 64 to the final, represent the entirety of expectations southwest of the Rio Grande do Sul state, surely asserting the evidence to support José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s recent claims that the League Cup should effectively be abolished by the FA to enable continentally qualified English sides to stand a greater chance of breaching Spanish, German, Italian and French Champions League ascendancy.
Facing, at the very least, a competitive match exactly every five days – or in the most radically conflicting case of Belo Horizonte’s multi-faceted Cruzeiro, every 3.99 days – compared to a minimum of 7.68 days per match confronting Argentine counterparts, or a 5.44 extreme for Copa Argentina finalists, Supercopa Argentina representatives and Copa Libertadores finalists, the situation for Brazil’s Libertadores or Sudamericana travellers evidently manifests as desperate. Admittedly, Argentina’s late August-to-mid May schedule has the constitutional hindrance of conflicting a summer break with the final two game weeks of both the otherwise domestically interspersing Libertadores group stages and round of sixteen, yet being condemned to four continental matches – only two of which, realistically, will involve long-haul flights – in the entirety of just over three months hardly appears an arduous inconvenience in perspective with Brazilian bondage to routine. Victims of the unquenchable national thirst for footballing totality, Brasileirão managers and players are submitted to unenviable psychological and physiological demands for a fraction of the financial reward of European overlords.
It is little wonder then, that, at the mercy of an insensitive association – the CBF, or Confederação Brasileira de Futebol – presently embroiled in corruption investigations, the coveted talents of Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Barbosa, Walace, William and Thiago Maia, simply as those selected in the poignantly victorious 2016 Rio Olympics campaign, have fled to European abodes in Manchester, Milan, Hamburg, Wolfsburg and Lille respectively. Rather than have themselves besmirched amongst scenes of 76-year-old CBF President Marco Polo Del Nero’s self-imposed exile from foreign functions – at fear of being indicted for money laundering and electronic fraud claims lodged by U.S prosecutors in territories with extradition agreements – another unarguable sentiment supporting the case for exploiting elitist interest manifests in the sheer instability of Brazilian sport. Chasms exposed by the 2015 FBI investigation, which also revealed the bribes received by Del Noro’s predecessors and fellow former FIFA Executive Committee members, Ricardo Teixeira and José Maria Marin, during broadcasting right processes for both the Copa Libertadores and Copa do Brasil, truly confound the farcical discrepancies within history’s most dominant footballing nation between the idealistic depictions of bursting, atmospheric stadium landscapes worshipping technically majestic playing performances from the brightest prospects of the national game under functional, ethical governance, and the unfortunate reality of gradually declining Série A matchday attendances – from 51.74% averages in 2015, to 44.34% 2016 figures – and visibly stagnating tactical and technical capabilities that submissively enable the dissent of Jesus’, Barbosa’s and Maia’s ilk.
Evidently, this isn’t an issue Brazil faces alone within CONMEBOL’s ten constituent nations; the lack of nationally-based representatives in the most recent international squads of Argentina and Uruguay alone speaks volumes about the institutionalised siphoning off of premature prodigies throughout South America. Furthering demands for appearances on such a stage, let alone the pursuit of inconceivable financial gains, the political manoeuvre of engineering a departure to Europe’s prosperous shores may be unenviable when considering the reputational ramifications amongst teammates, fellow former academy graduates and national loyalists, but when admiring the coaching that enabled Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, José Giménez, Luiz Suarez, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez to exponentially hone generation-defining talents from the foundation of just a cumulative 164 senior league appearances, any apparent loyalty to the development of domestic division standards erodes, with the futility of a task romantically reliant on perhaps a handful of individuals evident.
If ineffective continental administrators – who, let it not be left unstated, have produced half of FIFA’s current top ten ranked nations, nine of the 20 historic World Cup wins and five of ten Confederations Cup victors – continue in their economically-imposed subservience to European brethren, then, there is little alternative, if pursuing greater global relevance, than for the CBF to take the reins and lead a continental procession towards such a promised land. Pragmatically, however, any such ambitious horizons are decidedly limited by the fundamental socio-economic subordination that defines the poverty-stricken Favelas, isolated agricultural regions and systematically corrupt, ineffective politics of Brazil – and largely representative of South America’s striking flaws. When young Brazilian footballers are hailed as the products of the streets – as opposed to those descended from Spanish, German or French fast-tracking systems, highly reliant on the employment of data and technology – there is an undoubted degree of sensationalised romanticism to the depiction, but only to the extent of the role of ‘samba’ talents in their scouting and elevation to eventual senior duties; signalling the blatant divergence such individuals will inevitably prove. South American footballers are of a completely different breed, and as a factor in the modern game that should be embraced and supported at its roots, as opposed to exploited for the will of Catalans, Madrilenians, Mancunians, Londoners or Parisians; who, despite the apparent goodwill they may state in counter-argument, fund not the reinvestment in local clubs, but the preservation of a corrupt association and the social security of agents, a national elite, with their exorbitant transfer fees.
Protecting the profitability of the Brasileirão, amongst other Latin-American divisions, and re-establishing audiences not only through televisual means but primarily by improving attendance figures, appears the crux of the matter then. Yet it can never come to fruition without the trust of academy graduates, who otherwise will inevitably exploit European interest. Unless a radical overhaul of administrative processes is implemented by clubs over their regional and national governors – as is presently impossible, thanks to the CBF General Assembly’s March decision to grant the 27 State Federations absolute power in a sly tampering of internal voting boundaries that saw the Federations granted three votes each, the 20 Brasileirão clubs two apiece and one to each in Série B, thus delivering the Federations a 81-60 voting advantage on any constitutional decision – the disillusion of coaches, young players and a potentially paying audience will drive the CBF eventually into complete disarray.
This is where the Brasileirão must be currently thankful for Tite; a humble, semi-professional playing product epitomising the innovative, honest and ambitious values of true Brazilian football. The only manager to plot the success of a South American, or even non-European, side in the FIFA World Club Cup in the previous decade with his 2012 victory with Corinthians – ousting an unstable, injury-hit Chelsea side in the final with overtly defensive tactics – many Brazilian-based journalists and local fans have supported his claims to the vaulted chalice, particularly after his jour de gloire with São Paulo’s Corinthians; where, in spells either side of a sabbatical year to closer observe the trends and demands of modern global football, he achieved his first duo of Brasileirão titles, his first Copa Libertadores, Recopa Sudamericana – effectively the equivalent of the UEFA Super Cup – and, of course, FIFA Club World Cup, arguably the pinnacle of club football achievement.
Rather than shun his Série A heritage, the recognition of its mutually beneficial relationship with the national team – not least in diverting from the unrestrained egos of Neymar, Dani Alves, Thiago Silva and David Luiz – has proven immediately productive in the balance of a squad largely constructed on tactical worth, as opposed to club pedigree; so often the detriment of the English national side. Unorthodox selections in 32-year-old striker Diego Tardelli and former Corinthians operatives 30-year-old centre-back Gil and 29-year-old midfielder Renato Augusto – all now plying their trade in the Chinese Super League – complement the preference of Flamengo’s former Wolfsburg and Werder Bremen attacking midfielder Diego and Shakhtar Donetsk’s fellow playmaker Fred ahead of Oscar, seemingly forgotten since his Chelsea stint, and Monaco’s centre-back Jemerson over Luiz, only elaborating this unapologetically independently-minded policy. Commendable, certainly, in both its intentions and execution – not yet reneged with distraught revolt, and succumbing to only a single defeat in a 1-0 Melbourne ‘Superclásico de las Américas’ affair with Argentina this June – the ideology strikes as unprecedently un-Brazilian; historically the source of Pelé, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Zico, Sócrates, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Romário, Ronaldinho and Neymar, each genuine pioneers of their art.
Yet each of these architects required diligent, if similarly cultured, workforces in their pursuit of international football’s zenith. Amongst a modern landscape of economic dominance, with cohesive team structure a rarely-focused construct, where better, then, to pursue the foil to Neymar than in the humility of the Brasileirão faithful; thus harnessing the frustration that pervades the subjects of corrupt, self-interested associational rule from within. Vitally, what Tite comprehends, and is able to steer himself clear of, are the political burdens of any international role, especially as the public face of an organisation that lacks even the distinguished legality to send its President to Zurich-based FIFA Assemblies or CONMEBOL’s Luque Headquarters, in Paraguay. Thus, the cynic’s assertion would be that the continued selection of Série A individuals strikes the exact balance for Tite of appearing to believe in the national production line – particularly of later developers – while favouring Spanish, English, French and Italian-based stars, with Chinese defectors as the anomaly to such an apparent conspiracy.
Realistically, there would appear to be truthful sentiment to the manager’s inclusion, currently of Cássio, Diego and Arthur – Corinthians’ uncapped goalkeeper, the aforementioned Flamengo 32-year-old and Grêmio’s diminutive 21-year-old central midfielder –, but more characteristically of in-form Série A assets capable of the transition to international demands. Elevation to the gilded Granja Comary company at the site that has greeted all array of superstars since its 1987 inauguration may prove fundamental to the advancement of Brasileirão standards, and the tangible motivation for a reinvigorated generation of Brazilian-based talents with faith in a pathway not unequivocally laced with the pre-requisite of a relocation to Europe’s largest cities. Liberate such players further with the expulsion of archaic, economically futile State Championship fixtures, and their continental progress may improve; five of the eight Série A representatives ending Copa Libertadores Group Stage victors this season, yet only one – Grêmio – reaching the Semi-Final in a combination of misfortune (five Brazilian sides all in the same half of the draw) and inadequacies in squad management (Palmeiras and Santos both eliminated after failing to win at the Ecuadorian Barcelona’s Guayaquil port base, while tasked with at least 10-hour flights either way), explicitly defining the pre-existing detriments of their present schedules.
Clearly, Tite cannot solve this issue. Traditionalists – in the most lenient of portrayals – possess control of the CBF, and thus traditional values reign. The fact blatant and systematic corruption defines almost every individual involved in this regime counts, evidently, for very little, and after many decades of gradual dissolution of a once-supreme division and clique of authoritative clubs, all hope appears to have been extradited with it. Brazil, inherently, is not an apathetic, nor vulnerable, territory for footballing misdemeanours and misuses of the cause, yet the submission of only capturing ephemeral glimpses of successive generations of exported luxuries too valuable for the distortion of an arduous and nonsensical homeland task has proven a defaming too much for supporters not priced out of the game, but shamed from its terraces. Even in the great Maracanã, vast sections seemingly exclusively reserved for national team matches lay unpopulated each Fluminense match day. Yet this spectre is representative of events from Rio to São Paulo, Belo Horizonte to Recife, and Porto Alegre to Salvador; audiences are swayed towards televisual viewership, or, yet worse, led astray by the European game. Grêmio’s Luan, Arthur and Everton, São Paulo’s Rodrigo Caio and Fluminense’s Wendel may be amongst a talented contingent retained by patriotic charms, but without a captive audience, fallacies of the objectivity of national selection appear unobtainable. Such issues will, fundamentally, persist unsolved unless there is improbable administrative compromise. In a case of the once irresistible force against an immovable object, the conflict of the former has proven victim to the exhausting political carousel of Brazilian daily life. The ultimate injustice and hindrance of modern Brazilian football – when it should be transitioning, with a progressive national coach, into the foundation for international exploits – is that a blasphemous few will prove detrimental to an entire population, that, in the words of Pelé, “eats, sleeps and drinks football. It lives football!”
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!