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Is the modern Brazilian method the perfect way of playing football?

June 28, 2010

Brazil are the winners of a record five World Cups. They are the undoubted kings of football, and they produce what we like to call ‘special’ players. In an age in which the formation is a vital part of the game, I investigate whether the Brazilian way is the perfect strategy to be the best.

The Brazilian public are very proud people. They love football more than life itself and they value their national team as a jeweller would value their pearls. As a result, they wish and long to see the brand of football that made the Brazil of the 20th century so enterprising to watch. They seek a repeat of the era that brought the world Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho and so on. Unfortunately, the realism is that football works in generations. One generation may bring an extraordinarily good team, whilst the next may not be so fulfilling or rewarding for that same team. In the same way, one generation’s way of playing may prove more successful than the next, and therefore football has to change with the times. Whilst the Brazil of 1958 or 1970 brought such fluidity and grace to the football world, today’s Brazil is a seemingly different entity.

Those people who remember Brazil’s victorious 1994 squad will know only too well that Dunga was the inspiration behind the whole show that saw Canarinho lift their 4th global trophy. His dogged attitude, tireless work ethic and outstanding leadership qualities may not be at all characteristic of a Brazilian footballer, but having witnessed the class of 2010 dominate in this year’s World Cup, it may be clear to some that those characteristics have rubbed off a little on his current crop of stars.

I don’t need to tell you that Fabio Capello has come under much fire from the media and the England fans regarding his choice of formation and his overall approach to the match against Germany, in particular. a 4-4-2 strategy was dubbed naive by some, out-of-date by others, and completely flawed by all. Dunga, on the other hand, has not only shown Capello and co. that football has moved on from the days of the standard 4-4-2 formation, but has all but perfected the more modern approach of 4-2-3-1.

The 1994 Brazil were the first team in my lifetime to employ such a strategy, and whilst some may question whether it is too negative or if it is entirely necessary to play with two anchor men in the midfield, you can’t argue with a strategy that came to be so successful. Back then, Captain Dunga was partnered by Mauro Silva in front of a centre-back partnership of Marcio Santos and Aldair. This gave solid protection against the threat of the ‘trequartista’, a position now commonly known as the ‘playmaker’ role. This protection meant that the fullbacks were allowed far more freedom to bomb forward down the wings and support attacking moves. In 1994, Brazil had Cafu and Jorginho to do exactly that, and after Jorginho retired, in stepped Roberto Carlos to do the same job. Cafu and Roberto Carlos were regarded as two of the best fullbacks to have ever graced the Brazilian game, and they were fundamental to the success Brazil enjoyed leading up to and during the 2002 World Cup finals in East Asia. However, would this have been possible without the use of the anchor men, and would a different strategy have restricted Cafu and Roberto Carlos’ freedom going forward?

If we fast forward to today, Dunga has adopted the very same style that saw him lift the World Cup 16 years ago, and as of now, it has been extremely effective. Lucio and Juan, the two centre-halfs, are contrasting in style but equal in effect, a difference that means they compliment each other very well. Juan is very much an old-fashioned central defender, a player who is not afraid to hit the big challenges and put his body on the line. Lucio is what is known as a ‘footballing centre-half’, someone who looks to start the forward movement from the back with either simple 10-yard passes into the midfield, or long, flat bullets up towards the front man and out to the wings. He is comfortable in possession, and is quick enough to recover when Brazil have lost the ball. England have seeked a player like that for a very long time, and we thought we’d found the answer in Rio Ferdinand. Unfortunately for us though, Lucio is everything Rio Ferdinand tries and fails to be.

Maicon and Michel Bastos are today’s Cafu and Jorginho, and whilst Cafu is widely thought of as the best, Maicon is rapidly becoming a very similar entity. His pigeon-toed technique is very reminiscent of Roberto Carlos, who of course patrolled the opposite flank, and his sporadic darts forward are as effective as Roberto Carlos as well. Michel Bastos still has some way to go to match the quality of a Cafu or a Roberto Carlos, or even a Maicon, but with time and experience, he will turn into a mighty fine player.

With such a rigid heart, made up by the aggressive Felipe Melo and the unflappable Gilberto Silva, the more dynamic and creative players are allowed total freedom to do what they do best. Playmakers such as Kaka and Robinho have the knowledge that they are well protected behind the ball, and they have the ability to make sure that they use the ball in the best possible way. They are supported by Luis Fabiano, a tall, strong striker who is equally adept at holding the ball up as he is at beating players and scoring superb goals. Once again, the silky skills of Robinho, Kaka, Nilmar, Daniel Alves and the rest are perfectly balanced out by the physical prowess of Luis Fabiano, or going back to 2002, Ronaldo. In comparison to the 4-4-2 and England’s use of that particular formation, there is more creativity, more originality, more flexibility and more protection in the defensive 3rd. In a 4-4-2 it is very easy for either one of the central midfielders to forget their defensive duties, exemplified by the Lampard-Gerrard combination of recent times. Even with one anchor man, Gareth Barry, England and the 4-4-2 were vulnerable to the counter-attack and outnumbered by a 5-man midfield. The reason England conceded 4 times against Germany, and Brazil have conceded just twice in the whole tournament, is simply the numbers that the respective sides have in defence. If we take an attacking corner as an example, England would very often have just 2 back, with both centre-halfs and one fullback pushed forward, leaving just the other fullback and Gareth Barry to guard against the break. Indeed, Brazil would send both Lucio and Juan forward for the corner, but would leave both fullbacks and at least one anchor man back to defend any potential counter-attack. You don’t have to be a genius to realise that one system is far more effective than the other, and that is the reason England are on the plane home, and Brazil are in the quarter-finals.

It was a naive and clearly unsuccessful use of an outdated system by England, whilst Brazil have adopted a far more effective and modern way of playing the game. Of course, there will be the odd flaw, and when Brazil come up against a team such as Argentina, then their so-far unbreakable defensive 6 will be tested to the  max. The Brazilian public may not be too impressed by such a strategy, but sure enough if Brazil go on to lift their 6th World Cup trophy, they will soon be converts to what I believe is the closest thing to the perfect way of playing football.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. maserati4200 permalink
    June 29, 2010 12:43 pm

    Good article.

    However, I would suggest that Carlos Alberto was the greatest full-back Brazil ever had (part of the fabulous 1970 team).

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