It’s been too long. Brazil should have 6 World Cups by now. Fuelled by Ronaldo and his post France ’98 anger, Brazil won its 5th trophy with a ‘F*ck you!’ performance in 2002. They had an average age of 27, including some of the top players in the world. In the next edition, they trotted out half of the same squad that won the previous cup. In terms of youngsters, they brought a 24 year old Kaka and a 22 year old Robinho. In 2010, Dunga decided to forgo the big names and brought 8 from 2006 and 3 from 2002 – mostly defence-men – with an average age of 29. He also brought a quarter-final exit. Now, with a fresh team of youngsters Brazil is trying to become relevant again on the big stage.
Just as Ronaldo (the fat one) faded, another Ronaldo (dinho) took over as the best player by emerging as the most flamboyant midfielder in the world. However, at 26 Ronaldinho could not fabricate enough attacking options in 2006, along with the rest of the squad, to make it past the French in the quarterfinals. Since 2002, when key members grew too old to play at world-class level, the dominance Brazil enjoyed was lost due to the inability of the newer crop to develop into a team. Kaka was supposed to be alongside Ronaldinho, keeping the dominance going by providing consistency to Ronaldinho’s flair. Similarly, Robinho would be the dash to Adriano’s smash.
Real Madrid could be seen to have had a hand in the quartet’s demise, seeing as they brought Ronaldo over from Inter, Robinho from Santos and Kaka from Milan (who, while at Real Madrid, had arguably their worst seasons). But the blame must fall squarely on the shoulders of those whose job it was to push the momentum of success onwards. Robinho never developed into the great striker we claimed he would be; Kaka, upon going to Real had injury problems and didn’t get picked; Adriano got mentally distraught at Inter and has been in a downward spiral ever since; and once Ronaldinho became replaceable with the emergence of Messi he was more a luxury than a necessity.
So what’s changed? The next phase has begun. When Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cafu and Rivaldo were dominating, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Adriano and Julio Cesar were still growing up and learning their style of play. However, they were not able to keep playing at a top level for a long enough period of time to mentor the next generation. Finally, the next generation are here.
With the Olympics as a stage the new Brazil has arrived. Their success has been in the spotlight back home, but with an international stage the rest of the world caught a glimpse of their talent; the European clubs sure did: Lucas and Thiago Silva signed at PSG for £35 million each, Oscar with Chelsea for £25 million, and Hulk headed to Zenit St Petersburg for a massive £45 million. The few remaining stars left (Dani Alves and Marcelo, for example) added to those role players already in Europe, such as Romulo at Spartak Moscow, Sandro at Tottenham, and Lucas Leiva at Liverpool. Evidently, the Brazilians are making a comeback in Europe.
Even though the average age of this team is of 23, the back-line of the team is surprisingly experienced for a team famous for its attacking prowess. Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea and Real Madrid all contribute to the defensive line of the current Brazil side With Dani Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Marcelo, Brazil boasts a solid yet flexible back four which would present problems to any strike partnership in the world.
However, this strong defence is undermined by the inconsistency currently looming in goal. Moving from one of the best keepers in the world, in Julio Cesar, to a slew of young unproven candidates, the position most over-contested in Spain’s national team is the one the Brazilians would kill to have filled. Confidence comes from behind; most great attacking teams have goalies that allow them the luxury of moving forward.
With such a young team, the veterans are extremely important. The great thing about this team is that the experience is spread out to key positions. Thiago Silva serves as a steady hand at the back, Dani Alves and Marcelo provide the link-up down the flanks, and Hulk, the goal-scoring opportunities up top. This framework of experience allows the youngsters to settle into secondary roles, and if they go on to exceed these roles then that is when the team will shine.
Similar to Germany in 2010 (average age 25), the experience Brazil has gained at the Olympics has bonded them as a squad, right on time for the 2014 World Cup. Having victory at 2014 as a main goal is expected but perhaps not the most realistic as Spain still has a firm grip, as their national team’s talent is still young enough (average age 27) to hold the competition off for a while longer. If the young Brazilians continue to develop as they currently are, they could possibly find a way to overcome Spain’s dominance in a few years. It would be nice to bring the World Cup back where it belongs. Let’s hope they can relive that blessed 1950 final round in Brazil.