“Artists in working clothes”. The phrase always grates when uttered in connection with Brazilian football, and it was a well-worn cliche during Dunga’s reign as manager.
Under the erstwhile ‘midfield anchor’, you got the feeling that the Brazil players were on a leash – with Dunga at the other end of it – playing within themselves and happy to get by on one-nils and penalty shootouts. It is no surprise that the man himself skippered the Brazil side that did just that in 1994; ‘winning’ the World Cup on spot kicks after a dreadfully sterile final with Italy.
Perhaps it was Dunga’s influence as captain, or the fact that so many of his team-mates played in the safety-first world of European football – in contrast to the home-based squads of previous tournaments. Either way, that performance and the newly-pragmatic approach of previously liberated players, went against the spirit the Brazilians generated in 1982 and 1970.
Ah, Mario Zagallo’s 1970 side. It was my misfortune that the Mexico tournament was the first I saw, as a seven year old. After watching the Brazil of Pele, Jarizhino, Carlos Alberto and the rest play football of pure instinctive brilliance, anything else was bound to be a comedown – though Tele Santana’s ’82 team of Eder, Zico and Socrates ran them close.
The latter’s 3-2 second-round defeat to Italy, in one of the great World Cup matches, persuaded the Brazilians that a more functional approach would serve them better, and the ‘success’ at USA ’94 confirmed this. But football fans the world over remember the marvellous game in the Estadio Sarria. The same cannot be said of the dull denoument in Los Angeles.
Ex-Corinthians boss Mano Menezes took over after Dunga paid with his job for Brazil’s last-eight exit in South Africa. He made a positive start by bringing back Ronaldinho – a spectator in 2010 after his omission from the squad – but with the naysayers getting louder, may not survive until 2014. One can only hope that Menezes, or his successor, taps some of the spirit and expression of 1970. If they do, a triumph for the hosts isn’t out of the question.
Let’s face it, you wouldn’t have hired Vincent Van Gogh to paint the kitchen ceiling, and you wouldn’t want Brazil playing in the style of Colin Harvey’s Everton, would you?