Following the elimination of the Brazilian national team from the World Cup in South Africa, Dunga, the head coach, became the target of some particularly vicious attacks by the Brazilian press. It is almost as if he is being crucified. The attacks targeted his temperament as a coach, the tactical schemes he utilized with the squad, the bureaucratic structure and the lack of flair in the way the team plays, his tenuous relationship with the press and the fact that certain players were left out of the final roster that would travel to South Africa. Those are the stated reasons, but perhaps the media is after Dunga for reasons that have nothing to do with soccer.
The press in the United States, for the most part, protects their icons and national heroes. On the other hand, a certain segment (the eternal critics) of the Brazilian press have the habit of cannibalistically chewing their head coaches; reveling in the business of character assassination whenever given a chance. No matter what you do or not do they will predictably find something in the minutia, regardless of how flawed their argument
These systematic attacks on Dunga are not novel; segments of the Brazilian press have historically targeted coaches of the national team with excessive, myopic and unfounded remarks. In fact, for the last 35 years one would be hard pressed to find a head coach that has not been targeted by some of these eternal critics.
Claudio Coutinho, highly educated and the mastermind behind the Brazilian World Cup campaign in 1978, was heavily criticized despite a solid 3rd place finish. When Brazil lost to Italy in 1982, the press criticized Brazilian coach Tele Santana for playing a high-risk offensive game when only a draw was required to advance in the competition. In 1990, Sebastião Lazaroni was relentlessly harassed and became a major target of Brazilian comedians, especially when they mocked him for creating a different language called “Lazaronês.”
Although Carlos Alberto Parreira displayed extraordinary vision and wisdom, which resulted in his team winning the Cup following a 24 year drought, he got little sympathy from a press. Parreira was unjustly and shamefully criticized for a style of soccer they considered “too European.” Even Luiz Felipe Scolari was not spared by the press following his 2002 campaign leading Brazil to win an unprecedented fifth title. Dunga is just one more victim of this well-established pattern of incessant assaults. There seems to be no one who can satisfy the critics.
Following the loss against Holland, the critics asked if Brazil even deserved to be in the quarter final stage of the Cup following the 2-to-1 loss to North Korea. One is left to wonder if the same undying critics questioned if Germany, after losing to Serbia in the group stage, deserved to be in the semifinal? Did Spain deserve to be in the final and ultimately win the Cup even though they lost to Switzerland in the first stage? Why should Uruguay even be in the Cup after barely qualifying for the competition? Holland’s team played a completely results-oriented game, uncharacteristic to their offensive roots. Should this have prevented them from playing in the final? Based on the logic of the Brazilian critics, almost any team could be labeled as unworthy.
Globalization has taken the game to every corner of the world. This extended reach has generated an equalizing force; as Brazilians we should reflect over the painful reality that the gap has narrowed between us and the rest of the world in the ability to brilliantly play the game.
Why do certain elements within our press still propagate, or promote, an arrogant, hubristic and colonial attitude that we have an obligation to obliterate all of our opponents? Equilibrium and parity among the major football powerhouses of the world is a reality today. With globalization of the game, as attested to in this World Cup, it is difficult for any team to bury their opponent with a high scoring result.
This same phenomenon also took place with US basketball. At one point, the country supremely ruled over all others within the sphere of the game. Currently certain countries such as Argentina, Spain, Russia and segments of the former Yugoslavian bloc are a threat and on any give day could put up a fight or challenge
Dunga has been heavily criticized for playing a highly defensive, structured and tactical game. They see his style as lacking the flair that characterized Brazilian football during the 1970 and 1982 World Cup challenges. The problem is not Dunga and the style of football he implements with the national team. He is placing a team on the field with the most suitable technical and tactical characteristics to compete head-to-head in a cutthroat environment. Dunga should not be held accountable or in contempt for playing in such fashion anymore than all the other coaches in the competition. Why should he play the vulnerable TV-friendly offensive game when no other major powerhouse team in the World Cup plays in that fashion? I have previously mentioned that FIFA is the one that needs to be held responsible for not doing enough, revising antiquated rules, to make or force the game in a more offensive direction. By changing certain rules the game could potentially automatically take a more offensive direction regardless of the tactics being chosen by a coach.
The goal-less draw in the 90 minutes of normal play in the final between Holland and Spain was at times hard to watch when both sides, more specifically Holland, stalled the match by incessant fouling. A total of 14 cards were shown by the referee during the course of the match. It was an arduous battle where both teams played in a very cautious defensive form. Both squads were hesitant to move forward in full force, opening up, conceding spaces and territory, and consequently becoming vulnerable in the counter attack. The way this match was played is indicative of how tactically cautious, regimented, and defensive oriented the game has become.
In fact all the countries that made it to the final four of the competition including Germany, Uruguay, Holland and Spain play a highly structured, tactically sound, disciplined and defensive-oriented game.
Germany is an example of organization both on and off the field. The German squad is solidly built in all sectors of play displaying an unyielding defense and a lethal counter attack with tremendous speed. Consequently, they unequivocally ran over Argentina and England.
In a recent conversation I had with Shad Forsythe, the fitness coach of the German team, member of the highly reputable company Athletes Performance, he mentioned that Joachim Lowe believes the high fitness of a team is of the utmost importance and a critical component in ensuring that the desired and chosen tactical schemes will be employed effectively. Shad said the head coach believes in tactical discipline and that the players have to follow their assigned tasks and objectives, which have been carefully delineated in precise fashion. “We defend with the whole team not only with the back four within a tactically defined plan. Even Miroslav Klose and Mesut Ozil, our strikers, return to defend. When all the players follow their designated task of defensively covering space, the whole team, as one, consequently conserves energy since there is less space for each individual player to cover,” said Shad.
The Dutch coach, Bert van Marwijk, was responsible for a major shift in the national team’s style of play when he shocked the country’s very foundation by promoting a more defensive and pragmatic approach to the game. Until then, Holland was known for their kaleidoscopic Totaal Voetbal (Total Football), a highly offensive game, pioneered by the Ajax mastermind Rinus Michels, that was the trademark of the 1974 and 1978 world cup teams. Van Marwijk waged war against his critics and the press when he designed a very structured style of play. He made the defensive unit into the foundation of the house, an unprecedented style of Dutch football until then. Currently Holland plays with six players with defensive characteristics. They have specifically assigned tasks and their defensive full backs are not as mobile offensively.
During the course of the competition when journalists pressed him and asked if the team would play “total” football – the entrenched offensive game that was the base of Dutch football – Van Marwijk simply pointed out that Holland had never won the World Cup when playing in such a fashion.
In the game against Brazil, the Dutch team used every tactic in the Italian playbook, making a mockery of FIFA’s fair play slogan. Throughout the course of the game Arjen Robben, the striker, would fall to the ground upon the most innocent physical contact with the opponent in order to obtain favorable calls. Other Dutch players constantly pressured the referee. They complained about calls that were made against them and also about others that were not called. During the final match against Spain the same “fair play” was replicated as evidence by the eight yellow cards received by the squad. This was not the Holland that we knew in the past.
Uruguay played in superb fashion defensively, not conceding any goals in the group stage of the competition, and went forward lethally in the counter attack with Suarez and Forlan. They got to the semifinal with a clear display of tactical discipline, cohesion, defensive unity and structure while their players valiantly declined to surrender.
The Spanish team progressed to the final and won the World Cup playing compactly. Their game was tactically disciplined, relying on very short passes that facilitated maintaining ball possession for extended periods of time. Undoubtedly the Spanish team is one of the most tactically sound teams in the world. They have two experienced warriors, Puyol and Piqué, forming the base of the Spanish defense. Spain beat every opponent in the second stage of the tournament including Holland in the final by a meager score of 1-0, not very much indicative of a major offensive powerhouse.
Quarterfinalist Brazil played a highly structured and disciplined game in this World Cup. In the first half of the game, Brazil had several opportunities to bring the match to a complete closure but failed to capitalize on the goal scoring opportunities presented to them. Eventually the Brazilian defense – the bedrock and the most praised unit of the competition until then – made two fatal mistakes in set plays culminating in their early exit from the competition. The International press, especially the American TV network commentators, lavished Dunga with praise for the tactical organization of the Brazilian team until the tragic defeat.
Argentina initially maimed, and eventually murdered, in the field of battle by the German machine, was the chosen one, the darling, and the most praised squad of the competition by the critics of Dunga. They heaped praise on Argentina for the team’s TV-friendly offensive flair in their style of play. Maradonas’ disciples blatantly succumbed, and were humbled by their formidable opponents, for displaying a highly individualistic, disorganized and catastrophic defensive system. Argentina headed back to Buenos Aires following a chaotic display both on and off the field.
The critics argued that the Brazilian players at one point during the match against Holland showed signs of losing composure. One must understand that during the course of any given match there is a constant shift or fluctuation in the emotional stability of any given player. Up until the match against Holland, Brazil had won every match and did not have to deal with coming from behind in the scoreboard. When Holland went ahead the Brazilian players were predictably a little shaken, as would any team and not limited to only Brazil. Holland’s emotional resolve was also battered when Uruguay scored their second goal in their semifinal match and almost scored an additional goal in the final minutes that would have forced extra time. Germany, during their semifinal match with Spain, clearly looked emotionally unsettled.
Ricardo Guerra is an Exercise Physiologist and Strength and Conditioning Coach. He has a Masters of Science in Sports Physiology from the Liverpool John Moores University. He has worked with several clubs and teams in the Middle East and Europe, including the Egyptian and Qatari national teams. Contact him on: [email protected]