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Saturday, 2 May 2020

Who should play up front for Brazil?

"He's the new Ronaldo," purred Daniel Alves. "He is going to be one of the greats."

High praise indeed, but Gabriel Jesus deserved it. For the first two years of Tite's Brazil stewardship, he looked the striker Brazil had been seeking for a decade.

Cut to 2020 and the picture is slightly less clear. Jesus, after some ups and downs, remains an important player, as well as a symbol of the Tite era. Yet he now has significant competition for the central striking berth, much of it from the same small patch of north-west England.


For now, Roberto Firmino is the incumbent, having ousted Jesus after the World Cup and impressed as Brazil won the Copa America last summer. Then there is Richarlison, who played up front for his country before doing so at Everton, and who is viewed by Tite as the most direct, physical option.

There are other alternatives – there is a growing lobby for Flamengo's Gabriel Barbosa, for instance – but the battle to lead the line for the Selecao at the next World Cup looks likely to have a distinct Premier League flavour.

Read the rest of this piece on The Athletic.

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Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Whatever happened to Adryan?

As a teenager, he was compared to Zico and tipped for superstardom.

But now, aged 25, former Flamengo forward Adryan finds himself at a rather lower altitude. After an up-and-down jaunt around Europe, he is back in Brazil – not at one of the country's big clubs, but in the second division.


What went wrong for him? Was it a question of talent or attitude? And did that 'new Zico' tag weigh heavily on his young shoulders?

Answers to those questions on more in a piece with Leeds United correspondent Phil Hay for The Athletic. Read it here. 

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Tuesday, 28 April 2020

'A bit weird' but great fun: when Brazil played Barcelona

April 28, 1999, at Camp Nou: Barcelona vs Brazil.

Blaugrana vs Canarinha. Figo, Guardiola and Kluivert vs Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Romário. Catalans vs samba fans, plus a thousand other woozy stereotypes.


It was, in the words of Bolo Zenden, who played for Barcelona that night, “a bit weird”. It was also rather wonderful.

Read my piece about the game, which features interviews with Zenden and former Brazil forward Márcio Amoroso, on The Athletic. 

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Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Denílson interview: 'Gilberto Silva used to invite me over, but I just stayed at home. Alone, watching Prison Break'

As soon as he arrived at Arsenal in 2006, Denílson looked like a future star. This, it was hoped, might be a natural long-term midfield partner for Cesc Fabregas.

For all his promise, however, Denilson never felt comfortable in England. He was homesick, for a start, but it was more than that.


He felt all alone, separated from his new team-mates by age and culture, and from his support network by the Atlantic Ocean. It was a crushing, unshakeable loneliness that eventually undermined his Arsenal career.

I interviewed Denílson, who opened up on his difficulties in England. Read it on The Athletic. 

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Wednesday, 15 April 2020

The end of Chelsea's Brazilian era?

“At that time it was rare to see Brazilian players in the Premier League," says Juliano Belletti.

“When I found out that Chelsea were interested in me, I knew that it was a big opportunity. And it was incredible. The club, the fans, the city… they were great times.


"We went out together as a group sometimes and had family meals at each others’ houses. There was real friendship between us."

Belletti was not the only Brazilian to find a home at Chelsea, but with Willian set to leave this summer it now looks like the end of an era. I take a look at the trend with my colleagues at The Athletic, Liam Twomey and Simon Johnson, here.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Tite's gap year: How coach's 2014 sabbatical helped lay the foundations for success with Corinthians and Brazil

Tite watched the 2014 World Cup from home.

There had been offers of television work but he had turned them down, preferring to hole up in his office and really focus. He recorded and watched every one of the 64 matches, taking copious notes. He pored over defensive lines and midfield pivots. For someone with a burning interest in tactics, it was a dream month.


Most coaches wouldn’t have had the luxury of being able to obsess over the tournament to quite such a degree. They would have been worrying about training sessions or thinking about transfers. But Tite, in the summer of 2014, had all the time in the world.

He was midway through a sabbatical year that would breathe life into his coaching career, laying the foundations for success with Corinthians and Brazil.

Read my piece on Tite's sabbatical year on The Athletic. 

Monday, 6 April 2020

Rafael Cabral won the Libertadores with Neymar at Santos. Now he’s shining at Reading and hoping for a Brazil recall

Rafael Cabral has been one of the breakout stars of the Championship season, putting in a series of spectacular displays for Reading.

But anyone who witnessed Rafael’s first steps in the senior game would be forgiven for being slightly puzzled at his CV, particularly the most recent sections.


This is a player who, for a time, was regarded as the next great Brazilian goalkeeper; who was a key man for Santos during their most successful spell since the 1960s; whose profile was such that he made a cameo in a Brazilian teen soap opera alongside Neymar.

Now, after a tough spell in Italy, he appears to have his mojo back. Read my interview with him on The Athletic.