Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Let Brazil be Brazil? Teething troubles for the Seleção, but they should not forget how far they've come under Tite

The Copa América is not yet two weeks old. Brazil are unbeaten through three matches, with eight goals to their name and zero conceded.

With Japan or Paraguay to come next, and a mediocre Argentina side their likely opponents in the last four, it would be a major surprise were they not to reach the final. By most metrics, things are going well.

Yet muddled performances in their first two group games—a 3-0 win over Bolivia that was less convincing than it sounds, and a drab, goalless draw with Venezuela—prompted a familiar bout of hand-wringing over the side’s progress and underlying identity.

Read my latest piece on the Seleção – and, erm, The West Wing – over at The Athletic.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

The Little Onion makes a big impact: How Everton has brought life and levity to Brazil's Copa América campaign

Everton was Brazil’s best player against Peru last night. He was arguably their best player against Venezuela on Tuesday, too, despite only coming on in the second half. He has two goals in the competition and a legion of new fans. But they don’t chant his actual name when he scores.

Instead, they chant, “É Cebolinha!” – “It’s Little Onion!”

This, obviously, is brilliant. A little research reveals that Everton does indeed look a lot like Cebolinha, a character in a much-loved kids’ TV show. Mainly it’s that little tuft of hair, perched on top of his head like it was retreating to higher ground. Maybe Everton also mixes his Rs and Ls up in speech to hilarious effect.

More pertinently, there is just a lovely cartoon levity to the way the 23-year-old plays football, all jerky bursts of life and laugh-out-loud punchlines. It is this quality that has, in double-quick time, made him the chief attacking catalyst for this work-in-progress Brazil side.

Read my piece on the man of the moment over at The Independent. 

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Can Philippe Coutinho fill the Neymar void and inspire Brazil to glory at the Copa América?

Filling Neymar’s boots in the Brazil team is one of the great Sisyphean tasks in modern sport, up there with being Deontay Wilder’s sparring partner or doing PR for Team Sky. Boil the Seleção to a sticky liquor and it basically is Neymar, with all the wonders and warts that entails.

Ahead of the Copa América opener against Bolivia there had been a few rogue missives, whispered into the wind, to the effect that Brazil could even be better off without their quicksilver prince. This is plainly nonsense, at least from a pure sporting point of view: he is this country’s best footballer by a country mile.

Coutinho is an excellent player, but not on the same level. He hasn’t even been at his own level this season, with his struggles at Barcelona well documented. Nor does he offer anything like the same raw, gravitational star power that Neymar does; in fact, he is really best viewed as the anti-Neymar. If the Paris Saint-Germain forward is the very model of a modern major superstar, Coutinho is a quiet man squinting into the spotlight.

He is, however, one of Brazil's great hopes at this summer's Copa América, as I wrote in my opening-night piece from the Morumbi over at The Independent.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Gabriel Jesus interview: 'I didn't know anything about England. Fernandinho was like my godfather'

It can be easy to lose sight of the human factor that lies beyond the broad strokes that make up a footballer's CV.

The costs, the sacrifices, the challenges that come with upping sticks and moving halfway across the globe... these don't appear on a player's Wikipedia page, but they're in the background, shaping everything.

Gabriel Jesus, who was just a teenager when he left Brazil to pursue his dream, is well-placed to comment on the culture shock that such a move entails. "I was 19 years old, in another country with a different culture and a different language," he recalls. "I didn't know anything. It would have been difficult if it wasn't for the people helping me."

I interviewed Jesus about his adaptation to life in England, pizza, living in Manchester and Palmeiras. You can read it over at Bleacher Report.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Roberto Firmino interview: 'I used to sleep with my football when I was a kid. It's good to dream big'

There are two players living inside Roberto Firmino's body.

The Brazilian, one of the key figures in Liverpool's reemergence as a domestic and continental force, is a striker with an eye for the spectacular. But he's also one of the hardest-working footballers out there, tireless in his efforts to help his team-mates.

He is daring but diligent, silky yet self-sacrificing, at once wizard and workhorse.

I got the chance to ask Firmino about this duality in an exclusive interview a couple of months ago. We also talked no-look finishes, people getting his name wrong, idolising Ronaldinho, and Jürgen Klopp's Anfield revolution.

Have a read on the Bleacher Report site.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The best youngsters emerging from Brazil, including 'Little Onion', a classic No.9 and the second coming of Ramires

Scouts have to act fast these days, especially those working in Brazil.

Two of the country's most impressive young talents have already agreed big-money deals: Flamengo’s Lucas Paquetá is on his way to AC Milan, and Rodrygo, the latest teen sensation to come through the ever-reliable Santos system, will eventually move to Real Madrid.

But there is still plenty of potential in the Brasileirão if some of the European big boys decide to go shopping in January.

I pick out five of the best up-and-coming talents in my latest for Unibet.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Roberto Firmino, Gabriel Jesus or Richarlison: who deserves to lead the line for Brazil?

After two years of real stability, Brazil's No.9 jersey seems to be up for grabs again.

Gabriel Jesus, the incumbent for the majority of the Tite era, was left out of the squad for friendlies against the USA and El Salvador, following some under-par displays World Cup.

That gave Richarlison a chance to make an impression, and with Roberto Firmino forever pressing his case and Jesus now back in the mix, it's shaping up to be a three-way Premier League battle to lead the line for the Seleção.

I assess each of their chances in my latest for Unibet.