Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Rivaldo interview: I don't want to see Brazil players crying during the national anthem – it's a sign of weakness

Rivaldo doesn't want to talk about tactics.

"The team is in good shape," he says of the current Brazil side, but that's about the limit of the analysis as far as Tite's system is concerned.

What Rivaldo really wants to get into is the mental side of being at a World Cup: the business of coping with pressure, overcoming difficulties, writing a new story for oneself.

These are subjects the current crop of Brazil players would do well to confront head on as they seek to bounce back from the seismic shock of the 7-1 semifinal defeat to Germany in 2014. And Rivaldo, who still looks like he could do a job for the Selecao at the age of 46, is well qualified to hold forth on them.

Read my two-part interview with the Seleção legend on the ESPNFC website, here and here.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Everyone's a leader, baby: On Tite's policy of captaincy and its potential benefits for Brazil in Russia

Traditionalists will no doubt squirm at the very idea. They will tell you that the captain's armband holds some arcane folk power, handed down through the generations like an heirloom.

Think about Bobby Moore’s frictionless authority, Terry Butcher bleeding for the cause, John Terry captaining and leadering and legending…and that’s before you even leave the realm of the English-pub conversationscape where these imagined naysayers dwell. It’s the captaincy, for heaven’s sake; it’s sacred.

Not for Brazil coach Tite, it isn’t. He’s given the armband to the pillars of his side (Marcelo, Neymar, Dani Alves, Miranda), but also to squad players (Filipe Luís), fading veterans (Robinho) and even, in the pre-World-Cup friendly against Croatia, 21-year-old striker Gabriel Jesus. And if the latter admitted to being “very surprised” at the decision, the look on his face said he was bloody happy about it, too.

I'm writing about Brazil for US sports website The Athletic all World Cup. My first dispatch, on Brazil's captaincy rotation, is here. (NB – requires subscription.)

Monday, 18 June 2018

Brazil vs England 2002 – an oral history, with Luiz Felipe Scolari, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and more

For a generation of England fans, 2002 is as good as it has ever been. Revenge on Argentina, a commanding win over Denmark... it was tempting to wonder, even if just momentarily, whether football might actually be coming home.

It wasn’t, but the final act – a quarter-final meeting with Brazil – was nonetheless a fittingly dramatic end to a rollercoaster summer. As limp England tournament exits go, it was one to cherish.

For the Seleção, though, this was a major hurdle cleared en route to a fifth World Cup title. And while we are well acquainted with the England talking points from that day, from Owen’s fitness and David Seaman‘s positioning to Sven-Göran Eriksson’s tactics, the Brazilian perspective sheds new light on the game.

For The Independent, and aided by Luiz Felipe Scolari and three of his players that year, this is the oral history of that Shizuoka tussle. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Roberto Carlos: Brazil will start with a win – and Willian can be one of the stars of the World Cup

"Neymar is going to be ­marvellous in Russia and win the trophy for us. But you know who else is going to have a big World Cup? Willian. People talk about Messi, Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Neymar, but for me, Willian is right up there.

"He’s in really good form and always takes ­responsibility on the pitch. He’s a quiet guy who keeps to himself, but he’s going to surprise a lot of people this summer."

Roberto Carlos is the Sunday Mirror's special World Cup columnist, with yours truly his wingman.

Have a read of his first dispatch from Russia here. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Brazil vs Switzerland head-to-head: Patience may be needed as the Seleção get started in Rostov

Let's see how this favouritism thing works out then, shall we?

After weeks of hype, Brazil join the World Cup party on Sunday night, hoping to put down a marker against Switzerland in Rostov.

And while it would be a stretch to call a game against a side ranked sixth in the world (no, me neither) a gimme, a victory is very much expected of the Seleção.

Read my quick head-to-head preview – written with a Switzerland follower – on the Unibet blog.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Brazil and the 7-1: The inside story of the most shocking World Cup match of all time

At what point was it over, exactly?

Certainly long before the sixth and seventh goals, scored by André Schürrle, who must have wandered off to the toilet when the whole "let's not embarrass them" conversation was taking place in the Germany changing room at half-time. The fifth, maybe, or perhaps the fourth, offered up on a platter by a punch-drunk Fernandinho. But no, Brazil's race was already run by that stage. The cameras had already started to pick out tear-stained faces in the crowd, face paint smudging into collars and PTSD on order.

The third or second, then? Those were the goals that turned a bad start into a disastrous one, that knocked the wind out of a nation. The hosts were in a World Cup semi-final and then they weren't, suffocated and subjugated by that endless blur of Kroos, Müller, Klose, Kroos, Özil, Khedira, Kroos, Müller. Or was it over even before the first whistle, that po-faced funeral procession for Neymar betraying some fundamental misalignment between the mental state of the players and the nature of the task at hand? Was there so much emotion, so much pressure that summer – "It was like Brazil had come to participate in the Hunger Games," said Zico – that an implosion was inevitable?

Watching it back now, one cannot help but be reminded of the pronouncements made by José Maria Marin, the cadaverous head of Brazil's football federation. "Only a catastrophe will prevent us winning," he said on the eve of the tournament, to no obvious useful end. "If we lose, we're all going to hell." The words had a macabre slant then. By the time Germany were finished, they had taken on the air of prophesy.

That's the start of a long piece for Eurosport on the 7-1, its impact on those involved, and Brazil's long road to recovery. It includes an interview with Luiz Felipe Scolari and you can read it (or just swoon over the gorgeous artwork) here.

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Tite revolution: How the studious, enigmatic preacher-coach dragged the Brazil team into the modern era

Fatherly, enthusiastic and protective when the occasion demands, Tite is beloved by the players, while his collaborative approach behind the scenes – he has a small army of back-room staff – has also won him admirers.

He goes about his job with seriousness, but also with a smile, which goes a long way. "I would kill for Tite," Marcelo said last year, and he would probably have 22 accomplices if it ever came to that.

From a distance, all of this might seem slightly surreal. This, after all, is a manager who has never managed outside Brazil, let alone in one of Europe's top leagues. Yet while Tite might be a late bloomer on the world stage, his quality has never been in doubt in his homeland.

"I'm not surprised he's doing so well," Scolari, who led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002, told the Telegraph. "Of course, the Brazil job is bigger than any club job, but Tite has always been a good coach. Always."

Read my piece on Tite and his renovation job with the Seleção on the Telegraph website.