Un­likely hero who re­stored Brazil’s pride

Tite has over­seen a re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion since tak­ing over as man­ager of the Sele­cao

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - JEREMY WIL­SON

There was a re­mark­able mo­ment in the af­ter­math of Brazil’s 3-1 win against Ja­pan last Thurs­day. Tite, Brazil’s man­ager, was on the press con­fer­ence stage with Ney­mar and was in­vited to ad­dress a per­cep­tion that his team’s tal­is­man is some­how self­ish and dif­fi­cult in his deal­ings with his team-mates. The re­sponse that he de­liv­ered lasted more than a minute and re­quired lit­tle trans­la­tion. Ges­tur­ing to his au­di­ence like a states­man and be­ing glanced up at by Ney­mar as if he were a favourite un­cle, Tite talked of his player’s “hu­mil­ity” and “team ethic” in de­liv­er­ing a re­sound­ing char­ac­ter as­sess­ment.

By the end, the world’s most ex­pen­sive foot­baller was wip­ing tears from his eyes. It might not only have told us about Ney­mar’s emo­tional state ahead of fac­ing Eng­land at Wem­b­ley to­mor­row, amid re­ports that he is un­happy at Paris St-ger­main, but per­haps even more about Tite’s cur­rent stature in Brazil. A man whose play­ing ca­reer was ended at 27 by a knee in­jury, and was con­sid­ered some­thing of a jour­ney­man man­ager, has over­seen a resur­gence of the na­tional team.

They qual­i­fied for Rus­sia 2018 with four matches to spare af­ter seven straight vic­to­ries, and a wider run of 12 wins, one de­feat and two draws now has them up with Ger­many as favourites for next sum­mer’s tour­na­ment.

So what is be­hind what Paulo Ser­gio, a 1994 World Cup win­ner with Brazil, has called a “great rev­o­lu­tion”? The start­ing point nat­u­rally is Tite and those most fa­mil­iar with a ca­reer that has spanned some 17 jobs in 27 years pin­point an ex­tra­or­di­nary low back in 2011 as the turn­ing point.

He was lead­ing Corinthi­ans in the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores – South Amer­ica’s Cham­pi­ons League – and they were play­ing against the small Colom­bian club De­portes Tolima.

No Brazil­ian team had ever gone out at this pre­lim­i­nary phase but that was the un­think­able out­come for Tite’s new side. The sack was re­garded as in­evitable but what in­stead hap­pened was that their two su­per­stars, Ron­aldo and Roberto Car­los, promptly departed. Tite’s Corinthi­ans were re­built and em­barked on the finest streak in the club’s 107-year his­tory, win­ning the Brazil­ian cham­pi­onship and then, in 2012, the Copa Lib­er­ta­dores for the first and only time in their his­tory.

This was fol­lowed up by win­ning the Club World Cup later that year with vic­tory over Chelsea.

Although he had never man­aged in Eu­rope, Tite took a work­ing sab­bat­i­cal in this con­ti­nent that in­cluded time watch­ing Pep Guardi­ola, Carlo Ancelotti and Arsene Wenger. Marcelo helped him get es­pe­cially close to Ancelotti, who made a par­tic­u­lar im­pres­sion for the bal­ance he struck be­tween his on-field coach­ing and how he han­dled the su­per­stars of Real Madrid.

Ancelotti’s in­flu­ence has been ev­i­dent in Tite’s man­age­ment of Ney­mar and also play­ers such as Wil­lian who, de­spite of­ten los­ing his place un­der him to Philippe Coutinho, speaks in al­most rev­er­en­tial tones about the man­ager. Tite makes a point of openly re­lay­ing ev­ery de­ci­sion in per­son to his play­ers and, hav­ing so far ro­tated the cap­taincy, Wil­lian re­cently stated that the man­ager should also be Brazil’s cap­tain.

Tac­ti­cally, and in the pro­fes­sion­al­i­sa­tion of prepa­ra­tions, there have also been sig­nif­i­cant changes. Although many of the team are based in Eu­rope – in­clud­ing seven in the Pre­mier League – the pres­ence of Paulinho and Re­nato Au­gusto in China last sea­son per­suaded Tite to base a Brazil­ian phys­io­ther­a­pist there.

The play­ers have also noted a marked dif­fer­ence in the level and de­tail of in­for­ma­tion they are now re­ceiv­ing about op­po­nents, right down to where the goal­keeper is likely to aim his clear­ance and how they should there­fore or­gan­ise them­selves for spe­cific goal­kicks.

Un­der­pin­ning ev­ery­thing, of course, is Brazil’s pro­duc­tion of tal­ent: Gabriel Je­sus, Eder­son and Danilo have this year joined Coutinho, Wil­lian, Roberto Firmino and Fer­nand­inho in the Pre­mier League. In a re­cent Manch­ester City doc­u­men­tary on Je­sus, it was no­tice­able how, like so many il­lus­tri­ous predecessors, he was de­vel­oped through a com­bi­na­tion of street foot­ball and un­struc­tured matches on dusty clay pitches. “This kind of foot­ball is very com­mon in Brazil,” ex­plains the jour­nal­ist Caio Car­ri­eri Car­doso. “There is a free­dom to try things in their for­ma­tive years and, on these pitches, it is dif­fi­cult to know where the ball will land and you must have ex­cel­lent con­trol.”

For all Eng­land’s suc­cess now at age-group foot­ball, there is a the­ory that the great­est bar­rier to their progress is not first-team op­por­tu­nity but rather the so­lid­ity of a tech­ni­cal foun­da­tion that is formed dur­ing their ear­li­est years. Will it let them down rel­a­tive to a young Brazil­ian once our more struc­tured Euro­pean ap­proach to coach­ing has been added to the South Amer­i­can’s game?

Wher­ever the bal­ance lies in the ex­pla­na­tion, Wem­b­ley to­mor­row will host a re­ju­ve­nated Brazil who will travel to Rus­sia next sum­mer with a re­al­is­tic hope of restor­ing na­tional pride on foot­ball’s ul­ti­mate stage.

Char­ac­ter as­sess­ment: Tite has got the best out of striker Ney­mar

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