Unlikely hero who restored Brazil’s pride
Tite has overseen a remarkable transformation since taking over as manager of the Selecao
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