In recent weeks, the soccer blogosphere has been filled with commentary about Brazil's defeat to Mexico in the Olympic final, and much attention has focused on Mano Menezes, the coach of the Brazilian national team. Many people -- World Cup legend Romario included -- have called for his dismissal, and rumors have proliferated about other options investigated by the CBF including Pep Guardiola and Luis Felipe Scolari. One school of thought, most famously propounded by Romario, maintains that Mano Menezes erred in selecting Hulk over David Luiz as one of the three overage players. The other school of thought maintains that Mano's problem was that he failed to start Hulk for the final against Mexico, leaving the right flank exposed and leading to the first Peralta goal. As the celebrated blogger Jack Lang notes, "that Menezes failed to replicate the gung-ho nature of this decision [to include Hulk] in his starting 11 was the greatest frustration of a hugely disappointing afternoon for Brazil."
The reality is, the central question about the state of Brazilian football today does not concern Hulk or the Brazilian back line. Brazil have a phenomenal set of four defenders in the form of Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Dani Alves and Marcelo. The quality of the Brazilian defense was on display in Brazil's 3-0 victory against Sweden on August 15. The central question for Brazilian football today concerns the composition of the midfield, and this is the area that Menezes himself singled out in 2010 as the area in which Brazil was having problems. The secondary, related question about the Brazilian national team concerns team leadership and mentorship on the pitch itself, in the heat of the battle.
The issues with the Brazilian midfield are as follows:
• Recent Chelsea signing Oscar is an extraordinary player with vision, skill and creativity. That said, he failed to run the Brazilian midfield in the final against Mexico, and the same could be said of other matches as well. This is not a criticism of Oscar per se. It's more a function of his style of play, temperament and the slightness of his physical presence.
• Only Ronaldinho can provide Brazil with the direction in midfield and overall leadership and fight that the team needs. Some people -- though the number is becoming fewer and fewer -- claim that role can be filled by the injury prone Paulo Henrique Ganso. Others will argue Kaka can do the same. The reality is that Ganso has barely played for Brazil in the last two years, and when he has, he has been less than spectacular. Kaka failed to give Brazil the direction it needed in the match against the Netherlands in World Cup 2010 in a high pressure situation. Moreover, Kaka has little experience playing alongside this generation of Brazilian-based players. Ronaldinho may be able to partner with Oscar in an attacking midfield pairing that complements Oscar's skill and work ethic with Dinho's singular ability to impose himself on a game.
• Hernanes and Lucas Moura represent other options that Menezes may want to consider alongside Oscar and Ronaldinho. The Lazio playmaker is known for his ability to play in the center of the park in a genuinely ambidextrous vein on either the left or right side of midfield. Paris Saint-Germain bound Lucas Moura could be yet another option for Brazil, making up the fourth wheel in a midfield quartet now composed of Oscar, Ronaldinho, Hernanes and Lucas Moura.
• Philosophically, Menezes shows allegiances to the legendary, attacking Brazilian coach Tele Santana by wanting playmakers deep in midfield as opposed to holding midfielders such as Lucas Leiva known for the bite of their tackle. Brazil 1982, recall, had Falcao and Cerezzo as deeper lying midfielders behind Socrates and Eder. Brazil 2014 can feature Oscar and Ronaldinho in what amounts to two number 10 shirts that would ideally be supplemented by playmaking ability deeper in midfield as well. Romulo and Sandro did well for the Olympic squad, but do not have the skill and experience to break down teams like Spain and Germany at the 2014 World Cup.
• Ronaldinho is back in form as demonstrated by his performances for Atletico Mineiro. In recent weeks, Dinho has chosen to show his stuff on the field and remain mostly silent off it. More importantly, Ronaldinho provides a young Brazilian team with leadership and experience that they will need when the team goes down by a goal or two and faces 10 men behind the ball for extended periods of time.
Mano Menezes should select Ronaldinho for the upcoming friendlies on September 7 and 10 against South Africa and China. He himself has described Dinho as "part of a project." Now is the time to bring Dinho firmly back into the fold and let him lead the Selecao, assuming, of course, that the former 2004 and 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year continues to deliver quality performances and a respectable attitude.
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