André Santos: from Figueirense to Arsenal

Amidst all the action in Poland and Ukraine, you might have forgotten to check out our exclusive interview with André Santos, left-back of Arsenal Football Club. Do so at the links below. Mr. Santos talks at length about his time in Brazil, his stay at Fenerbahce and his ambitions with Arsenal and Brazil. Balotelli, Van Persie and Cesc are also topics touched upon. Well worth a read!

You can read the full transcript at:
http://www.radioscorpio.be/andrsantosfromfigueirensetoarsenal

Alternatively, the interview is now also available at:
http://www.theelastico.com/2012/07/in-depth-andre-santos-interview/

It also got picked up by:
http://soccernet.espn.go.com/news/story/_/id/1120518/andre-santos:-arsenal-must-think-big?cc=5739

Samindra Kunti and Radio Scorpio once more wish to thank André Santos for his kindness and hospitality in the realisation of this interview!!

Brazil v Denmark

This Saturday Hamburg hosts the prestigious friendly international between five-times world Champions Brazil and Denmark, as part of Brazil’s World Tour organized by Kentaro. More then 15000 Danish Vikings will descend upon Germany’s second largest city to support Denmark in their penultimate friendly before EURO2012. Mano Menezes and Brazil meanwhile consider this friendly as another useful test and building stone on the road to this summers Olympics.

Follow the latest updates live from Hamburg with World Scorpio!

André Santos: from Figueirense to Arsenal


Thank you, André Santos, for sitting down with us.  Why don’t we start by discussing the beginning of your career. You are a youth product of Figueirense. Can you tell us about your time there and how you developed?

AS: Firstly, I thank you also for this opportunity. It is a pleasure to talk to you and I am very happy to do this interview. I began my career with Figueirense, a club in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina. I was born in São Paulo where I lived as a child. When I was 8, I went to Florianopolis where I joined the youth of Figueirense. I passed through all the youth teams, from the categorias da base to juniors. My first year as a pro was 2003. I played 31 games in the shirt of Figueirense that year. As a result, I received many proposals from Brazilian clubs the following year, nine in total. That was very nice. I left Figueirense for Flamengo, who offered me a contract for three years. At Flamengo there was a carousel of coaches who came and went. That was not ideal. Atletico Mineiro of Minas Gerais from the Serie B attracted me in 2006 and my time there gave me a lot of experience. I returned in 2007 for a year to Figueirense. It was also a return to my family and many friends. Figueirense had an excellent campaign in the Brazilian cup, reaching the final against Fluminense, but it was also the last season of Figueirense in the Brasileirao. Corinthians bought me in 2008 and I played together with big players such as Douglas, Christian, Elias and Ronaldo. I also worked with Mano Menezes, who is of course now coach of the Seleção. It was a great experience and a particularly important stage in my life, because I managed to write my name in the annals of Corinthians. My entire family is Paulista and supports Corinthians. It was a big dream to play for Corinthians and I realized my dream. I was very happy.

 It is clear that Corinthians was the club of your dreams…

AS: No doubt, Corinthians is the team of my heart. All my relatives  support Corinthians and I always follow their progress, but I also nurse a soft spot for Figueirense, the club that opened doors for me in Brazilian football. I am greatly indebted  to Figueirense. Figueirense was my break-trough, and Corinthians allowed me to grow and become a great player.  I will love these two clubs for the rest of my life. 

After Corinthians you then soon moved to Fenerbahce in 2009. You played together with Roberto Carlos there. How was it to play with a great idol of your left-back position, and what did you learn from him?

AS: Fenerbahce is a great club, with an incredible structure and amazing fans. I signed a four year deal, and stayed for two very successful seasons. In the first season Fenerbahce was competitive till the very end, in the second season Fenerbahce won the league. For me, it was a very good time. Fenerbahce had a number of great players in its ranks: Deivid, Christian, Diego Lugano and Roberto Carlos. I was a big fan of Roberto Carlos, and today he is a good friend of mine. We communicate and talk a lot via the phone. He is in Russia now, playing for Anzhi. Roberto Carlos has a great personality and is a great player, of whom I have learned a lot. He inspired me, for he played for the Seleção for a long time. At his side, I grew as a player and it was a true privilege to play with him. For six months we were able to play together at Fenerbahce and he scored three goals. That was pretty cool! After that he returned to Corinthians, where he played at my position.  It was an incredible experience. Fenerbahce offered me a very professional working environment. I feel I have written a little bit of history at Fenerbahce. 

There was a special moment in a UEFA Cup game against Steaua Bucharest when you scored a remarkable goal, wasn’t there?

AS: Yes, it was a great game against Steaua Bucharest and I scored a beautiful goal. It was a moment of joy… a special moment to score alongside Roberto Carlos and to receive his affection with a hug. A very special moment in my life! A unique memory.

Undoubtedly you had a great time at Fenerbache, but unfortunately there was the infamous match-fixing scandal. Was this the spark to go and look for another club?

AS: The impact of the scandal at the club was enormous. I played two seasons at Fenerbahce and Turkey is a risky country. In all honesty I don’t know exactly what happened. On the field Fenerbahce won with dedication and commitment from each and every player.  We won the title on the field, but there was unsavory business off the pitch and at the board level, of which the players were unaware. But the group of players gave it their all to capture a spot, entitling us to play Champions League. What precisely happened is unclear and I can’t explain it, but it was a motive to leave Fenerbahce.

It has always been my dream to come to Europe, and to play in the Champions League with a big club. Fenerbahce is a big club of course. It was after winning the title that UEFA communicated that Fenerbahce were barred from participating in the Champions League. It was very disappointing as a player to be that close, only to then be far away again. I consulted  my agent for a solution and  searched for a new club. The Champions League is an important goal in my career, especially with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil in mind. It is a window where you can be noticed.

Very soon you received a phone call from Arsène Wenger…

AS: Arsenal first contacted my agent, Carlos Leite, who has been my agent for more than three years. He spoke about interest from Arsène Wenger, because during the friendly match with Scotland [Brazil-Scotland 2-0, 27 March 2011]  at the Emirates  I had played very well. Wenger watched me and at the moment that I heard about the interest, I wanted to do the move. The discussions and negotiations began. Arsenal were at a difficult time and it would be a good opportunity for me. Carlos Leite advised me and said that Arsène Wenger wished to get in touch to talk to me. It was very pleasing that a great manager with his qualities wanted to bring me to his club. Arsenal is a big club with a rich history. When he called, I saw an English prefix on the phone. He spoke English, I only knew a few words and my English was flawed, but the conversation still went smoothly. He understood what I said and stressed that playing for Arsenal would be an enrichment. I wanted to help and the next day I was already on the plane for the contract negotiations and medical tests.

Arsenal is indeed one of the biggest clubs in the world, but at the time that you joined Arsenal was in troubled times, with Nasri and Fabregas having left the club, a lot of players injured and North London still reeling from the humiliating 8-2 defeat against Manchester United. How did all this impact the move?

AS: I came to Arsenal to change this! To show that Arsenal had the ability to climb in the rankings. Arsenal were ranked seventeenth [in the Premier League table] when I arrived. Yes, Arsenal lost great players – Nasri to Man City and Fabregas to Barcelona – and suffered an unprecedented defeat – the worst in its history against Manchester United. It was a very bad week for Arsenal. Therefore Arsenal contracted Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Park and Yossi Benayoun – players  with experience to cover the departures of  key players and also to fill in for the many injured players. The new players were well received and formed a group that wanted to win. This gave the group more maturity and more urgency to win. The victories came, Arsenal climbed up the table and we finished in third place. Given the poor start, the many problems and the tough season, third place is a victory for Arsenal.

This summer brings a new set of stories about Arsenal. There is speculation that Robin van Persie might leave. The club has recently bought Lukas Podolski. How will you approach next season? The expectation of the fans is always high. Which targets should Arsenal set itself?

AS: Arsenal is definitely a great club, one of the best in the world, and appeals to fans. We have got to think about winning titles: English champions, European champions. Those are certainly the objectives for next season. Arsenal must think big. Therefore, Podolski was bought and only players with the qualifications required are recruited to strengthen the team. That way preparations for next season will be good. Van Persie has an excellent campaign behind him. I do not know what his situation at the club is now – whether he stays or not. He loves the club and is already eight years at the club and his season was really incredible. Arsenal will definitely talk to him and do everything to keep him at the club so he can help us next season. At this time I hope he makes the choice that is best for his career and his life. But no doubt that our players want Van Persie to remain.

When you came to Arsenal, you were relatively unknown in the Premier League. Arsène Wenger described you as player who has to the quality to defend but also to go forward and help in attack. How would you describe your own qualities?

AS: Arsène Wenger has described my qualities well, which obviously led him to contract me. In Brazil, we have laterais, and they attack a lot. In Brazil, you always attack. In Europe it’s the opposite: you can not attack. It is therefore difficult for a Brazilian player [in my position], when he travels to Europe to adapt himself to this mentality. He can not attack, but has to defend. But thanks to my time at Fenerbahce, I learned enough in terms of defensive work and positional play. The Premier League is obviously one of the best leagues in the world. The defense is an important part of it and I have learned a lot this season. It is certainly true that I am technically skilful and rather quick. Today I learn how to mark and support the attack when going forward, but next season I hope to make progress for Arsenal so I can become a regular starter. 

A question every newcomer to the Premier League gets: what about the physical nature of English football? In the Manchester City game you put Balotelli in his place as a reprisal for his bad tackle on Alex Song. It is a sign that you deal very well with the physicality.

AS: Certainly. English football is fast and strong and luckily I have been able to adapt quickly. Big games are always difficult. So that was also the case against Manchester City, who are led by an excellent coach [Roberto Mancini] and have a quality squad. It was a game with a lot at stake. Balotelli is a player with class, but at times he goes over the top a bit. During the first half, I was sitting on the bench and I watched Balotelli tackle hard on Alex Song and Barcary Sagna. That was not to my taste and in the second half it was my job to cover Balotelli. I contained him. He is not the best player in the world. He’s a little bit searching, like all other players. Messi, that’s the best player in the world. Then Cristiano Ronaldo. Then the rest. 

It soon became apparent that you were an asset for Arsenal and you scored the equalizer in that spectacular 3-5 away victory to Chelsea. Was it a turning moment for Arsenal this season?

AS: It was important for the club, the players and for myself. Winning a classico is a moral boost and you go into the next game on a high. An away win to Chelsea makes you proud and gives confidence. My goal helped the team and it was good for my confidence. Arsenal began winning matches and started to climb up the table. The victory over Chelsea ensured that Arsenal played well again and at high level.

Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick in that game against Chelsea. What impresses you most about him?

AS: Robin is an excellent player and striker. He is one of few world class strikers today. He has definitely proven that this season. He is fantastic, both on and off the field. He helps our team a lot and I think he can play for any club in the world.

The season continued and unfortunately against Olympiacos in the Champions League ligament damage to your right knee required surgery. It was a big set-back. What is worst about recovering from injury – the loneliness that you undoubtedly experienced at times or the incertitude over coming back to full fitness again?

AS: These are actually two questions. It is never good for a player to get injured. At the age of 28 this was my first serious injury. Before that I had fortunately never suffered an injury. It was hard because I had a dream to play big games in the Champions League and the Premier League and that was what I did until my injury. My surgery meant I had to recover for three months. There was no guarantee that my ankle would fully recover. There was always doubt. You feel alone and lost, but my family, friends, doctors and Arsenal supported me. I underwent surgery in Brazil and the doctors gave me confidence. The treatment went well. I am very grateful to Arsenal for their affection and good care. But it is always difficult when you’re a bit isolated: you do not know whether you will fully recover and the progression that you’ve made on the field is hindered. I was doing well at Arsenal and made progress, but the injury has been an obstacle. I am fully recovered and feel 100% fit now, both physically and technically. I want a good preparation for next season to make up for the lost time.

The injury aside, how do you reflect upon your first season with the Gunners?

AS: It was a good season. The adaptation went smoothly. After all, for me England was yet again another country, another language and another league. Arsenal has no other Brazilians in the team. So it’s not so easy to quickly adapt. Without my injury I would have played more often. What I have not been able to show this season, I can still show next season. Arsenal will definitely give me that opportunity and André Santos will show what he has got in his stride.

You emphasize progress and improvement. The Champions League is a big window to show  yourself as a player. Do you consider Arsenal to be a stepping stone to realize your dream of playing at the 2014 World Cup?

AS: As of my arrival at Arsenal, I have had a few targets in my mind: to be English champions and win titles. To make the supporters, who steer us forward and always  fill the stadium, happy. Ensure that Arsenal get back to where they belong: at the top. And yes, the World Cup is also part of my ambition.

15 June 2009 is definitely a day etched into your memory!

AS: Playing for your country and pulling on the yellow shirt  – those are intense emotions! But it is also a recognition of your hard work. I was very happy with my debut and I have kept that feeling until today: every time I pull on the shirt of Brazil it is like making my debut again. I am extremely grateful to everyone who has given me opportunities with the Seleção: Dunga and Jorginho, Mano Menezes and Sidnei [Lobo, assistant to Mano Menezes]. They are great moments and memories, and I’ll keep working at Arsenal to make my return to the Seleção as soon as possible. That’s always my goal – to play for the Seleção.

Winning the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup was your first taste of international success with Brazil, but unfortunately Dunga omitted you from the squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Is it true that Dunga didn’t select you because you missed a bus in La Paz during the qualifiers?

AS: I don’t not know if it’s true. Under Dunga, indeed, I won the Confederation Cup. A World Cup qualifier against Bolivia in La Paz followed. Brazil stayed in a very big hotel and the team arrived along the main entrance of the hotel. On the day of the flight many people came down at the same time and I left my room. The fact is I did miss the bus.  I thought the team would leave the hotel through the main entrance, the same one we had arrived at, but all the players had left the hotel through the side entrance. I never received a reason from Dunga as to why I was not selected for the World Cup. It was sad for me and I always want to play in a World Cup. I don’t know the motive as to why I was not in the squad. But I’m not a vindictive person:  it happened and Dunga decided not to include me in the World Cup squad . In any case, I remain grateful to Dunga for giving me my Brazil debut, and as mentioned I won the Confederations Cup with him. You must ask Dunga why I didn’t go to South Africa.

Dunga and current Brazil coach Mano Menezes seem to have rather different personalities. Mano is calm, relaxed and goes in a natural way about his things. Dunga was strict, and some say perhaps so strict it backfired in the World Cup. Was it from your point of view not a bit ironic that the Netherlands, through Arjen Robben, exposed the left-back position of Brazil with Michel Bastos and Felipe Melo? You were not there, but Holland found it easy to expose this weakness in Brazil’s team.

AS: It’s hard to talk about this issue. Every coach has his own style. Dunga had his own way of working and I liked his method. He is a closed and withdrawn person, but that being said, he is excellent in dealing with players: very calm and open. Mano is calmer and relaxed. He has a better relationship with the fans and the media. He is open and communicates better. This shows that each trainer has his own character, but I respect both Dunga and Mano. They are both winners. The players respect these coaches. I couldn’t go to the World Cup in South Africa, but I repeat that I remain grateful for Dunga for giving me a chance with the Seleção. It is true that I have a better relationship with Mano Menezes, but that’s logical because I worked at Corinthians with Mano and won titles for two years with him. I played many matches under him at Corinthians and know him very well. Ultimately, Dunga and Mano are two excellent coaches, but both have their own methods. 

After the World Cup Mano recalled you to the Seleção and you represented Brazil at the Copa America and in numerous friendlies, but against Germany it was your error that led to Germany’s third goal, which proved to be the winning goal [Germany v Brazil, 10 August 2011, 3-2]. Since then Mano has left you out of the team. Do you feel that is a little bit hard on you?

AS: Most players were returning from holidays and I too was missing match sharpness at the time. Mano had called me up to gain confidence and I played well in the Copa America and also in some friendly matches. Mano always called me up. It was perhaps not the best option at that time, but I started in the team against Germany and blundered. Actually I committed a defensive error. I’m not sure that is the reason why Mano hasn’t called me up since, but I have also moved from Fenerbahce to Arsenal. I do not think Mano with his affection and friendship imposed this as a punishment. You have to earn your place in the Seleção. By playing well at Arsenal I will certainly get another chance  to show what I can do in the yellow shirt.

Mano told me last month that Marcelo from Real is currently the better player for the left-back position. You want to shine in the yellow shirt, but how will you convince Mano from now on that you are his left-back?

AS: If Mano has said that, he has so deliberately. He is open, knows  a lot about football and follows the game closely. Marcelo had a great season at Real Madrid. He was always in the starting line-up. Mano prefers  Marcelo because he is currently better. If I want Mano to call me up again, I need to be a regular at Arsenal and show Mano that I have the qualities to return to the Brazil side. By playing well next season, I can make that happen. Mano will observe me and recall me. I have no doubt about it.

Is part of it an issue that no Brazilian left-back has been able to step out of the footmarks of Roberto Carlos? In that sense Ney Franco [Brazil U-20 manager] recently voiced his concern at the fact that Brazil are not producing enough quality full-backs.

AS: The positions of Roberto Carlos and Cafu were unquestionable. There were no real substitutes for them. They came to Europe early on and both had glorious careers with Brazil. Now all full-backs are compared with Roberto Carlos and Cafu and that is very difficult for these players. Today Brazil doesn’t produce a lot of  laterais. Every child, whichever you ask, wants to be Neymar, Ronaldinho or Ronaldo, not a left-back. And that is a part of the problem, and when you are finally called up for the Seleção the first question you get is whether you will be the next Roberto Carlos or Cafu. This pressure is not fair, because Roberto Carlos and Cafu were unique. That comparison should not be made so that new players can develop and wear the number 2 or 6 at the Seleçao.

Allow me to pull on the shirt of a Brazilian journalist. Back in 2003 when you played at Figueirense Pelé said that you were the next Roberto Carlos.  You don’t like to be compared with him, but do you think that at this stage in your career  you are close to fulfilling Pelé’s prophecy?

AS: I am glad to hear that, because I didn’t know that Pele said so. I do not know him personally, but Ronaldo has told me that he is a great man. He is an  icon and I am delighted with his words. Today I hope to return to the Brazil side and to seize my chance there. I have more experience today: I moved from Fenerbahce to Arsenal,  I played against the world’s best players in the best league in the world, the Premier League. I may not be a new Roberto Carlos, but I want to show people that there are other players with qualities as good or even better than his. 

You are definitely André Santos and the comparison with Roberto Carlos shouldn’t be made. You have had a great career so far and perhaps the 2014 FIFA World Cup is awaiting you, but that is a question for the future. Perhaps there is an even bigger question for the future: will Arthur be as good as a left-back as his father?

AS: It’s my dream to play at the 2014 World Cup and be Brazil’s left-back. As I said earlier, every left-back who makes his debut for Brazil is compared to Roberto Carlos, but each player is also aware that at the same time he must leave Roberto Carlos behind him and make him disappear, and that’s good. A certain part of the press doesn’t understand this. Hopefully my son Arthur will be much better than his dad. He will not be like his father, but much better. Within a few years  I will know if Arthur will play football. I hope to return to the Seleção and for Arthur to grow up healthy, whether he turns out to be a football player or not.

Radio Scorpio would like to thank André Santos for taking the time to talk to us, and wish him the best of luck next season and thereafter.

Note: this interview is also available at The Elastico website.

Tim Vickery interview

In case you missed the interview with TIM VICKERY yesterday, you may find the full interview transcript below – all rights reserved: Tim Vickery is the South American football correspondent for the BBC and works amongst others freelance for World Soccer and Sports Illustrated. He is perhaps best known for his contributions to the World Football Phone-In, which aires weekly on Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 Live. Vickery is known as 'Legendinho' or Vikipedia'  for his vast knowledge of Brazilian and South American football. Tim spoke to World Scorpio in London just before kick-off of Brazil's friendly against  Ghana and offered his in depth opinion on the Selecão.

Let us start at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where Brazil totally imploded in that infamous second half against Holland, what was the main reason – simply that Dunga didn’t have a back-up plan?
Maybe, but I think there was a lack of emotional control. I actually thought going into the tournament that the emotional factor was one of Brazil’s main strengths, because in that run of results from 2008 up to 2010 Brazil did wonderfully well, even in the Confederations Cup final when Brazil were 2-0 down against the United States they managed to come back. The emotional strength was supposed to be a plus point for Brazil. But during the course of the World Cup you saw that the pressure is much, much greater.
 
But emotional control was one their key strengths? Brazil outplayed the Netherlands for an entire 45 minutes, where Dunga’s team could have easily been two or three up.
There was always a vulnerability there with the position of left-back. It was a vulnerability Holland were well set-up to take advantage of with Arjen Robben. Michel Bastos had not played as a full-back for a long time. It was a point that Felipe Melo was looking to cover. One of the key roles of the coach is to set the emotional tone of the team and Dunga lost control gradually during the World Cup. It was very clear in the press conference after the game against Ivory Coast when he looked like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In the second half against Holland when the team needed calming, he was more and more nervous and angry. A nervous and angry coach produces a nervous, angry team. Once they were behind, then your point is correct, the lack of a back-up was then exposed. But then again, they could have been easily 2-0, 3-0 up and then they wouldn’t have needed a plan B. The key, according to me, was the lack of emotional control: if Brazil had been able to control themselves emotionally, they would have done without the need for a back-up.
 
In a way you are also implying that Dunga wasn’t experienced enough? He simply couldn’t deal with the situation in the second half?
Yes, absolutely. There is a moment when your lack of experience shows and that was the moment when it became apparent that Dunga was not up to the job. It was unfortunate and I found it very sad that Felipe Melo was treated like a criminal when the team returned home. Melo had to be smuggled out of the airport. If you look at Felipe Melo’s internacional record, there is only one game where he was on the losing side and that was against Holland, and yet he is treated like a failure. His name is seen as ridiculous – how was this player ever selected for the national team? Brazil is a very intolerant society.
 
Isn’t that typical Brazilian? To the rest of the world Brazil fans are a bunch of festive, colorful and vibrant football lovers. But this view is not correct: for the Brazilian fan only one thing matters and that is winning.
Exactly. Everything about Brazil from the outside world is myth. Brazilian football is a myth wrapped up in another myth, which is the big myth of Brazil.
But Brazil is, and I hope that this will change as the economic situation improves, a society with a low self-esteem, where winning is everything and football, and in particular the world cup, is that moment where Brazil appears for the rest of the world as a success.
 
Why do Brazilians keep on having such a low self-esteem? Brazil is now one of the big booming countries and is trying to host a successful Olympic Games and the World Cup in three years time.
That boom only comes down so far: the vast majority of the population lives on wages, which would be considered below sub-sustenance  level in Europe. I have two stepdaughters and one of them recently took a bus ride from Natal to Rio, which is about 46hrs. The thing that really struck her was the number of people still living in abject poverty. The economic boom is important and there are millions of people joining  a new, bigger middle class, but you are not changing an entire history of 500 years of one of the most unequal countries in the world in the course of a decade. Progress has been made, but very slowly and still a lot of people are left behind. So the aspect of low self-esteem and let us hope this changes in the future, is still very important in the way that Brazilians respond to football. Brazilians will go and watch their team when it is winning. When it is not winning, they switch off and the line is that it is not my team and that it doesn’t represent me. At the press conference Mano Menezes yesterday talked about this issue. He said that playing at home is much more complicated for Brazil, than playing elsewhere, because the crowd is so demanding. One of his key tasks is to prepare a team to cope with that physiological pressure in three years time.
 
The economic boom will obviously influence the set-up of the domestic game , which now has the big problem of the state championships, but will it also influence the set-up of the national team?
It is such an interesting question. I think in Brazilian football the – what I call – ‘92 moment  is long overdue. It was that time in England where the big clubs broke away from a structure that didn’t attend their interests, and Brazilian football has that multiplied many times over, because of a situation where they are locked into a calendar that is build around the necessities of clubs that have no supporters. Now this is interesting in terms of trying to attract the best players: this summer saw a landmark moment, when Corinthians were able to offer a transfer fee for Carlos Tevez. Obviously the move didn’t go through and one of the reasons is that the money is only on tab next year. Why were they able to attract Carlos Tevez? Not for professional reasons, but for purely personal reasons he wanted to be close to his wife and children, who were then in Buenos Aires. For professional reasons you will not have professional players wanting to play the state championships, so that is those months entirely wasted. No professional, ambitious that is, wants to play the state championships and players will come to Europe, regardless of financial considerations now because the big names in Brazil can earn huge sums of money, they can earn what they can get in Europe, but what they can’t do is prove themselves the best. In order to prove themselves the best you have to shine in Europe’s champions league. That is the reality. If Brazilian football genuinely wants to attract top players in their peak years, it has to do something about the calendar. Now the English clubs were able to take this step in 92 because they are run on club business lines. Brazilian clubs aren’t. You can only hope, if Brazil wants to be a global player that the logic of the situation will see them break away from a calendar that for example ruins the start of the league system. All of us, who have grown up with the league system know that its strength lies in the start. That is the moment, the big kick-off, the big party. The big kick-off in Brazil doesn’t exist. It’s a damp squib. Thus Brazil have adopted the league system but thrown away its biggest virtue.
 
Will this set-up change any time soon? As long as Ricardo Teixeira remains in charge, it seems unlikely.
At the moment Teixeira is strong, because he controls the 2014 World Cup. Every one wants the golden reign of 2014 to drop on them. There is also the Copa America in 2015. Venues will be used in 2015 which won’t be used during the World Cup.  At the moment this mechanism keeps the clubs in line.  After that, and after Teixeira is gone, there might be a possibility. Brazil can be very frustrating in this respect. It is a country that has often done a bodged compromise rather than a strong stand. But this global reality is beginning to be realised and within 10 years there will be a possibility, when the big clubs break away.
 
This global reality currently means that Kentaro deals with all Brazil friendlies. What kind of an influence does Kentaro have? They organized the party like pre-2006 world cup training camp in Weggis, Switzerland. Kentaro has also gone to Tanzania and Zimbabwe with Brazil before the 2010 world cup. Financial considerations are most important to Kentaro, but there are limits, no ?
Yes, there are huge limits, because friendlies are all Brazil has. Brazil don’t have to go through the best qualification campaign in the world  – South America.  The last World Cup showed just how well that marathon qualification campaign prepares teams for the World Cup. Now Brazil don’t have that, only friendlies. As is so often the case with Brazil, political considerations then come in. The original line from Mano Menezes was that Brazil were going to take on different schools and top line opponents. Brazil has done that so far, but results haven’t been very good. When results are bad in Brazil, the heat is not only on the coach, but also on the president of the Brazilian FA Ricardo Teixeira. There has been a change now for in November Brazil will play Gabon, whereas they could have been playing Italy or Spain. You wonder whose interests that serves? Brazil don’t need to play an African school. They are playing the top African school now – Ghana. You can’t see of any football necessity to take on a game against Gabon. Perhaps not even a commercial necessity, but maybe it is a political necessity from Ricardo Teixeira to protect himself against criticism if Brazil take on high-standing opponents and lose. Obviously the risk is if Brazil play lesser opponents and lose, the egg in the face is even greater. But there is still a long way to go until 2014 and Mano said yesterday that there will be more friendlies at home and that is important, because preparing the team physiologically for the pressure, the like of which no team has ever experienced, has to be priority. In 1950 there were only 50 million Brazilians to put pressure on, come 2014 there will be 200 million Brazilians. The pressure they will have to cope with in 2014 is immense and you can win your first four, five games 4-0, but if you lose the next game by half a goal to nil you are out and the world cup dream is over. They need to be strongly physiologically prepared and friendlies are all they have to do it with, apart from the Confederations cup in 2013, which is glorified friendlies. 
 
The pressure will indeed be huge in 2014. The Brazilian public will expect nothing but victory. Mano has now been in charge for just over a year, how do you evaluate his reign so far? He came in at a transitional phase, he has an exciting, young generation to work with, but how can he prepare these youngsters for the massive task that awaits them?
You are in the anti-Mano camp? It is a fascinating time to follow Brazil, because it is a transitional time in two ways: firstly, with the obvious generational change that had to be made after 2010, but also Mano’s analysis, which was I think correct, that the style had to change – away from the dependence on the counterattack of the Dunga team. The Brazil crowd will not get fully behind the team if that is the style of football, which is played in 2014. Secondly Brazil need to learn against opponents who don’t offer them the counterattack. No one will offer them the counterattack in 2014! In the last set of world cup qualifiers under Dunga Brazil won 0-3 away to Chile, which was a great result, but a few days later Brazil drew goalless against Bolivia. That was the only game that Bolivia didn’t lose of all of their away games. It illustrated a problem that Brazil have had in recent years, which is breaking down teams which don’t offer them the counterattack. That is the context in which Mano took charge. Mano wanted Brazil to play more extensively through the midfield and the big change has been the replacement of a Gilberto Silva type-figure by Lucas, who is not a natural in that holding midfielders role, but someone who can generate more football. As Mano said in the press conference yesterday, there has been an imbalance between the objective and the achievements. Brazil try to do things that they haven’t been able to do. Brazil have found it much harder to play their way through the midfield then expected. Many people in Brazil just thought that picking Paulo Henrique Ganso would be in itself enough to resolve this problem. In reality it has proved to be a little harder. The impression I had watching the Germany game last month, was that it the first time that Mano was a bit rattled physiologically. The line that he came out with after the game that he didn’t think it was possible to play Germany at this stage toe to toe, was a little bit worrying. This was Germany in pre-season without some of their best players. The result shouldn’t matter that much. It would have been better for Brazil to play Ganso and give him the expierence of playing the Germans and learn from the expierence, whatever the result was. It was the first time that you wondered is Mano being blown of course? That is the fascinating thing about today’s game. You asked Mano yesterday if he thought this was a must-win game? He batted of the question, but the pressure is beginning to rise. The Brazilian press are speculating that he might not last for much longer. The game tonight is not a meaningless friendly, the stakes are rising for Mano and let us see how he responds to the pressure he is under.
 
May I say you are pro-Mano?
I am a bit disappointed with him, to be honest. He hasn’t stuck to his own ideas. I was at the Copa America back in July in Argentina and the best 45 minutes that Brazil offered was in the first group game against Paraguay, which ended up being a 2-2 draw. The half time score was 1-0. Jadson scored the goal. Just in a few flashes you could see a glimpse of a nice partnership being build between Jadson and Ganso. It was interesting. But Jadson was removed during that game at halftime, because he was close to a red card. He had picked up a yellow card and just before he scored, he very nearly got send off. Mano decided to take him off, but he hasn’t reappeared since and I have no idea why. It disappoints me for an interesting partnership was about to be forged. Obviously you never know what happens behind the scenes.  There was the story around the Scotland game in March about Marcelo. He didn’t play that game and didn’t appear in the team anymore. It was only afterwards that the media discovered why. Marcelo had send an e-mail back to Real Madrid saying that he had managed to convince Brazil that he shouldn’t play and he was very happy about this. It was an issue about commitment to the national team, but he made a bad mistake by sending that e-mail, not only to Real Madrid, but also to the Brazilian coaching staff. You can never fully know what happens behind the scenes, but you can’t begin to understand the treatment of Jadson. He was given 45 minutes and then dropped. Robinho, who is injured and not playing today, has been given opportunity after opportunity. You worry that there are a kind of double standards? That is a concern. That is disappointing from Menezes, but it is worrying in general that he clearly has his favourites. That might be difficult to administer in the long term if players feel they are not being selected, because Mano is being too loyal to his favourites. In general though, Mano comes across as a very calm, intelligent and rational figure.
 
After Dunga’s dismissal Mano was appointed as head coach, but he wasn’t first choice to succeed Dunga. Does that in a way undermine his position in the eyes of the Brazilian public?
No, the whole thing about not being first choice, was over and done with very quickly when Brazil played the USA, played well and won. It was forgotten. If Mano is under pressure, it is only because the results haven’t been good enough. It doesn’t have anything to do with not being first choice.
 
Imagine Mano gets sacked in one of the next games, who would be a good replacement?
There are shadows emerging and one of those shadows is Vanderlei Luxemburgo. He is responsible both in tactical and physiological terms for the fact that Ronaldinho is back in the squad. A year ago it looked like Luxemburgo’s career was going down the toilet. He has managed to haul himself back into contention with Flamengo. There is another one, which is Luiz Felipe Scolari. If you look at what Scolari did at the start of the decade: he didn’t want the Brazil job, he didn’t want the Brazil job. With a year to go before the World Cup, he wanted it. He took it, won the world cup and then left. Right now he must be thinking if the job is vacant a year before the world cup, he’d like it again. Those are the principal shadows at the moment: Luxemburgo looming and Scolari lurking.
 
Brazil find it difficult to break down opposition that sit back deep and don’t offer them the counterattack, but it is these days still possible to play the truly beautiful game that we all associate with the Brazilian teams of 1958, 1970 and 1982? Interestingly enough, Daniel Alves was asked by the Brazilian press whether or not Brazil could copy the style of FC Barcelona!
A lot of Brazilian coaches would tend to say no: it is not possible. The direction that Brazilian football has taken, puts a lot of emphasis on height and physical strength and on counterattacks. At conferences of Brazilian coaches the statistics are rolled out that if the move has more then seven passes the possibilities of a goal are reduced. But there you go, then Barcelona come along and prove that all of this isn’t true. It is difficult for  the moment to see Brazil do what Barcelona are doing, because Brazil are not producing the players. Who is the Brazilian equivalent of a Xavi or an Iniesta? There is quality available in lots of positions but is there enough quality in central midfield? And again that is disappointing about Mano: Hernanes is an excellent player. He can play in a deeper role for Brazil then he does for Lazio Roma. A player, who strikes the ball so well with both feet, should be looked at. He was badly selected in the friendly against France when he played wide on the left. He doesn’t have the pace to play there and he couldn’t get into the game. He got frustrated, went in with a high foot, got send off and he hasn’t been back since. He is a player that should be involved in this transitional phase. It is back to thing that Mano seems to have favourites and other are not so much favourites. The treatment he has given Jadson and Hernanes has been bad. These are two players who could improve Brazil in the middle of the field.
 
Let us focus a little on the game with Ghana. Ronaldinho has been recalled to the squad, where does Kaka fit in?
Kaka has to get fit. The long term of his career is worrying. He has two fairly chronic injuries. Kaka is a player, who needs that explosion. He needs to be at top physical condition. If you take that away from him, he is not a world class player. First Kaka has to prove that he can be physically fit, and also that he can be physically fit in three years time. He will be 32 then. Probably Menezes is thinking – if we get anything from Kaka, that’s a bonus.
 
One of Brazil’s big problems has been the left-back position. Michel Bastos played at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, then André Santos, who had a disappointing Copa America, was tried out and now Marcelo is given another chance.
It is a great chance for Marcelo. To me, André Santos wasn’t that disappointing in the Copa America. He is better going forward than he is defensively, but he doesn’t score the goals that he should considering the positions he gets into. But one of the highlights of what Brazil did at the Copa America came against Ecuador. Brazil played an absolutely terrible first half. The first goal, that came out of nowhere, was a beautiful cross from André Santos. It curled in behind the defensive line and Alexandre Pato got in front of the defender to score. It was the kind of cross that invited, and you didn’t have to be six foot tall to meet it. Santos didn’t provide enough of those moments. He has been punished now for giving away the goal against Germany, which turned out to be the winner. He has a long history with Mano Menezes and it has to be seen whether his omission from the squad now is a one game punishment or more permanent. I think Alexandro, who has just joined FC Porto, is an interesting prospect. He is a very promising left-back and he could be the long term solution. You can be assured that in most positions, and especially fullbacks, if Brazil don’t have a player now, they will have one soon.
 
On the right-back Mano has always preferred Dani Alves instead of Maicon. Yet the former is more frail in defence and had a terrible Copa America.
Before the first game against Paraguay, the then coach of Paraguay Fernando Martino said that when Dani Alves cuts in, he has the precision of a number 10. He countered by picking Estigebarria – left sided and quick. He set up the two goals for Paraguay and Daniel Alves was dropped. Martino was very happy with his work, because he neutralized what he saw as Brazil’s strong point. Danilo is in the squad now, who can play right back or central midfield. The question mark over Maicon is first of all – can he fight Gareth Bale? Secondly – is he still going to be around in 2014? He will be nearly 33 and that is pushing it for a player, who relies on physical explosion. At Manchester United the rising of Chris Smalling is a disappointment for Rafael. He is not getting the opportunities that he got last year. He was in the Brazil squad last year. He falls back. Overall though, it is a lovely problem to have. Most coaches around the world would love to have Daniel Alves, Maicon, Danilo and Rafael to choose from.
 
In the centre of the field there is the interesting figure of Paulo Henrique Ganso, who didn’t get a start against Germany.
It would have been a wonderful experience for him – to start a game in Europe against a top European side. Besides he was fitter in August then he was back in July at the Copa America, when he had just returned from a long knee injury. That was a game he could have learned a lot from. It will be interesting to see if he gets a game today – how he gets on against the big, strong and physical Ghanaians. And how about Neymar, how will he deal with such a strong team?
 
Could we say that Fernandinho of Shakhtar Donetsk is a bit of an oddity in this team?
Ramires has not been included. Fernandinho can play that role, as a midfielder who can force the transition and can bring the ball forward. But playing for Shakhtar, having not played for a big club in one of the big centres of Brazil, makes it very difficult for him to stay in the squad. There simply is no lobby for him back at home. If he is dropped, like Jadson, who is in the same category, no one in Brazil will protest, because he has no lobby in Rio, Sao Paulo or even in Porte Alegre or Belo Horizonte. Under those conditions it is nearly impossible to stay in the squad.
 
In the final third of the field, there is Neymar – a petulant boy but with huge potential!
Against Germany he failed to get involved, he wasn’t up to the mark. He is still at Santos, despite rumours that he has been sold to FC Barcelona for an estimated 60 million EUR as of 2013. Mano said he has a strong personality. Can Neymar make it in Europe?
It is going to be one of the fascinating narratives over the next few years. How Neymar gets on in Europe? His ability is absolutely phenomenal, astounding. But there are question marks about his lack of physicality, about his tendency to dive all the time  – that he gets away with in Brazil – and question marks about his personality – his petulance. The Germany game was fascinating for a number of reasons. He played badly and was indeed not up to the mark, but he scored a fantastic goal. How many players could have done that? In a low scoring game like football, some one who can play badly and still score a wonderful goal, is useful. Rivaldo used to do this a lot. He would have game where he received the ball hundred times, 98 times he’d give it away and twice he’d score a goal. That is still cost effective. It was astonishing goal that Neymar scored against Germany: given half a metre at the edge of the area – BANG! His precision in front of goal is extraordinary. But can he cope with the weight of expectation? Can he cope with physicality and the fact that he is not going to get a free kick every time? It is going to be an intriguing soap opera to watch.
 
Neymar has already won the Copa Libertadores, which should be enough prove that he is a real talent, or does the Libertadores get undervalued in Europe?
It probably is. The time difference doesn’t help because the big games kick off at 2 in the morning European time. In general the English media don’t pay enough attention to South American football, be it domestically or the national teams. The English media treated the Copa America more as a backdrop to Carlos Tevez deciding where he was going to play his football than tournament, which is very interesting in itself. That unfortunately is the English mentality, which is all the stronger it seems for the fact that all players from all corners of the world are playing in England. The English seem to not worry about abroad and just think about Carlos Tevez here. Rowing against this tide has proven to be rather difficult.
 
 
The English may seem to bother only about the Premier League, but has the Premier League become slightly ridiculous with multimillionaires using it as their back garden to toy around?  
In England a vast majority are thinking that the Germans have got the balance better. Having said that, I spoke with Sandro from Tottenham yesterday about how his first year had gone. He is so happy to be playing here and he says this is where everyone wants to be, because there are so many great players from all over the world, great facilities. Sandro feels he is a much improved player. He has learnt to do things much more quickly and good football is exactly that – precision at pace.
 
What do you expect about Brazil tonight?
I expect to be intrigued, fascinated and hopefully moved at times. It is such a fascinating time to watch Brazil, specifically because they are trying to find their way and trying to rediscover a footballing identity. It is not easy doing that under pressure.
 
Is it significant that today’s offensive quartet for Brazil – Damião, Neymar, Ganso and Ronaldinho – all play their football back home in the domestic league?
It is not coincidence. The Brazilian league is paying big money, but if you ask this question in two years time, that Neymar, Ganso and Damião will not be playing their football in Brazil. The terms of trade are changing, but still the best players will play their big years in Europe. That is unavoidable for the foreseeable future.
 
Is Mano’s mission slowly becoming near mission impossible? The Brazilian public don’t seem to be to please with his experimental approach over the last 13 games, but with the 2012 Olympics coming up, you can expect more of the same, will the CBF and the Brazilian public except that for another year?
It depends on results. Everything does. But it is hard to see Brazil not winning the Olympics. Who will beat Brazil in the Olympics? Who is going to take it more seriously ? It is the same year as the European championships. No one from Europe is going to be full strength. Uruguay are there and will put out a decent team, but they have got only 3.5 million people, Brazil has 200 million. Africa? They will be strong, but Brazil will be stronger. Mano Menezes will see that as his salvation: let us just get through these friendlies, next year we win the Olympics. That will give him some breathing space.
 
A silly question to conclude: who will win the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
Haha! Always make you predictions after the event! I can tell you with no problem at all that Brazil will win the 1970 World Cup. About 2014, I haven’t got a clue!   

Tim Vickery on the Selecao

Tonight's World Scorpio offers Tim Vickery's opinion on the current Brazilian national team. The correspondent of the BBC in Rio De Janeiro, who works amongst others for World Soccer and Al Jazeera, is an eager observer as Brazil go through what he believes is a challenging and extremely interesting, transitional phase after the 2010 World Cup. To find out more, tune in tonight!

S.O.S. Mano Menezes

LONDON, Craven Cottage – SK. The honeymoon period for Mano Menezes has ended for a  while now, but the pressure is steadily building on Brazil’s coach ahead of Monday’s friendly against Ghana at Craven Cottage. The consensus among the players and the media is the same: Brazil is currently going through a transitional period after the 2010 World Cup, the balance between youngsters and the veterans is difficult to strike, but the question is how much longer the biggest football nation on earth will accept the experimental approach of Mano Menezes with results not going Brazil’s way?

After 13 games at the helm of the Selecao Mano’s Brazil have lost 3 games against France, Argentina and Germany, were eliminated from the Copa America by Paraguay and conceded 7 goals. The new whiff, which accompanied Menezes when appointed, is gone. The new coach vowed to do away with Dunga’s counterattacking game and emphasized the need to strengthen the midfield with offensive players. Quality in the axe of the field as a foundation for Brazil’s resurrection.

A poor Ganso struggled and the passing through the midfield was not sufficiently slick at the Copa America. The performance in Argentina pointed to the conclusion that Brazil are very much a work in progress. In August Germany, with Gotze as protagonist, totally dismantled the team of Menezes. Menezes had no other choice but to graciously accept defeat: ‘We are still finding it hard to organize an attacking move. We are depending on individual skills from our strikers. We are not able to put together combinations as mechanically as the Germans are doing.’

The result of a friendly is obviously not the most important aspect, but the lack of belief in his own ideas by Menezes was astounding. His formation was conservative and only when the game was lost, did Ganso appear. Rodrigo Paiva, the flamboyant press officer of Brazil, was quick to inform the gathered media that the CBF would continue putting its faith in the hands of Menezes, but critical voices are growing ever louder. Milton Neves, an outspoken journalist, did not hide his dismay: ‘Mano, you are the pilot of a small plane, but the Selecao is a boeing!'

Menezes had to act and opted to select Ronaldinho for the game against Ghana. The latter has found his 'joie de vivre' at Flamengo, where the shrewd Vanderlei Luxemburgo plays Ronaldinho closer to goal to mask the loss of his burning acceleration. Ronaldinho will be wearing the yellow jersey as he needs to help bridge the gap between the different generations within the team. It is a task he humbly accepts:  'I am happy to return to the team. I have the duty to help the team with all the experience that I have acquired.’

Up front Menezes is ringing another change: Alexandre Pato from AC Milan, who turned 22 last week, has to make way for Leandro Damiao. The former has just scored 6 goals in 17 games and has been given ample time by Menezes to prove his worth. Menezes' patience with Pato has run out and so he turns his attention to Damiao in a bid to give Brazil more physical presence in the box. The tall striker from Internacional can be described as a classic number 9. Damiao made his debut for Brazil in March against Scotland. 

The Brazilian coach has hence made several changes in his team that will face Ghana tonight, but the time to experiment is over. Ronaldinho may offer temporary relief for Menezes, but his selection will not solve Brazil’s structural problems. Mano is a coach under intense pressure. The Olympic Games in London are approaching rapidly and it offers Menezes another chance to further develop his philosophy and build his team. In the squad for the game tonight, Ganso, Neymar, Lucas, Damiao, Danilo and Pato can all be identified as having an Olympic passport. But whether the CBF and the Brazilian public are willing to tolerate Mano’s experimental approach for another year remains to be seen.

Brazil line-up v Ghana: J. Cesar, D. Alves, T. Silva, Lucio, Marcelo; Ganso, Fernandinho, Lucas Leiva; Ronaldinho, Neymar, Damiao

Mano Menezes banks on Ronaldinho renaissance

LONDON, Craven Cottage – SK.  After a disappointing Copa America and defeat in Germany, Mano Menezes has recalled Ronaldinho Gaucho to the Brazil squad ahead of the friendly international against Ghana at Craven Cottage. Menezes believes that a reinvigorated Ronaldinho can help to get his Brazil back on the right track.

Ronaldinho’s recent, excellent performances with Flamengo have caught the eye of Mano Menezes. At moments Ronaldinho has shown glimpses of his former best. The shrewd Vanderlei Luxemburgo positions Ronaldinho closer to goal to mask his ageing legs. It has enabled Ronaldinho with his vast array of tricks and nose for goal to be the driving force behind Flamengo’s title bid. His genius unmistaken, there is no doubt however that Menezes wants to use the experience that Ronaldinho has acquired to help and build the Brazilian team.

Menezes needs to fil up a vacuum. After the 2010 World Cup Menezes took the pressure seat with the massive task of constructing a Brazil ready to win the World Cup on home soil in 2014. But the transitional phase initiated by the dismissal of Dunga has not been easy. Menezes’ experimental approach came crashing down at the Copa America, where it was proved that his team is very much a work in progress. The new generation of Neymar, Ganso and Pato have been unable to fill the boots of their illustrious predecessors. 

In a squad, where only Julio Cesar and captain Lucio can be considered veterans, Ronaldinho has now been given the task of providing some much needed guidance to the new generation. Yet Menezes’ choice to recall Ronaldinho is an odd move. Succumbing to the increasing pressure in the wake of recent results Mano had to act, but Ronaldinho can hardly be considered part of the plans for the 2014 World Cup. In the long term Ronaldinho won’t solve Brazil’s structural problems. In a bold statement Menezes disagrees with this view: ‘His selection is not a temporary solution. It is important for Brazil to have experience. He is a world champion and alongside with the younger players we try to build the team. I do not exclude the possibility of selecting him for the 2014 World Cup. It is still far away and it is about Ronaldinho playing well. I do believe he has what it takes to play at the World Cup.’

In a sense, Menezes believes that the call up of Ronaldinho was only a matter of time. Repeating that the form of a player is the decisive criterion to select a player, Mano continued by stressing that Ronaldinho is valuable to the Selecao: ‘Ronaldinho contributes a lot to the game. He is a leader with great technical ability. You can rely on him to help the younger players, who are on their way to a permanent spot in the team. When he returned to Brazil from AC Milan he had to adapt again. I waited for the moment that Ronaldinho started to enjoy playing again.’

Ronaldinho himself seems pleased with his return to the elite of Brazilian football. With the spotlight firmly turned on him, the former Ballon D’Or winner and FIFA World Player of the Year hasn’t been very talkative about his second call up by Menezes, but in a scarce comment to the Brazilian press, he expressed his sincere joy: ‘I am very happy to play for Brazil again. Every call up is different and emotional. My task now is to help the team with my experience.’

Whereas player and coach seem to think along the same line, the media and public scrutiny beg the question that this is not the right option to rebuild the Brazilian team. Brazil may have won the U-20 World Cup in Colombia, but another injection of youthful talent may at this stage given the circumstances be fatal for Menezes. Thus, with Kaka totally out of form, Menezes has little choice but to include Ronaldinho in his team. Menezes does confirm that Kaka is not completely out of the picture. Kaka wearing the yellow shirt, boasting five stars, shouldn’t be ruled out in the future: ‘You can’t compare Kaka with Ronaldinho at this moment. The former is not playing very well. You have to give him time. When he gets back to his best, I may include him. I am waiting.’

The overall equation leaves Menezes with a near impossible assignment, keeping in mind the upcoming 2012 Londen Olympics. The current situation Brazil find themselves in is not Menezes’ fault, but at the same time it, as a coach, is his fault. He knows that he can’t afford a slip up against Ghana, whatever support the CBF may be showing.  It is now up to Ronaldinho to answer Mano’s faith with a convincing performance.