Greatest passers of the game: Zico

Remembered more for his prolific scoring and amazing freekicks, Brazilian master Zico was amongst the top playmakers in the world. Not bad in what was arguably football’s greatest era. This compilation speaks for itself and if you enjoy it, see the link for part 2 below!


False-starting 11: Where Del Bosque went wrong in the Confederations Cup Final

Spain vs. Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final 2013

While hindsight is 20/20, the normally astute Vicente Del Bosque underestimated the threat Felipao’s Brazil posed and did not start the right side or make the correct substitutions. I wrote at the start of the tournament that 22nd ranked Brazil were criminally underrated and it didn’t take long to see why.

The absence of Xabi Alonso: Brazil out-press Spain

The absence of Spain’s talismanic double pivot through injury was not just a missing place in the roster, it was also missing from the pitch. Del Bosque went decidedly Barça with his lineups in this tournament, fielding the classic Busquets-Xavi-Iniesta triangle and opting not to straight-sub Alonso with Javi Martinez, but rather just erasing the position altogether.

This allowed for an arguably more offensive lineup, but opened up Spain to same physical out-matching Barça went through against Bayern in the Champions League semifinal. I had indeed suggested that to patch defensive holes, Barça should consider returning to a double pivot. Alonso and Busquets had been the key ball-winners for a Spain that played with high-pressure. Today that system failed and they were handed a defeat to remarkably similar to Barcelona’s drubbing in the Champions League. They gave the ball away and let Brazil, mostly through Neymar, run riot on the counter as Robben had months before.

Whereas Martinez could have matched the tenacious physicality of his counterparts Paulinho and teammate Luis Gustavo, Mata was all but erased from the match by Brazil’s tenacious defending, which was the key factor to their winning this tournament.

The use of the Chelsea boys nullified by tactical fouls

Del Bosque clearly wanted to make use of a dynamic duo in Chelsea teammates Juan Mata and Fernando Torres, but the gambit failed when Spain were unable to create situations for either player. Brazil switched between pressuring Spain’s build-up play in their own half, with Oscar, Hulk, and Neymar sprinting at and almost invariably fouling Iniesta, Xavi, and Busquets and pressuring Spain in the final third with Alves (7 fouls), Gustavo, Paulinho, and Marcelo also tactically fouling as far from the box as possible.

Brazil committed a staggering 26 tactical fouls and were not cautioned once, which if not for home field advantage would normally raise an eyebrow. Spain saw yellows to Arbeloa and Ramos in the first half, and Pique saw straight-red for Spain’s tactical fouls when Brazil slipped through a high-line midfield that had broken down by Brazil’s pressing.

The energy of Brazil’s midfield came from settling their semifinal in regular time as well as their squad’s home field advantage playing in the heat (and not to mention in front of their fans). But there energy was not superhuman. They ingeniously kept up their rate of pressing by alternating between compressing small spaces on different parts of the pitch, rotating different personnel to do so and resting with the ball by at times keeping it away from Spain. The final possession was only 52-48 in favor of Spain (though was closer to 60-40 for most of the match).

Brazil shorten the time as well as space

Apart from comprehensively compressing the space Del Bosque’s men had to play in, Felipao’s men also compressed the time, using similar tactics to Simeone in pressuring intensely at the beginning and particularly at the end of each half. Ultimately a first minute goal in each half, and a last-minute goal in the first half were, coupled with a goal-line clearance and a missed penalty were what did Spain in with a scoreline that flattered Brazil. But Del Bosque didn’t correctly anticipate Brazil’s pressing and two straight subs and the introduction of Jesus Navas were not enough to overturn a poorly chosen first eleven.

Del Bosque arguably should have played Cesc Fabregas as a false nine, and Javi Martinez as a double pivot to load the midfield with strong passers, outnumbering Brazil’s markers and stretching out the space their defensive line had to cover. It may have pushed Brazil back further and made for a more monotonous and lower scoring game, but would also have given Spain the chance to keep the sheet clean for longer.

See you in 2014

And so David beat Goliath in a reverse Maracanazo, and did so with a 22nd ranked arguably pedestrian side. What does this mean for next year’s tournament? It means that Felipao has found his midfield, has always had his defense, and plans to launch an assault with these and other rich talents for Brazil’s sixth World Cup. But Spain remain dangerous, and Italy and Uruguay showed that they are also here to play. Get the usual suspects like Argentina and Germany on board with respective imminent qualification for both and we could have the makings of a classic tournament in Brazil in 2014.


Greatest passers of the game: David Beckham

Many criticized David Beckham for his media image speaking louder than his skills on the pitch. While one could argue with his close control and technique, his passing ability was one of the great natural talents of the last generation. I found a great compilation that concentrates on his secondary assists and shows how much he will be missed on the pitch.

Why the Brazilian national team are criminally underrated

Better days for Kaka, but a number Brazil want to forget. Image by Roberto Vicario via Wikipedia.

With Brazil languishing in an unprecedented 22nd place in the FIFA rankings a year before they host the 2014 World Cup, the biggest headlines about Felipe Scolari’s Confederations Cup call-up were indeed the omissions of Kaká and Ronaldinho. There was no Brazilian in the top 10 scorers of any major European League last season. The country’s recent performances in friendlies, the Copa America, the Olympics, and a recent managerial change have left many scratching their heads. What has happened to Brazil?

Firstly, there is no denying Brazil are where they are because of their results, or lack thereof. And nowhere are they more criticized than in Brazil itself, but Brazilians know they should be doing much better than they are. To the average Euro-centric football fan however, the conspicuous lack of talent in the top European leagues can be just as easily explained.

The repatriation and retention of stars

The rise of Brazil as an economic power in the last decade has positively impacted their national tournament. We may react with alarm when we see a callup with only three players from the Premier League and La Liga respectively, and only 12 total from clubs outside of Brazil (compared to 20 in 2010). And while it is true that they have failed to follow up their golden generation with international superstars, it must be noted that much of their major talent now plays in Brazil.

Brazilian clubs have been able to use their monetary power to buy back players like Alexandre Pato and to set high recision clauses into contracts of young stars like Neymar, who would likely have gone to Europe much sooner and for much cheaper only a few years ago. Fred and, until recently, Neymar are perfect examples of two almost certain starters on Saturday, with the former having made a respectable European showing before returning to Brazil, and the latter having fended off European football for years due to his clubs ability to pay him well enough to at least stall a move.

The general feeling in Brazil is that talent is somewhat stunted in European football, particularly when teenage players make big money moves only to sit on the bench during their formative seasons. Many of the young prospects on this team lack European experience, but not professional experience. With so much talent in Brazil, there is reason to expect the raw flashy football many love to translate to the national team next year.

Scolari wants to maintain low profile

When Luis Felipe ‘Felipao’ Scolari took on the challenge of coaching Brazil in 2001, the side were on the verge of missing the World Cup. But what most people choose not to remember is that there were no FIFA international dates back then. Just a decade ago most elite European club sides did not allow stars like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Roberto Carlos to make the trip during competitive league and Champions League campaigns.

The tables have now turned, with international breaks allowing for the strongest callups and many star players back in Brazil. But the curse of every host is that they do not need to qualify. With the absence of fierce competition in the CONMEBOL qualification group, Brazil have had little opportunity to build a strong, consistent, and well-worked side for the World Cup. While the Confederations Cup presents them a golden opportunity, Felipao has stated that he wishes to use this alternative squad to test players.

It’s a shrewd move by a World Cup winner to not show his final hand, because if they bow out early as most expect them to, an underdog side with considerable talent and the home advantage may stun the world next year. If they win the Confederations Cup, they may find new talent worthy of the final squad. But more importantly it will be a lesson to the world that the home advantage is all they need, and that Brazil remain the only country able to win the tournament with an otherwise below average side. Scolari put in one of the great tournament-manager performances in World Cup history in 2002, and he’s been hired with the singular purpose of doing it again.

We are looking for stars in the wrong positions

Finally, when we think of Brazil we naturally think offense. We think of Zico, Socrates, Pelé, Rivelino, Ronaldinho, and Garrincha etc. But what if we’re looking for stars in the wrong places?

We have seen a shift in the Brazilian national team’s mentality and identity from the star-studded Jogo Bonito side that fell short of expectations in 2006, to the brutally defensive and pragmatic Jogo Efectivo side that probably exceeded expectations in 2010. Dunga failed in creating a defensive Brazil because he simply did not have good defensive players and because his personality and management style pushed away key big-name players.

Ironically, Scolari has the ability to create a solid defensive Brazilian national team with all the big-name players in tow. Thiago Silva and David Luiz rose to prominence in the years leading up to next year’s tournament, and the team is now clearly based on them. Scolari, while remembered for Brazil’s defensive performances in 2002, is an excellent man manager and is less likely than Dunga to eschew offensive talent and present the world with an imbalanced side. If they can reach a harmony between world class defenders and talented attacking players, the world will see why Brazil are a criminally underrated side in 2014.


Greatest passers of the game: Willem Van Hanegem

The best passer you probably have never heard of. Van Hanegem was the creative center of the famed Dutch midfield in 1974. A slow player with no right foot and an unlikely genius technically, Feyenoor great Van Hanegem lit up the 1974 World Cup as shown in this great compilation by Zouzinho. Fans of the current passing central midfielders like Xabi Alonso, Steven Gerrard, and Xavi Hernandez will appreciate the exquisite skill shown here.

On Florentino Perez and @Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract negotiation

Photo: Lars Aronsson via Wikipedia

While the Spanish season may have ended with Barcelona winning the league, el Clasico with Real Madrid remains front page news. For all the criticism leveled at Florentino Perez and his penchant for expensive Galactico sides that don’t win much and chew through the world’s best coaches, the man remains without equal in the back room.

El Clasico in the back room

His late season bid for Neymar was never really about getting the player, who Perez arguably could not get and certainly did not need. It was all about making Barcelona pay much more than they wanted to for him and forcing them to sell stars and possibly forgo a big name defensive signing. Barcelona have indeed spent Galactico money thus far mostly unsuccessfully in their quest for the perfect partner for Messi, leaving them exposed in other areas of the pitch, which is exactly what Florentino wants.

But Perez may have opened up a new and very costly problem for himself with this victory. The recent publication of Real Madrid’s offer to attempt to lure Neymar away from signing with Barcelona showed they were offering the Brazilian talent an unprecedented 70% ownership of his image rights. Cristiano only gets 60% and he wants a significant raise. What’s more, Barcelona gave Neymar 100%, and that’s what Cristiano wants, along with a net salary between €18-20M before bonuses.

The recent Forbes report showed that Cristiano made €33.5M last season, €17.5 from salary and bonus, €16 from endorsements of which he contractually takes home 60%, or €9.6M (and the team gets 40%, or €6.4M.). So Cristiano takes home €27.1M.
Messi made €29.45M, €15.1 from salary and bonus, and €14.35 from endorsements of which he contractually takes home 100%. So Messi takes home €29.45M.

The fact that Cristiano’s demands are a problem for Real Madrid is seen in their offer to him. €14M net salary and negotiation of image rights. Because of the expiration of the Beckham rule, increasing Cristiano Ronaldo’s net salary to €14M will represent a 58% increase for the club before bonuses. This is because his current €10M salary is taxed at 24% while his €14M salary would be taxed at 52%. He costs Madrid €12.4 in salary now, but would cost €21.28 in salary with their current offer. If they choose to offer him the 70% they offered Neymar they would lose another €1.6M, to say nothing of 100%.

While Real Madrid famously have a lot of money, all of this goes a long way towards explaining their caution in agreeing a contract termination with Mourinho (as firing him would have cost them millions), their desperation to sell Kaká to finance Cristiano’s raise, and gives a balanced perspective on their search for a new trainer while also seeking to include players in deals in exchange for smaller transfer fees. Florentino’s job is not easy, but in this situation in particular he’s certainly the best man for the job.