On 20 June, the Brazilian FA appointed Adenor Bacchi, better known as Tite, as the new national team coach, six days after Dunga had been sacked for an apathetic display at the Copa América Centenário. When Tite took over, the most victorious nation in football history languished in sixth place in World Cup qualifying. Panic ensued and it was questioned whether Brazil would make it to Russia 2018 at all.
Today, four matches, four victories and exactly four months later, the Seleção sit atop the qualifying group. What a difference a coach makes.
As Brazil stroked the ball around in the closing minutes of their 5-0 dismantling of Bolivia two weeks ago, fans in the Arena das Dunas in the north-eastern city of Natal began chanting the name of the new national team boss. Olê, olê olê olê! Tite! Tite! One would struggle to find the last Brazil coach to have received such affection from the stands.
This adoration of Tite highlights a key feature of the national team’s improvement: the supporters are gradually coming back onside. After years of failure, letdown and scandal behind the scenes, public opinion of the Seleção plumbed new depths in the first half of 2016. However, with the dismissal of Dunga, Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro and Tite’s four victories, Brazilian football fans – a bipolar bunch at the best of times – are beginning to get excited.
Even the normally grounded Tostão, Brazil’s World Cup winner-turned-gifted newspaper columnist, predicts the national team will be in with a chance of winning the trophy in Russia. True to form however, his confidence is served with a dollop of self-criticism: “I’m optimistic, too much so. I need to contain myself so as not to end up like the flag-wavers or the biased optimists.”
Naturally, this newfound fan favour has not arisen from nowhere. Tite’s side has earned these plaudits for their on-pitch performances. For the first time since Mano Menezes was in charge in 2012, Brazil are striving to play as a cohesive and compact unit, attacking and defending as one. Since the mid-1980s, the national team have been criticised for only finding success through casual moments of individual skill and flair. Under Tite, they are winning games through effectual collective play.
Furthermore, the players appear to have bought into Tite’s methods and ethos. In an interview last week, Neymar claimed Tite is “one of the best” coaches he’s ever worked with, while Daniel Alves has compared him to his former manager Pep Guardiola.
When you hear Brazil’s boss speak about the game, you can see how he manages to evoke such confidence and loyalty from his squad. When Tite talks football, there is a glint in his eye that gives away the passion and obsession the 55-year-old has for the beautiful game.
Unlike his predecessor Dunga, who chose to remain in his hometown of Porto Alegre, Tite moved to Rio de Janeiro immediately after taking the job. He punches in every morning at 8 am at the Brazilian FA headquarters in Barra da Tijuca, rarely clocking off before 6 o’clock in the evening. In September alone, Tite and his coaching team attended 25 matches in the stadium, as well as studying days of recorded game footage. The size of the ring binder lugged around by assistant coach Cleber Xavier during each match, bulging with photos, diagrams and notes regarding Brazil’s opponents, is but the tip of the iceberg. Preparation is the name of the game for Tite’s Seleção.
Certainly this level of dedication should be the minimum expected of Tite considering the amount of money he earns (a recent Daily Mail article placed him as the second-best paid international manager in world football, bringing in approximately £2.5 m per year). However, compared to those who came before him, the 55-year-old gives off the impression he is the first Brazil coach in a long while to really take the job seriously.
Since the beginning of the decade, the present generation of Brazilian footballers has been criticised and blamed for the national team’s drought of success. Whereas previous crops yielded the marvellously talented sides of 1998, 2002 and 2006, the current bunch is often disparagingly referred to as an entressafra, or period between harvests.
A cursory glance at the players at Tite’s disposal, however, debunks what was always a convenient and baseless excuse. While it is perhaps not the greatest generation of Brazilian footballers, it is certainly a talented one.
Neymar, a future Ballon d’Or winner, is on course to become his country’s all-time leading goalscorer by the time he is 30 years old. Thiago Silva and Marcelo are regarded by many as being the best players in the world in their positions. Young forward Gabriel Jesus, with four goals in four games for Brazil and a transfer lined up to Manchester City in January, is showing immense potential. Beyond these examples, there are several first-team regulars for top European sides fighting for places in the Seleção. There has not been a lack of talent, the problem has been effective preparation, something this generation has not enjoyed until now.
The most recent qualifying double header was admittedly no masterclass from Tite’s Brazil. At home, they thrashed a desperate Bolivia side that woefully misjudged their defensive strategy, before going away to Venezuela and, despite being gifted an early goal, struggling to tie up the result. However, they won another six points and thanks to Uruguay dropping points away to Colombia, Brazil are now, remarkably, in first place.
The Seleção’s next trial comes in November with two matches that promise to be far sterner tests. On the 11th, Brazil play Argentina in Belo Horizonte, a game that takes on an extra level of significance, being the national team’s first time returning to the Mineirão stadium, the site of their 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany two years ago.
Brazil then visit Lima, the City of the Kings, where their hosts Peru are notoriously difficult to beat. Despite their poor overall showing in this qualifying campaign, Peru’s only home loss came to bitter rivals Chile, back when they were the continent’s form team, three months after they had won the 2015 Copa América.
So, what difference does Tite make?
He makes some,
And now Dunga has gone,
And his methods are looking very old tonight.
[Marco Polo] Del Nero will find work for idle hands to do…