The beautiful lame
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – In a country where managers tend to be either neanderthal sergeant majors who openly champion negative football or weak-willed officials there just to follow the orders of their chairmen, Brazil manager Carlos Alberto Parreira is a rare beast: an intelligent coach who has studied the game at all its levels both inside and outside Brazil, and a man who is both sophisticated and polite.
Brazil is famously the country of 180 million managers and almost every one of them disagreed with Parreira's team selection and tactics through this tournament.
By putting his stubborn loyalty in the old guard and eschewing the glorious attacking football that made them famous, Parreira has not only let down the fans, he has sullied Brazil's and his own reputation.
He started the competition with the same team that brought him through the qualifiers so impressively. But he was unable to see that his full backs were slow, the midfield sluggish and that too much emphasis was put on the much vaunted 'Magic Quartet' of Kaka, Ronaldo, Adriano and Ronaldinho Gaucho.
With the latter playing out of position, Brazil struggled to make its mark, eeking out slim wins over Croatia and Australia.
When Parreira did introduce some attacking verve for the third group game against Japan, Brazil played something like the kind of football it is known for, scoring four times. Two young full backs got forward, Robinho jinked from wing to wing and the midfield created chance after chance for a resurgent Ronaldo.
And yet in the next game, Parreira resorted to the same players and tactics who were so lacklustre in the openers. To no one's surprise, they disappointed again, only performing in fits and starts against a naïve Ghana.
Brazilian fans have never adored Parreira like they adore Zagallo, the crazy old grandad with a hilarious comment for everyone, or Luiz Felipe Scolari, the straight talking Gaucho who wears his blood and guts on his sleeze. But they always held a grudging respect for Parreira, if only for the way he took a team of uninspiring journeymen and ended Brazil's painful 24-year World Cup drought in the US in 1994.
This year, with this team, was always going to be different. Brazilians were never going to accept anything less than attacking football from a squad that has already proven it can be the most thrilling in the world. Anyone who watched the joyous Brazil that destroyed Argentina 4-1 in last year's Confederations Cup Final know what it is capable of.
After all, this is a team that man for man eclipsed any of its 31 rivals.
A team with Ronaldinho Gaucho, the two time World Player of the Year. A team with Ronaldo, who for all his troubles, proved Parreira right and started scoring again. A team with Juninho Pernambucano, arguably the most deadly striker of a dead ball in world football today.
A team with Robinho, whose mercurial brilliance sparked Brazil into life on more than one occasion this tournament. A team that was the hottest favourite in the history of the World Cup.
Parreira, though, appeared afraid to unleash those talents for fear of defeat. The paradox of Brazil is that fans will accept, albeit grudgingly, poor football if the team wins. But they will not accept defeat lying down. As one distraught fan said after the match: 'At least Argentina fought. For them it wasn't about money, it was about heart.'
|“||What is important in the World Cup is winning. ”|
|— Carlos Alberto Parreira|
Parreira seemed scared to even try and attack. There was no sign of the cavalier attitude so often adopted in Brazil that said: if we lose three goals, then we will score four.
Parreira even said he did not even what beautiful football is. He laughingly claimed history remembers winners not great teams, conveniently forgetting Hungary of 1954, Holland of 1974 and more pertinently, Brazil of 1982.
When asked by O Globo newspaper why he wasn't able to put out a team that could excite as well as win, he responded: 'Do Brazilians want to win the Cup or come home early? I think they want to win the cup. What is exciting football? I don't know how to answer that question.
'Is it a team that plays good football and doesn't win? I don't know know what an exciting team is. I know what a technically good side is that plays well is. What is important in the World Cup is winning.'
That attitude backfired, with fans and commetators lining up to excoriate him. Several senior players let him down. Cafu and Roberto Carlos looked past it, Kaka shone only intermittently, Adriano was slow and cumbersome and worst of all, Ronaldinho Gaucho went missing.
Parreira had the solutions. He was afraid to use them. And Brazil paid the price.