Amid the misery and disappointment of being a football fan -- the inevitable defeats, the betrayal by a favourite player, the goading and mockery from rival supporters -- there is at least one established consolation. When you've hit rock bottom, after the hangover has passed and the tears have been wiped away, sweeping change must surely follow. Things, as they say, can only get better.
So Brazil fans thought after the agonising 7-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup semifinal. Juca Kfouri, one of the country's leading sportswriters, issued a call to arms in the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper after the match. "The CBF [Brazilian soccer's governing body] talked about going to hell if Brazil lost," he wrote. "Let's hope they go there and never come back, and that those who stay here use this defeat as a well-deserved lesson on which to base a better future, like the Germans did after the 2006 World Cup by cleaning up the finances of the clubs, getting the fans back into the stadium, and creating a clean, beautiful game by punishing the corrupt."
The two weeks since then, however, have poured icy cold water on any dreams of major reform. Last Thursday, as octogenarian CBF chief Jose Maria Marin squinted blearily from the news conference stage, former player agent Gilmar Rinaldi, who had reportedly only split from his clients the day before and who has no experience at this level, was appointed technical director of the Selecao. When asked what stood out for him during the defeat against Germany, Rinaldi left the assembled media pack stupefied. "The players' baseball caps. They shouldn't have said 'Be strong Neymar.' They should have said 'Be strong Bernard.' Bernard was playing. Neymar wasn't," he announced to a mystified silence.
Then on Tuesday morning, instead of a Jose Mourinho, a Jorge Sampaoli or even a Zico, the CBF appointed familiar (and grouchy) face Dunga, Brazil manager from 2006 to 2010 and a good friend of Rinaldi's since their days together at Internacional, as the country's new coach. Even though the appointment had been expected for days, the groans of disappointment around Brazil were audible.
According to a survey by the Arena SporTV program on Monday, 70 percent of Brazilians said they disapproved of the choice of new manager, while a similar poll during the Globo network's flagship Sunday night show "Fantastico" found 85 percent of respondents to be opposed to Dunga's return.
The fact that Dunga's appointment had been uncovered by the media over the weekend had clearly given Brazil's sportswriters plenty of time to sharpen their knives.
On Saturday, ESPN Brasil's Mauro Cezar wrote that "accepting Dunga shows that even leftovers look like a banquet when you're starving."
On Monday, he quoted from a 2007 article (a year into Dunga's first spell in charge) by Tostao, one of the stars of Brazil's great 1970 World Cup-winning team. "The pragmatic Dunga likes to say that a good team is a winning team. He is a coach who seems to enjoy only the victory, not the football. For Dunga and other orthodox thinkers like him, it is a question of one or the other, win or lose, good team or bad team, to play attractive football or play ugly football, and other dualities. They can't see that most of the time it is about the spaces in between, that it's subjective. That it is about things that are not always black and white, about what might have been but wasn't." If Dunga hasn't changed since then, added Cezar, then "what is there left to say but 'poor Brazilian football.'"
ESPN Brasil's Paulo Vinicius Coelho, meanwhile, said that while he thought Dunga might do a good job, the more important question was the wider process of change in Brazilian football. Brazil might "qualify easily for the next World Cup, or do well at the Copa America," he argued, "but neither of these things is important compared to the discussion about Brazilian football, in which Dunga is not going to involve himself."
Away from the comparatively intellectual climate of the cable TV channels, the criticism was more ferocious. "With this choice, Brazil will continue to go backwards," wrote terrestrial TV network Band's leading sports presenter, the larger-than-life Milton Neves, who also posted a mocked-up photo of Maradona holding a sign that read "Four more years of not having to worry about Brazil! Go Dunga!"
At Lance! magazine, the mood was similarly gloomy. "An opportunity has been missed," wrote Andre Kfouri. "The chance to start Brazil's recovery project has been wasted by people who believe they own the game here. Announcing a new coach less than two weeks after we were destroyed in the World Cup in our own backyard is far too short a time to make such an important choice." His colleague Alvaro Oliveira Filho agreed. "Once again, Brazilian football has missed a chance to change its footballing philosophy. Instead of treating the 7-1 defeat against Germany as a turning point, we are acting as though it was a normal result that can be fixed with a simple change of coach."
The reaction on social media was nonplussed. One tweet imitated a recent somewhat stomach-churning bank commercial, which had featured a gang of 8-year-old kids imploring Brazil to "win the World Cup for me," as they'd never seen their country crowned world champion. "I've never seen Brazil win the world title," an unhappy-looking child says in the tweet. "You won't for a while, either," growls a Dunga figure beside him. Said another tweet: "Dunga is Brazil coach again ... and we're not living in a parallel universe." And a third: "There are plenty of good dwarves, so why do we have to choose the one bad one?" -- a reference to the coach's nickname, derived from the "Dopey" character from Snow White.
Dunga said on Tuesday that the criticism didn't bother him. "The polls are there to be turned around," he said. "I don't feel as rejected as you're suggesting. My goal is to change the way people think about me. Everyone was against Nelson Mandela, and he managed to change the way people thought. I hope I have 1 percent of his patience." Given the difficulties that lie ahead, Dunga will need it.
At the moment, Brazil feels not so much that things can only get better, but closer to a case of the more things (don't) change, the more they stay the same.
James Young writes about Brazil and its football. His collection of short stories and blog writings, "A Beer Before Lunch," is available on Amazon.