Could Brazil's midfield deficiency be aided by changes to the domestic league?
Had Brazil won the World Cup, then the team's homecoming and victory parade would be competing for attention with the prompt resumption of domestic football.
There were cup games on Monday, little more than 24 hours after the final ball was kicked in Russia. And the league resumes on Wednesday, when the 13th round kicks off. The previous 12 were crammed in between mid-April and the eve of Russia 2018.
Brazil's football calendar is a permanent quest to fit three litres into a bottle designed to hold two, and the problem becomes especially acute in World Cup year, when the need to pause for a month brings extra complications.
The root cause is the federal nature of the country's football organisation. Brazil is divided into 27 states. Each state has a football federation. And, rather than the clubs, it is these state federations that hold the balance of power inside the CBF, the national governing body.
For this reason, the clubs still spend several months of the year playing the now largely meaningless state championships -- one for each of the states. Once the highlight of the calendar, these tournaments now serve little purpose. They oblige the big clubs to play months of meaningless matches against insignificant opposition and they have a detrimental effect on the real main event, the national league, rendering it unable to reach its considerable potential.
Might the Brazilian national team perform better than it has in recent times if the domestic game had a more rational calendar?
The obvious counter-argument is one of relevance. Considering all the leading players are based in Europe, holds this view, it hardly matters any more what happens in Brazil.
This line of thought may be superficially attractive, but it runs into two problems.
The first is that domestic Brazilian football has the potential to be in a much stronger financial position. A well-organised national league could attract much more global attention. Doing away with the meaningless games would be an incentive for more players to stay. It is hard to see how the top stars can be kept at home. But in different circumstances they could be encouraged to stay longer, with all the positive knock-on effects this entails in terms of the quality of play and the size of crowds.
The other point is that even if the players move abroad early, a key part of their development is still taking place at home. And there is reason to believe that it is happening under flawed circumstances.
This was the World Cup of the all-round midfielder, of the player with the talent, vision and engine to run the game from box to box -- in different styles, we can cite Paul Pogba, Luca Modric and Kevin De Bruyne as examples.
There is no Brazilian equivalent. An attempt was made to shoehorn Philippe Coutinho into the role. As befits a fine player, he enjoyed some superb World Cup moments. But the demands put too much of a strain on him. By the end of the campaign, he was no longer defending effectively nor attacking with consistent efficiency. This is hardly surprising; he was being asked to carry out a role that covered much more of the pitch than he does in his usual duties. And so the question becomes, why did Brazil feel a need to improvise? If Belgium can produce a De Bruyne and Croatia a Modric, then why have Brazil not been able to do something similar?
The answer, perhaps, lies in those domestic defects. The Brazilian game got itself trapped in a cul-de-sac. Midfields have been divided into those who defend and those who attack. This became the default position. And an over-cluttered calendar gives coaches very little time to train and work on something different.
And the coaches exist with very little job security. All over the world, the coach is the fall guy, the convenient scapegoat when results are disappointing. In Brazil, poor organisation means that the coach has more to fall for. The natural temptation is to play it safe, to do what everyone else does. When Brazil have problems producing world-class all-round midfielders, when centre-forward remains a problem position, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that something is wrong, that things could -- and should -- be much better.