MRS Original: Dunga Ruins My Marriage (Again)

Brazil 1994 — that most unBrazilian of Brazil sides, exemplified by Dunga, “the fart aimed at futebol-arte,” who belied everything a future husband told his future wife about Brazilian football as grace, as style, as art. And here we go again — this time with a 10-year-old’s happiness in the balance… An MRS original

By David Cleary

The first World Cup I watched in Brazil was 1994, a year also notable for meeting and wooing my future wife. A major obstacle to shared bliss was her American ignorance of football, which my reading Fever Pitch aloud from cover to cover over several evenings in a hammock did something to remedy, but not enough.

Just wait until the World Cup, I said, you’ll see how everyone here goes totally bananas, and indeed they did, in our small town, painting their houses and the road in front of them green and yellow, while I enthused about the brilliance of Romário up front, the perfect foil he’d found in young whippet Bebeto, Leonardo’s speed and ability to turn defense into attack, and so forth.

In the event, though, the highlight was Ireland’s turning over of Italy (she’s from Boston, after all); Leonardo’s fastest turn was projecting his elbow into Tad Ramos’ face; and when the final went to penalties, it was “What? That’s it? That’s it? What the FUCK?” And, of course, she was right. The only thing to warm to in that team, apart from the result-defining 30 seconds every game that Romário and Bebeto ran at a defense, was Taffarel’s comically endearing incompetence between the sticks (“It’s yours, Taffarel!” was for years afterwards a joke phrase in Portuguese, meaning go on, you never know, you might even do it).

And at the heart of that most unBrazilian of Brazil sides, spiky haircut then as now, permanent snarl then as now, was Dunga, Dunga the antithesis of jogo bonito, the fart aimed at futebol-arte, Dunga the bollocks to all that your future husband says about Brazilian football as grace, as style, as art.

Truth to tell, I (an Englishman) rather liked him, then as now. How could I not, since he seemed more English than Brazilian, the type of player we’ve loved and lodged at the heart of England sides for as long as I can remember, the line of direct descent from Jack Charlton via Terry Butcher and Tony Adams to John Terry, the last a dead ringer for Dunga in many ways, except that Dunga would run the guy over and not make any pretence of it being an accident afterwards.

How can you not admire someone capable of ignoring the drumbeat, the pleas, the begging of 200 million people to put the startling but also untested talents of Neymar and Ganso into the national squad, and relying instead on Grafite, whoever the hell he is? How could you not admire somebody with the chutzpah to rule out Ronaldinho Gaúcho, even as a substitute, not because of his talent, about which there is no doubt, but because he just doesn’t feel right for Dunga, too much off-the-pitch character and on-the-pitch preciousness?  Quite right, too. Ronaldinho would never have got into an England side under Sir Alf either; he would have sat there warming the bench next to Jimmy Greaves and Rodney Marsh — if he were lucky.

However, the appalled reaction of Socrates to the announcement of the Brazilian squad summed it all up: “A pile of crap. That midfield only knows how to destroy.” Granted, Socrates (as a member of arguably the greatest midfield since 1970) sets the creativity bar rather high, but looking at the players (Elano? Felipe Melo?), it’s hard to deny. Dunga is recreating the 1994 side, this time with a decent goalkeeper.

So, in as good an indicator as any of a solid marriage, we now settle down for our fourth World Cup in Brazil. My wife has developed an air of tolerant irony when it comes to football that is closely related to her parenting style. My only response to this infantilization is to reinforce it by shifting gears and focusing on my 10-year-old son, old enough to infect with the virus of football passion but hopefully vaccinated, via YouTube tutorials, against the inevitable misery of defeat by a grounding in the moral compensations of losing magnificently, viz. 1970s Holland and 1980s Brazil. But if he cries, I’m done for — and cry he will when Brazil lose, along with every other 10-year-old in his class, sitting in front of the TV together because the seleção games come in the middle of the school day this time around and what were you thinking, that kids in Brazilian schools would actually have classes when Brazil plays? Making my son cry over football for the first time is not something she is likely to forgive or forget.

I think Brazil will lose this time. The 1994 team were always there to be taken, but nobody was good or confident enough to do it. This version of Brazil is even more dependent on Kaká than England is on Rooney; without him, there’s no channel of communication between the excellent defense and the excellent attack, and all the snarling from the dugout and the press conferences can’t hide the paucity of midfield talent, so accurately identified by Socrates as the team’s Achilles heel. With Kaká crocked, you see it being overwhelmed by Spain — even, God help us, given a game by England and Holland, whatever their other deficiencies.

Back to 1994. Unsurprisingly, the moment I remember from the most forgettable of World Cup finals wasn’t anything that happened in the actual match, but the post-game analysis. TV Bandeirantes had arranged a scintillating panel of pundits that was the highlight of that Copa; under the genial chairmanship of anchor Luciano do Valle, Rivelino and Tostão were reunited and thrown together with the finest Brazilian football writer of his generation, Armando Nogueira, who died earlier this year.

Luciano, glowing with the reconquest of the title after 24 years, launched into a patriotic panegyric of the team and vacated the floor to the panel, clearly expecting them to follow. But they didn’t: Rivelino and Tostão (talk about moral authority!) complained about the dullness of their football…and my narrow English mind grappled with the startling realization that they really do care more about style than winning. Then Armando Nogueira, incandescent with frighteningly articulate rage, tore into then Brazilian manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, accusing him of deforming the traditions of Brazilian football and “robot-izing” his players.  Dunga, as captain, was Exhibit A.  Filho de peixe peixinho é, as the Brazilian saying goes; fish give birth to fish.

I’m not betting against Dunga, necessarily; the 1994 side were formidable in their own way, as is this one, just not in a Brazilian way. We settle down to one more episode of football’s eternal purists v. pragmatists telenovela: Holland v West Germany, Barcelona v. Inter, Spain v Brazil. I’m not complaining; it’s the heroes v. villains narrative a good tournament needs. But I’ll be rooting for my son to cry, and bracing myself for the marital consequences. Like I said, I can’t help liking and admiring the man, but enough already. There’s no room for three in a marriage.

(Image credits: alvez/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff May 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

Ronaldinho would never have got into an England side under Sir Alf either; he would have sat there warming the bench next to Jimmy Greaves and Rodney Marsh — if he were lucky.

This is the reason England never wins. Completely the wrong attitude

Lu May 19, 2010 at 11:58 am

Loved the article… I’m facing somewhat of a similar situation however I’m a Brazilian living in the States married to an American wife, and I can’t for the life of me get her into the game… If it was hard for you IN Brazil, can you imagine how hard it is for me? I need some ideas, and like you said, this Brazilian team ain’t helping. 2006 was supposed to do it and we know what happened.

Victor May 19, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Brazil more dependent on Kaka than England and Rooney? I doubt that. But, one thing you don’t mention about 1994 — Brazil was more dependent on Romario than I’d say we are with Kaka now. Bebeto as a support striker was a bit better than Robinho now. And on the bench? Viola and Muller wouldn’t scare anyone (Grafite, I assure you, can scare people – goal against Bayern Munich, anyone?; Nilmar can score a hat trick). And that 17 year old kid, Ronaldo? CAP wouldn’t put him on the field. If Romario went down, that team would’ve been DONE.

It’s obvious that Brazil won’t be the same without Kaka now. But Brazil has won without Kaka – 2007 Copa America – a team where Dunga still didnt really know how to coach but you could see him meticulously picking his players. 10 of those players are going to SA. And I have to emphasize that we won this with Diego at playmaker (which is pretty laughable), Baptista (the beginning of Dunga’s obsession; Baptista is clutch for Brazil, you can’t deny that), and Robinho’s fearsome strike partners of Afonso Alves, Vagner Love, and Fred — and only Fred I’d say has any talent after Robinho. Ronaldinho never had a place on this team, and if he was to be used here, he would’ve been a forward and not a midfielder. Ganso, I love Ganso. I wish he was on the team, but I understand the reasons against him.

But I think that tactically, Brazil can more than make up for Kaka’s absence. The team will just look different. Probably would look like Elano for Ramires. Nilmar for Kaka. Nilmar on the Right (where he has been playing to success for Villareal), Fabiano in the middle, and Robinho on the Left. The team still maintains its creative element. Or you implement Bastos or Alves, both of whom are very capable midfielders. The first formation has been suggested by some pundits, and still has not been used by Dunga. The second one, has been used to great effect. People may complain about this team’s style of play, but to be honest, this is probably the most versatile Brazil team I’ve ever seen. The roles of Ramires and Elano are particularly underestimated, even by such “genius” pundits as Tostao (whose revisionism I find extremely tiring; you can tell he has this irrational hatred for Dunga).

94 was so long ago, but as a Brazilian, I have a hard time rating the 94 team over this current one. And this is coming from someone who grew up with this 94 team – I was 11 – and I went to 4 of Brazil’s 7 games, including the semifinal and final. That was essentially the first WC that I truly remember. The talent level on this team is just a lot more. I mean, there really is no comparison. No true #10 after Rai’s benching. A relatively weak wing-back line. I’d only rate Jorginho honestly. Branco was already past his prime and a sub. Cafu was still inexperienced. Of course, you have Romario and Bebeto, and while our current strikeforce didn’t have the legend of Romario, it’s still damn good. And Taffarel? Come on he’s a legend and hardly only a “decent” keeper (Perhaps one of the best penalty stoppers ever – 94 and 98 PK shoot-outs, Galatasaray UEFA Cup Final, etc). If JC wins a World Cup, he can be in the same breath as Taffarel. But they won because the tactics were just spot on in a very defensive World Cup.

I think something to keep in mind too is the old adage — “History Matters.” Football is the most important thing in Brazil. Its national tragedy, as you know, was 1950. Ever since that fateful tournament, history has been influencing the way Brazil plays. From the introduction of the yellow jersey to the wing back, the past has shaped Brazil’s football future. The failure in 82 (I consider it a failure anytime you let one man score 3 goals in a game) led to changes in 86 and 90. And Brazil was unlucky in those Cups. That built up to 94. And then failure again in 98. It’s always this push-pull. 2006. Wow. That was supposed to be a good team – it was supposed to be our 1970, but the tactics were off. It couldn’t even hold a candle to 82 because the team just didn’t play well. Had CAP been smart enough (he did change the team in 94, after all), and not bowed to the pressure of the Media, he would’ve used the Confederations Cup team. Or he would’ve started using Juninho immediately in the second game when things were obviously wrong. Instead, he brought about that tactical change when it was too late, against France.

And this is where we are now. I think it’s not quite right for anyone to wish ill on a team just because they don’t play the way you like. I think it’s even worse when you don’t really consider the events that led up to where we are today. Dunga’s team makes perfect sense because he is a product of the past. Let’s face it. Dunga was a loser on the pitch. Outside of 94, he failed in the 88 Olympics, 1990 WC, and the 1998 WC. And he was on a bunch of mediocre club teams that never quite reached their potential (early-90s Fiorentina comes to mind). He knows what it takes to win, and he’s lost a lot of times. I look at this team, and you know what team I see? 2002. The discipline. The tactical flexibility. I see some scrappy guys on that team, but I see a lot of class – and the class is different, but it’s by no means bad. Maicon and Alves, the central defenders, and some players when healthy, are among the best in the world (Kaka and Fabiano are 2010’s Rivaldo and Ronaldo). And this current team, while not quite as talented as 2002’s, has been playing very well for the most part. Really, of the recent results from the past year and a half, the only performances that concern me were a few of the games in the Confederations Cup. And I think that Dunga has ironed out those kinks – the games against Egypt, South Africa, and the final against the US. I look to that second goal in the recent friendly against Ireland. Robinho to Kaka. Kaka to that nobody Grafite. Back to Kaka. Backheel to Robinho. Robinho to Grafite. Backheel to Robinho. That finish. Yeah, we still have it. It never left.

Robert May 19, 2010 at 8:25 pm

Of course Tostao and Rivelino could complain about that win, they were on the best team ever (arguably – 1958 deserves to be mentioned).

As a 17-year old Brazilian back then that was easily the best moment of my football-loving life.

Brazilians actually want to win first, but when we’re winning then we get spoiled and want the highlights. But don’t forget, jogo bonito has been exaggerated and today it’s basically highlight reels. Every Brazilian team has technique and ball-handling better than anyone in the world.

4 years ago Brazil was begging for no stars and players who cared about winning. Now that we’ve spent the last 3 years winning they’re spoiled enough to want to ask for more.

I tell you what, let Dunga win first. We can add flair in the 4 more years (and with another coach since he’s leaving after the Cup) towards 2014 IF we have the right players AND they’re willing to work hard to achieve the results that would let that flair shine instead of be forgotten.

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