Football experts will tell us that whilst England be the creators, Brazil have shown themselves to be the soul of the game. For years a country that has been plagued with poverty and crime; right down to the most desperate of favelas has churned out some of the most gifted footballers the universal game has ever seen. Renowned for their skill on the ball, and the way they express themselves on the pitch, it is fair to say Brazilian footballers are oft the easiest on the eye.
Whilst the boys of Brazil run rampant on the pitch, throwing pedalas, nutmegs and shimmies, and generally advertising the joga bonita, there has been an ugly man in almost every great Brazilian team. Someone who is not as gifted on the ball perhaps, but is extremely vital to allowing the flair players to roam free. Someone whose name won’t spring to mind at first, but is often the most important player in the team.
Whilst the Seleção may not be as rich these days in the defensive areas of the team, there has been a surge in quality defensive midfielders in recent times. The seemingly free nature of the famous yellow and green shirts is increasingly having less prominence when it comes to the thinking of the national coach. In a game ever increasingly based upon pace and power, the presence of these players becomes more and more significant. There is rarely a top team in Europe without a holding midfielder to break up play, and the national scenario is no different. Italy employ the likes of Pirlo and Gattuso, whilst the French have powerhouses such as Vieira and Toulalan on their side. So who are the men that have in recent years stood as a base for the great Brazil sides; the ugly Brazilians? Here are 3 of my favourite “men” of Brazil:
Emerson: Let’s take a trip back to 2002, in the weeks leading up to World Cup in Korea and Japan. Brazil look in good shape to challenge for the trophy that only just eluded them in 1998. Scolari has picked the Roma player, Emerson as his captain. However in a training game, whilst playing in goal, Emerson dislocates his shoulder and is ruled out of the entire competition. Whilst it proves to be insignificant to Brazil, as they go on to win anyway, it is Cafu, and not Emerson who gets the iconic picture of lifting the Jules Rimet, stood atop a stand on the winners platform. Emerson however is denied his chance to go down as one of the Brazilian greats, and misses his best chance at International recognition. Despite this, Il Puma has played for Europe’s biggest clubs, such as Milan, Roma, Juventus and Real Madrid. This is not by sheer luck either. He has proved himself a quality defensive midfielder when fit, which is a shame as in recent seasons he has been played by injury and poor form leading to many of the younger football fans labelling him a poor player without realising how good he was. Others often don’t notice him in games, not surprising these days where he has been reduced to cameo appearances for Milan and some even dismiss him as an old git, when he is only 32 years of age. (I do understand the latter sentiments, as he looks a man in his late 40s!) For me though, at least, he is one of the most under-rated players of all time, who has not had the recognition he deserves.
Gilberto Silva: Another player who has been harshly criticised, and yet he played every minute of Brazils win in 2002. Replacing Emerson admirable got him the attention of Arsenal; where he went on to win 5 major trophies, including the unbeaten Premier League triumph. His performances earned him the name “The Invisible Wall”, and in his later years, he proved to be a calming force for many of Arsenals young stars. He continues to be picked for national team duty, even since his move to Panathanaikos and is a valued member of the Seleção. Not a legend, but a great player none the less.
Dunga: Probably Brazil’s greatest midfielder of the modern era, the inspirational man was so much more then the two mentioned previously. Fantastic at interpreting the game and anticipating where the ball was going to go next, Dunga proved himself accomplished in the defensive aspect of the game. However, he was also a fantastic executioner of long balls and could change the pace of the attack in an instant. He hit legendary heights winning the World Cup in 1994 and is now the national team coach. Although his ability as a coach is in doubt; Brazil are arguably playing some of the worst football they have ever played; as a player he was one of the best. A true no frills, down to earth and passionate captain; there are few like him today.
Whilst Brazil may be going through a purple patch right now, there is hope for the future, particularly in this position. Denilson is fast becoming the player Arsene Wenger knew he could be when he signed him for Arsenal. With their lack of defensive midfielders at the moment, this young man is going to get more and more matches to improve and impress. There is also Lucas at Liverpool, who many tip to partner Denilson in the future at the heart of the green and yellow midfield.
And the present isn’t so bad either. Gilberto can still play to a competent level, Emerson is showing signs of improving at the San Siro, and Josue has done well when called by Dunga. Anderson, Elano and Julio Baptista are also excelling at their respective clubs. With numerous attacking prodigies popping up all over the place (as per usual!) the outlook looks bright, AS LONG AS there is a water carrier in place to take care of their ball hogging team mates.
Written By Michael Roberts
This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).