Depleted Brazil turn to unassuming journeyman in search of samba magic... and silverware

Depleted Brazil turn to unassuming journeyman in search of samba magic... and silverware

Amid this week’s plentiful supply of kit-based fury, that aimed at Brazil’s decision to wear blue at Wembley this weekend has quickly come to look the more innocent.

But for those who fear something of the magic will be lost in seeing the Selecao minus their famous yellow, first glance at the teamsheet for this evening’s friendly against England is unlikely to do much to restore it.

The five-time World Cup winners come to the capital a depleted bunch at the belated start of a fresh era under new head coach Dorival Junior.

Neither Ederson nor Alisson are fit to play between the sticks, stalwarts Marquinhos, Casemiro and Eder Militao are all injured, while Thiago Silva has been ignored since the flight home from Qatar 2022. Arsenal’s trio of Gabriels — Martinelli, Jesus and Magalhaes — are all absent, too, as is still the biggest draw of them all, Neymar.

The result is a squad featuring 11 potential debutants and a further seven novices with fewer than five caps apiece. Juventus defender Danilo, who may captain the side, is the only player beyond 50; Harry Kane has more international goals than the 26 visitors combined.

Still, if it is injury misfortune that has forced this particular state of flux upon the Brazilians, then it is only an echo of the self-inflicted mess of the past year.

 (Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)
(Jonathan Brady/PA Wire)

Since Tite stepped down on the back of a quarter-final failure at the last World Cup, Brazil have had three different managers, the first two of them — U20 coach Ramon Menezes and then the moonlighting Fluminense boss Fernando Diniz — employed on an interim basis.

Both were billed as seat-warmers for Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian legend whom the Brazilian FA and, in particular, their president Ednaldo Rodrigues, made it an obsession to lure. Rodrigues went as far as a premature public announcement in July, claiming the Real Madrid manager would be in place for this summer’s Copa America.

Instead, the 64-year-old signed a new contract at the Bernabeu. And so, international football’s sexiest catch suddenly found itself all dressed up with nowhere to go. Enter an unlikely saviour, in the shape of a journeyman coach.

Dorival’s CV reads like an advert for domestic tourism. Since 2002, the native nomad has managed 20 different clubs, all in his homeland, across 25 different spells, none lasting more than two years.

He has overcome cancer along the way, helped nurture some of the country’s finest talent, including Philippe Coutinho and Oscar before their European moves, and won the Copa Libertadores with Flamengo in 2022. He was also once sacked for leaving a stroppy, teenage Neymar on the Santos bench.

This crop of players will be easily the best Dorival has coached, and his man-management of egos is in the spotlight amid suggestions the team’s superstar, Vinicius Jr., was firmly in favour of his club boss, Ancelotti, taking the helm.

Dorival’s unassuming character has proved popular, and the greater scrutiny is on his lack of experience outside Brazil

Broadly, though, Dorival’s unassuming character has proved popular, and the greater scrutiny is on his lack of experience outside Brazil, with this game set to be the nation’s first friendly against European opposition since 2019. That quirk owes partly to the pandemic, but it was much-lamented in the aftermath of the defeat by Croatia in Qatar; for five World Cups in a row, Brazil’s tournament has ended at the first encounter with a European side in a knockout game.

To many, though, his literal closeness to Brazilian football is a healthy antidote to the long-bemoaned disconnect between the country’s fans and their supposed heroes, who increasingly grow up abroad. There are nine home-based players in Dorival’s first squad, compared to three in that which Tite took to the World Cup.

Dorival has kept everyone guessing on the shape of his first line-up, with only one certainty. “It will be the most exciting day of my life,” he told the Guardian this week.