He’s having a go at Gilberto still! Good to know some things never change. Here’s the reprinted article:
Brazil coach Dunga is fiercely loyal to his group of players – which is hardly surprising.
When he was appointed after the last World Cup, this novice coach was widely seen as a short-term solution, a poor man’s Luiz Felipe Scolari keeping the seat warm while the real thing was unavailable.
Instead of which, Dunga and his band of men have, bar last year’s Olympics, won everything in their path – they have claimed the Copa America, Confederations Cup and finished top of South America’s World Cup qualification table.
Dunga, then, stands by those who have stood by him – none more so than Gilberto Silva. The more his central midfielder is criticised, the more firmly his name is written on the team-sheet.
Arsenal, he said a few months back, have become a ‘timeco’ since they let Gilberto Silva go.
It is not a word that lends itself to an easy translation, but it is not at all complementary – it means a small, insignificant, rubbish team – and hardly seems an appropriate term for the dash and fluency of Arsene Wenger’s side. Surely this is taking loyalty too far.
Gilberto Silva is a player with many virtues – and can point to a truckload of titles to back them up. He is also by all accounts an excellent dressing room influence, the kind of person who naturally puts team above self. And the fact that he was willing to accept responsibility to take Arsenal’s penalties speaks well for his strength of character.
One of the great things about football – a key part in the game’s global success – is that in can be interpreted in different ways. We can all have our own preferences for certain styles and approaches.
And, for what it’s worth, I find it somewhat depressing that Gilberto Silva stands by to represent Brazil in central midfield for the 84th time against England this weekend.
One of my most enriching experiences was to talk football with the late Zizinho, Pele’s idol and the star player from the 1950 World Cup. Having played through a period of intense tactical development in Brazilian football, he was obsessed with different formations. In 1985, he published an autobiography.
The last words were as follows. In Brazil, he argued, “the cabeca-de-area [midfielder who sits in front of the centre backs], a man who can control 70% of his team’s possession, has now been given the specific function of destroying, when it should be to set up the play.”
I’m with Zizinho on this one. Effectively, centre backs have often been played in front of the centre backs – a trend which has reached its logical conclusion with Gilberto Silva, originally a centre back, enjoying such a long international career in midfield.
It is because of this development that Brazil are no longer as attractive to watch. They can still count on fabulous individual skill. But with guard dogs in place of artists in such a key position, their game seldom flows as sweetly as it used to when Clodoaldo, Falcao or Toninho Cerezo set the moves in motion.
The other side, though, has a very powerful argument in its favour. Brazil went 24 years without winning the World Cup. The titles, at all levels, started piling up once more when they closed down the centre of the pitch.
The physical development of the game, it is argued, mean that it is no longer possible to waltz through the middle of the field as the 1970 team did when becoming the best in the world – and the 1982 side did while losing it.
It is a respectable line of thought. Dunga has even gone as far to suggest that calls for Brazil to return to a more traditional approach are part of a European plot to ensure that his country stops winning.
But evidence from this year’s youth tournaments suggests that Brazil’s model, so successful over recent years, might be tiring.
In the final of the World Under-20 Cup, Brazil lost on penalties to Ghana, after being unable to break down an opponent that played with 10 men for some 80 minutes. At Under-17 level, the story was far, far worse. The group phase eliminated just six of the 24 teams – Brazil were among them.
Both teams were rich in individual talent. The Under-17s were widely seen as Brazil’s most promising team at the level for some time. Both, though, filled central midfield with proto-Gilberto Silva figures – giant, dogged, limited, holding the fort to free the full-backs and unable to contribute anything imaginative to the build-up.
This, of course, is the principal criticism levelled at Gilberto Silva – his passes are usually slow and to the side. At 33, though, the defensive side of his game may have lost something.
It is fascinating that Wenger chose to get rid of him so early. Part of this, I would imagine, is that once Fabregas became the king of the midfield another partner was needed – and Silva lacks the pass and move game to accompany him. But also – and I would love a response on this from Arsenal fans – I wonder if the change of home ground had anything to do with it.
The Emirates pitch is much bigger than Highbury, and maybe Wenger came to the conclusion that the Brazilian was no longer mobile enough to cover it. If there have been times over the last few years when Arsenal have looked like a ‘timeco’, it would probably be when Gilberto was on the field in his final season with the club.
Of course, at that point the veteran was hampered by a lack of regular first-team action.
He is a better player than he looked in some of those final games for Arsenal. And Brazil don’t have a Fabregas for him to accompany. Indeed, as they look to launch the counter-attack, they often sit so deep that there is little room between him and the centre backs, and consequently less space for him to cover.
With his experience, defensive awareness and personal qualities, Gilberto Silva remains an important part of Dunga’s Brazil. Player and coach have picked up titles together, but the real test is coming in South Africa next year.