Success in football is measured in any number of variables. Progress from one season to the next; the evolution of a bolder, more expansive style; bringing home grown players through the academy.
But, ultimately, there is one very tangible measure of just how successful a team or club can be measured – trophies. It really is that simple. How many titles are on the CV? How many trophies are polished in the cabinet?
On the international stage and in the biggest competition of them all, there remains no country more successful than Brazil. The five-time world champions, for the time being at least, stand above their rivals, and the name “Brazil” has become synonymous with a style of football seen as free of shackles, a boldness and ferocity that laughs in the face of caution.
Of course, the reality is in stark contrast to that happy-go-lucky image, you simply cannot build a title winning side without balance, but the pressure on those famous yellow shirts remains almost singular in terms of populous demand.
A nation demands
Brazil have not reached a World Cup final since lifting the trophy in Japan in 2002, yet the demand from a 200 million strong nation is nothing less than a dazzling blend of success and panache built around one craque who embodies the image and playing style of the team. Think Garrincha in 1962, Pele in 1970, Ronaldo in 2002.
Four years ago that demand was increased tenfold. Brazil hosted their first World Cup since 1950 and, in addition to the expectation of triumph, there was a ghost to exorcise.
The five-time world champions came into the tournament confident of lifting their first global title on home soil, with the Maracana built as a temple befitting the status of a nation which expected to be crowned champions.
In this corner of the world close to 70 years ago, triumph in their state-of-the-art concrete bowl was not merely expected; it was demanded.
The rest, as they say, is history, as the hosts were usurped by a stubbornly resistant Uruguayan side, and it could feasibly be concluded that Brazil’s love affair with footballing tragedy began on that day, when Alcides Ghiggia’s scuffed effort beat a surprised Barbosa at his near post.
When losses can overshadow victories
Here’s a tip. Go into any bookshop in Rio de Janeiro and make a beeline for the sports section. You will be certain to find be more books, written by more authors, available on that 1950 World Cup final defeat to Uruguay than you will find on Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winning side; considered by many as arguably the greatest side in the history of the game.
2014 was supposed to rectify all that. Following the return of Luiz Felipe Scolari and a successful run in the Confederations Cup in 2013, confidence began to build ahead of the main event.
Yet, in many ways, that Confederations Cup success led to the undoing of Brazil and Felipao’s World Cup hopes. A comprehensive 3-0 dismantling of then-world and European champions Spain in the final led Scolari to believe he had stumbled across his magic formula.
Using a 4-2-3-1 with a fixed target man in Fred, who bagged five goals in that Confederations Cup, including a brace in the final, Scolari settled on his scheme without developing a Plan B.
When Neymar, the craque, was ruled out of the rest of the tournament following the quarterfinal win against Colombia, the wheels quickly came off the engine in the semi-final against Germany.
A train wreck of a contest if ever you saw one with Brazil outmanoeuvred, out-thought and outplayed in 29 brutal first half minutes which out paid to any notion that Scolari’s side belonged dining at the top table of the international game.
Yet as devastating as Scolari’s failure was, the next move from the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) was head-scratching. In came Dunga, the man who had been eliminated by Holland at the 2010 World Cup at the quarterfinal stage and made few friends along the way for employing a playing style seen as more functional than firepower.
During his first reign, however, the 1994 World Cup winning captain could at least point to certain positives. The 2007 Copa America title; the 2009 Confederations Cup; finishing top of the CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying group, which included a hugely impressive 3-1 win away to Argentina in the famously intimidating confines of the Stadio Dr. Lisandro de la Torre in Rosario.
But his second spell in charge of the Selecao was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. It was not only the disastrous failures in competitive fixtures, however.
His combative style, which had been so effective for the national side in a primeiro volante role, was largely unsuited to either dealing with the country’s enormously demanding sports media. He couldn’t coax the best out of a group of players who should have got further than the quarterfinals and a group stage elimination at two success Copa America tournaments.
Dunga translates as Dopey, one of the seven dwarves, but the manager’s demeanour on the touchline would suggest that he is anything but. The man looks more than capable of starting an argument in an empty room and, during that second stint at the helm of the national ship, had his fair share of grievances with his own players.
There were discrepancies with Maicon, punished at the very start of his reign. Thiago Silva was banished following a foolish and costly mistake in the 2015 Copa America against Paraguay, which played a part in Brazil’s elimination. In the same game, Robinho was visibly angry at being substituted prior to the penalty shoot-out.
And where Dunga ruled his squad like an army general, the new man at the helm has sought to build bridges. The results are there for all to see, yet he now faces stern tests in Europe with a less experienced, more experimental squad.
It's Tite time
What Tite has done, in addition to bringing a new playing style to the side away from his predecessor’s rigid 4-4-2, bringing harmony and unity to his players. The playing staff are largely similar to those used by Dunga, while the idea that the talent pool in Brazil is drying up is an absurdity.
Dunga’s final game in charge of Brazil was on 12 June 2016, when a 1-0 defeat to Peru saw his side eliminated at the group stage of the Copa America for the first time since 1987. Things had rarely been so humiliating for a nation who can lay claim are used to competing in the latter stages of major tournaments on a regular basis.
Yet of that starting lineup against Peru, six players can expect to be on the plane to Russia for the World Cup this summer. Indeed, it would be seven had Filipe Luis not suffered a leg fracture against Lokomotiv Moscow in the Europa League this past week.
In terms of personnel, the changes brought about by Tite have been slight, but the results on the pitch have been drastically different.
The former Corinthians boss, who lifted two Brazilian league titles, the Copa Libertadores and the Club World Cup during his time at the Sao Paulo-based outfit, took over the nation with the side languishing in sixth place in World Cup qualifying.
In reality, Brazil were never in danger of not qualifying for this year’s World Cup, there is simply far too much quality throughout the squad for them not to finish in the top five of the 10-team CONMEBOL group, but Tite’s transformation has underlined his qualities and thrust him forward into the pantheon of top-class, modern day coaches.
The upstart was almost instantaneous, with a 3-0 win against Ecuador kicking off an eight-game winning streak which propelled the side to the top of the qualification group. Aside from hosts Russia, Brazil were the first country to qualify for this summer’s World Cup, a feat which looked nigh-on impossible just 18 months ago.
Tite’s biggest success during his reign this far is the gamble he took on throwing Gabriel Jesus in at the deep end, serving as a spearhead for his favoured 4-1-4-1 shape.
The coach has been rewarded with the development of a player, dedicated to his craft, who now carries the confidence of leading the line alongside Neymar. Under Tite, the idea of ‘Neymardependencia’ has been banished.
Four years on: the rematch
Brazil went in to the last World Cup with a dangerous level of confidence, a belief that they almost had a divine right to win the tournament on home soil and right the supposed tragic wrong of 1950.
Those feelings were only fuelled by success at the Confederations Cup which had seen an admittedly rampant Brazilian outfit put three past both Japan and Spain as well as four past Italy.
They were humbled in typically efficient German fashion when the real deal came along and it has been a long road back to being considered, once again, one of the favourites to be victorious of the World Cup.
There may be very little in terms of tangible success on the line when Brazil and Germany take to the pitch together for the first time since July 8, 2014, but the fact they are now genuinely considered competitive so close to the World Cup is testament to Tite and his qualities.
Tangible success may yet be just around the corner.
Can Brazil win the World Cup this summer? Let us know in the comments section below.