Júlio César and Ronaldinho Return as Brazil Opts for Experience
On Tuesday afternoon in Rio de Janeiro, recently appointed Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari named his first squad since returning to the position. His side will face England at Wembley on Feb. 6 and will do so with the likes of Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano and Júlio César among its ranks.
Scolari's predecessor, Mano Menezes, was often criticised for his inconsistent squad selection in his time at the helm. Players were, at times, seemingly called up or dropped without any logical reasoning to the decision—something that the new boss will be looking to rectify.
At first, Menezes opted for experience. However, following a disappointing Copa America in 2011, that plan would be discarded in favour of a youthful side based on those who would be attending the London Olympics. Neither approach ultimately bore fruit, with both tactics and players altered on a regular basis.
Many will argue that new boss Luiz Felipe Scolari should continue with the youthful, striker-less system that Menezes developed in his latter days as coach. Others would contest that the approach would fail against top opposition.
What can be said, though, is that at both the Copa America and Olympic Games with contrasting team units, Menezes got his selection and tactics wrong. The reliance on an inexperienced and injury-prone Ganso, the prolonged absence of Ramires and the neglect of Hernanes are just some of the factors that ultimately led to Menezes's approach being widely questioned.
Scolari is unlikely to be so whimsical in his approach or to bow to the pressure of the media. Whatever one's personal opinion of Felipão as a manager may be, it can never be argued that he is not single-minded enough to put his own plans into action.
Looking at his first squad, the logic is clear. Of the 20-man squad, 14 are between 24 and 29 years old, which is a prime age to compete at next year's World Cup. Those younger—Neymar, Oscar and Lucas Moura—are exceptional talents, while Luis Fabiano, Ronaldinho and Júlio César offer a combined 202 caps of international experience.
If we look back 10 years to the World Cup-winning side of 2002, it is a similar story. Of those 23 players, only four were under 24 years old—Kaká, Ronaldinho, Kléberson and Ânderson Polga. That squad, like the current edition, also offered just three players over the age of 30.
Scolari's formula is clear. The majority of the squad must be in their prime years, supplemented with a handful of younger talents and wise old heads.
The return of Júlio César and Ronaldinho, in particular, has drawn great attention. However, both are undoubtedly there on merit.
Júlio César, now plying his trade at QPR, took a big risk by heading to England this summer. Financial incentives were undoubtedly a factor in his decision, but there were many who felt he was calling his time on his international career with a move. The 33-year-old former Inter Milan keeper, though, has always insisted he could make a return.
It is to his great credit that he has achieved his aim so quickly despite his side's disappointing league position.
Having arrived to much scepticism as to his intentions, current performance levels and basic goalkeeping ability, he has won over most in England with consistently strong performances for his side. His attitude on and off the pitch has drawn praise, while he was described as "world-class" by new manager Harry Redknapp this week.
There will be those in Brazil who favour Jefferson, Cássio, or Diego Cavalieri and point to Júlio César's history of errors in his latter years at Inter Milan. In truth though, the three home-based keepers offer neither the experience or genuine quality of the QPR player, while all have been prone to errors themselves.
It is a similar story for Ronaldinho, who having seen his career written off by many on departure from Flamengo last June, has restored his reputation with a wonderful first season for Atlético Mineiro.
He is not the same player who thrilled audiences at the Camp Nou in the middle of the last decade, but he is still a player of great quality. Playing as a central playmaker surrounded by pace, he has an eye for a pass and close control that few could ever dream of matching.
Ronaldinho, in truth, struggled against Ghana on his last return to international football—the game simply passed him by. However, if he were to be put in a more central position, with the speed of Neymar and Lucas alongside him and strong runners from midfield behind, he could still play an important role for his country.
Were you impressed with Scolari's first squad selection?
It is easy to see the logic behind Scolari's decisions, and the first-time inclusions of Dante, Miranda and Filipe Luis are long overdue. Once fully fit, Thiago Silva, Lucas Leiva, Sandro, Marcelo and Dedé will also retake their places in the squad, while there will be others hoping to press their case for a call-up in the coming months.
Scolari, like all Brazilian managers, has an abundance of options, and it would be impossible to please everybody. Initial reaction to his first squad, though, has been overwhelmingly positive.
Although he's a man who sticks to his guns, Felipão will not accept underperformance, and no single player will be "undroppable" during his reign. There will be doubtless be changes over the next 18 months, but the direction he wishes to take the team is clear, and he is unlikely to shift from those principles.
It is a squad picked on merit but with an emphasis on those with experience—a crucial but intangible quality at a major tournament. Whisper it quietly for now, but Scolari may just know what he is doing.
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