Why Chelsea's Oscar Is Brazil's Most Important Player Right Now
Over the past two years, whether under the management of either Mano Menezes or Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil have been an inconsistent and, at times, underwhelming footballing force.
There has been refuge, though, for supporters of the Selecao in the comforting fact that the country can still boast some of world football's best and most sought-after talents.
Neymar is, without doubt, the biggest name of the group, and rightfully so. However, for the past 12 months, it has been fellow 21-year-old Oscar who has been central to the fortunes of the national team.
A familiar face to the European audience, given his £25 million transfer to Chelsea last summer, Oscar is a wonderfully graceful operator when given a free role in the centre of the park in which to influence games.
What he has also shown consistently throughout his career, though, is that he can also play an important role in a variety of positions for his side. However, there can be no doubt that a central playmaking role remains his strongest position.
At Chelsea, and with the national side, he is often forced to concede this position to others. When the competition is the quality of Juan Mata, it is understandable. An ailing Kaka or immobile Ronaldinho, though, should no longer be given as reason to relocate Oscar's talents to less-central areas.
From the moment he became a permanent fixture in the national side, the Sao Paulo youth academy graduate's impact has been clear to see. When Brazil have been at their best in the last 12 months, it has been with Oscar conducting matters at the head of the midfield.
Much has been made of the team's lack of experience in attack, especially before the introduction of Fluminense striker Fred as the team's centre-forward. Brazil are at a stage, though, where Oscar and Neymar are so clearly ahead of the older generation that they should be trusted to take on the creative mantle.
With the likes of Hernanes' and Ramires' experience in midfield, their talents will have a platform from which to shine.
With Brazil yet to settle upon a fixed philosophy or formation, Oscar is a manager's dream. It is no surprise that he has been considered untouchable under both Menezes and Scolari, with his versatility and work rate making him suitable for any given setup.
At Chelsea, he has shown a defensive discipline to his game, and it was this that Luiz Felipe Scolari sought to utilise in playing him as a right-sided midfielder ahead of Dani Alves in this week's fixtures. Once more, with little fuss, he was one of the best players in a canary yellow shirt.
For all the bountiful technique of Neymar and the electrifying pace of Lucas Moura, it is the precision and intelligence of Oscar that has made him the most important of Brazil's young charges. Indeed, it is he who will shoulder much of the burden to bring the best out of Neymar—the side's potential matchwinner.
With Brazil's first-choice back four and goalkeeper seemingly in place, it now only remains for the six positions in more attacking areas to be filled. Of those six, Hernanes, Oscar, Neymar and Fred look to be certainties for the Confederations Cup this summer, at least.
The challenge, as stated, is to get the best out of Neymar, and this week's 4-4-2 setup has potential, if the Santos man can get on the ball in deeper areas. As ever, Oscar will do a more-than-valuable job from the flank.
The most likely alternative, though, is to introduce a third central midfielder and move Oscar to a more central role from where he can operate in conjunction with Neymar, with Fred leading the line.
With the greater midfield protection allowing full-backs Marcelo and Dani Alves to push forward, this may be Brazil's most balanced setup long-term.
For all the debate raging about the best way forward for Brazil, Oscar's role is almost never mentioned. His presence, alongside that of Neymar, is taken as a given by most observers.
Quite simply—despite his tender years—he is already Brazil's most consistent performer at international level, ahead of the likes of Thiago Silva, Dani Alves and, of course, Neymar.
Scolari has choices to make and must be bold in his selection decisions ahead of future challenges. Such is the case with Brazil at the moment that they could feasibly head in a number of tactical directions ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
It would be a massive shock, though, if Oscar is not at the heart of whatever plan is eventually implemented.
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