For the most part, the logic behind an international call-up could not be simpler. A player stands out for his club, catches the eye of the national coach and consequently earns an opportunity. But there are some isolated cases where consistent club displays and international appearances do not go hand-in-hand, and a clear example is that of Brazil's Elano.
Even though the 27-year-old has been struggling to hold down a place in Mark Hughes's Manchester City side, his continued presence at the heart of A Seleção provides a large measure of compensation. Indeed, ever since current coach Dunga took the helm in August 2006, the former 1994 FIFA World Cup USA™ winner has shown unswerving faith in the midfielder, regardless of his fluctuating fortunes at club level.
"I always had complete confidence in Elano. Even though he's not having a great time of it at present with his club, I know him and also what he's capable of. Now, more than ever, he needs to think positive," said Dunga following his side's 2-0 friendly win over Italy in London last month, when Elano scored a well-taken goal and gave another stand-out performance.
After four great seasons with Santos, a spell that included Brasilerao title wins in 2002 and 2004, the attacking midfielder signed for Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk. Many felt his decision to opt for a league with little coverage in Brazil would affect his international ambitions, but their fears proved unfounded. As soon as Dunga was entrusted with rebuilding the national team after Germany 2006, he made it clear that Elano was in his plans.
A year and a half after his last Brazil appearance, the Sao Paulo native found himself in Dunga's first squad for a friendly against Norway in August 2006. Elano started in that 1-1 draw, as he did in the coach's second outing, a memorable 3-0 win over arch-rivals Argentina at the Emirates Stadium in London. His contribution that evening - a master class from midfield and the opening two goals - was the perfect response and went a long way to winning over the coach and fans alike.
"Moments like those against Argentina and Italy are definitely among the best of my life. The national team has genuinely been like a dream for me," the player told FIFA.com. "I'm very grateful to Dunga for the run of games he's given me, and I'm very happy to have won his confidence."
Elano became a regular sight in canary-yellow early in the Dunga era, earning a starting berth in the country's victorious Copa America 2007 campaign. It was during that tournament he completed his move to Manchester City, then under the management of Sven-Goran Eriksson. The Brazilian enjoyed a successful first season, weighing in with ten goals and nine assists in 39 games. However, when Mark Hughes replaced the Swede in June 2008, Elano found himself battling to hold on to his first-team place - a struggle that continues to this day.
"The coach has his own ideas and formations, and if I don't fit perfectly into those, then that's something I just have to respect. Obviously, it's a difficult and sad situation to be in, as one always wants to play. But in every single training session, I do my utmost to prove to myself that I'm good enough," he said. Elano's impressive record with Dunga's side would suggest he indeed has what it takes: he has been in 34 of the coach's 36 squads, started 19 games and scored six goals.
These stats have only reinforced the player's belief that he can still figure in Dunga's plans, despite his travails in Manchester. "I haven't yet sat down with Dunga and spoken about my situation at City, but I'm thinking about doing so, as he's top of the list of people I need to satisfy," explained Elano.
"What motivates me more than anything else is the desire to remain in Dunga's plans and play well for the Seleção. I know that the phase I'm going through at City will pass, so right now I'm focusing on the future. The main career goal at present is to play in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and I believe I'm striving hard and heading in the right direction to achieve this."