Tite: I challenge players to be excellent

  • Tite took charge as Brazil coach in June 2016

  • A Seleção became first team to join hosts Russia at next year’s global finals

  • First of an exclusive two-part interview with the Brazil coach

Adenor Leonardo Bachi, aka Tite, took over as Brazil coach in June 2016, at what was a critical time for probably the most iconic team in world football. Humiliated on home soil at the FIFA World Cup™ two years earlier, they lay outside the qualification places in the preliminaries for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™.

The first match of the new coach’s reign came against Ecuador in Quito in August. Seven games and eight wins later, his all-conquering Brazil side became the first team to join hosts Russia at next year’s world finals. They ended up winning the South American qualifying group by a distance, by which time Tite’s record read ten wins and two draws in 12 matches, with 30 goals scored and three conceded.

In the first of an exclusive two-part interview, FIFA.com spoke to the man who has engineered Brazil’s dramatic turnaround about his first 18 months in charge.

FIFA.com: If you had to rank the happiest moments in your career, where would you put the celebrations that followed the win over Paraguay in March, which sealed Brazil’s place at the world finals? Tite: From one to ten on my career scale I’d give it an eight. If the team performs and continues its development with a world title, I’d go up to a ten.

Did you feel happy or relieved? (Laughs) Relief to begin with. It was a relief to see us recover, and then the feeling was one of happiness. It started against Paraguay and ended against Chile (on the final matchday) because we showed character and respect for the job we had to do and for the other national teams taking part in the qualifiers.

Speaking a few months ago, Marcelo said: “We owe it all to Tite because he changed everything”. What did you change exactly? You have to interpret what Marcelo said as an expression of gratitude, an acknowledgment of all the hard work everyone put in at what was a difficult time for us in the qualifiers. But that’s mainly down to the quality of the players and the work of a whole group of people. Obviously, I’m responsible for it all but the coaching staff made sure everything worked. And they did it by working in a different way. We've been here for 17 months but in reality it adds up to just two months of work because we don’t get together that much and there’s not much contact with the players. The coaching team do a different job to what you see at club level.

Brazil won the Olympic gold medal at Rio 2016 a few days after your debut. How much did that help? After 2014 it seemed like something of a release. The Olympic Games provided players like Neymar, Marquinhos, Gabriel Jesus and Renato Augusto with some really valuable experience and ended up improving the performance of the Brazilian national team. They played an important part in winning the gold medal, which then had an impact on the senior team.

How have you managed to maintain such a high standard for so many months? By challenging the players to achieve excellence, to be better and better regardless of whether we’d qualified or not. By challenging them to be better than the opposition, to be more competitive, more loyal. When you demand performance, players raise their game technically. But if you put all the emphasis on results, that brings their level down. We can’t control the final result but we can control performance. I’m a coach who demands performance of the highest level. Maybe that’s the fuel the national team needs to keep on developing.

How have you managed to get the best out of Neymar? By not making him fully responsible for the situation and by not putting him at loggerheads with responsibility either. I spoke to the players and allocated an area of responsibility to each of them. When you have one of the top three players in the world, it’s very easy just to leave the responsibility up to them. The fact is, though, each of us are all responsible to some extent for what happens. And that’s where the individual side of things and creative talent come in. I’ve made this an essential part of team work. I haven’t left it to one individual.

There’s a side to Neymar that the fans don’t know. What’s surprised you about him, given that you didn’t know him before you took on the job? On a technical level, how good a passer he is. He can be in some tricky positions and still put his team-mates through on goal. Before, I’d see his feints, his ability and his finishing but not focus so much on his passing. It’s surprised me. On a personal level, he has a big heart. He’s a good kid. He has a supportive and caring side and not many people know that.

The 7-1 defeat to Germany shook Brazilian football to the core. Has it influenced you in any way, you think? Coaches are always looking to evolve. That result was a huge wake-up call for Brazilian coaches and increased the pressure on them. It was a huge blow for the players who lost the World Cup, and it led coaches to search for more knowledge, to try and develop and to evolve both in terms of tactics and methodology. They looked for comparisons, swapped information with European coaches, and got better training.

Is there any aspect of being a national team coach that you weren’t expecting? I guessed there would be a lot of pressure but not as much as there actually is: all the responsibility, being in the public eye, how much the country follows the team. The theory is one thing; living it is something else entirely.

How much has your life changed in this last year and a half? I have to say that I shut myself away a bit more now. I’m not that comfortable with the lack of privacy. I spend a little bit more time with my family, a bit more time at home, reading books, watching games on TV, the odd film. My life was a bit like that before anyway, but I try and have more privacy now.

In the second and final part of the interview, to be published next week, Tite speaks about the Final Draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, Brazil’s great rivals and his vision of the modern game. Don’t miss it!