“It’s normal,” said Luiz Felipe Scolari of his name reverberating around the Mineirão.
Normal because the Brazil fans were eulogising a man who, 12 years back, lost his captain to an injury incurred while “mucking about in goal”, fielded a “crock” up front, and still jockeyed Brazil to FIFA World Cup™ glory? Nope. Normal because, according to Felipão, “Brazil has 200 million coaches and every one thinks they’re better than you”.
Brazil had just lost 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final. It takes less – way less – to irk their boo boys. Carlos Alberto Parreira’s masterminding of *A Seleção’s *first world title in 24 years did not give him a hall pass from the hecklers. Nor did Dunga skippering that side across American fields. The Brazil post is, unmistakably, the proverbial poisoned chalice.
“With any other national team, if you win everybody is happy,” explained Parreira during his last Seleção reign. “With Brazil, you have to win matches, score lots of goals, and play more beautiful football than the fans have ever seen. You can’t win.”
Yet, a frustration-full decade on, someone does appear to be winning. Tite’s name reverberated around that same Mineirão on multiple occasions deep into Thursday evening – and this time, it was bellowed by the delirious rather than the disheartened.
Brazil did win. They did score goals (three at home to Argentina for the first time since that aforementioned “crock” inspired a 3-1 win in 2004). And they did showcase a brand of *futebol *not seen in canary-yellow jerseys since Cicinho, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Robinho and Adriano exhilarated at the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005. Even the notoriously self-effacing Tite, who admits he gets embarrassed when he hears the fans chanting his name, could not hide his delight.
“I’m not going to be falsely humble: I’m really happy,” said the man who guided Corinthians to an upset of Chelsea in the FIFA Club World Cup final. “I didn’t expect such a big victory. Every game in this campaign is tough, and this was Argentina."
Brazil were sixth in the South American standings – they were only above seventh-placed Paraguay on goal difference – when Tite grabbed the controls in July. Fifteen points from a possible 15 later and they are in pole position, with only Uruguay in their rear-view mirror and fifth-placed Chile seven points back. They have conceded just one goal in those victories over Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina. They have scored 15. And, conspicuously, they have gone from being Neymar +10 into a harmonious team.
“Some concepts of the game I have understood for a long time don’t change,” said Tite. “The Cleveland Cavaliers were NBA champions last season with their biggest star, Lebron James, pulling off a defensive action (he made an extraordinary block from Golden State Warriors’ Andre Iguodala in the title-deciding game).
“We have to understand and value defensive actions. Neymar with [Pablo] Zabaleta. What Gabriel [Jesus] did to let Neymar rest. The two gave birth to the first two goals. Many people say that if the forward drops back to mark, he won’t have the energy to get back up front. That is rubbish. You have to know how to compensate.”
Under Tite’s command, just as poetry has supplanted pragmatism, teamwork has usurped individualism – at least on the pitch. In the stands, of course, those buzzing Brazilians could not resist singling out one man for praise:
“Olê, olê, olê, olê;