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Back to the future: Felipe Scolari shows that oldies like Ronaldinho can be goodies for Brazil

James Young
ronaldinho 300x225 Back to the future: Felipe Scolari shows that oldies like Ronaldinho can be goodies for Brazil

Ronaldinho is back in the Brazil squad

With plenty of familiar faces and a distinct lack of invention, those expecting an epoch-defining Scolarian Revolution may have been disappointed by Felipão’s opening Brazil squad, announced yesterday for the game against England at Wembley on February 6th.

But after the pimples and smoking behind the bike shed atmosphere of the youthful sides fielded by Mano Menezes, perhaps that was the point. Alan Hansen may have been entirely wrong when he famously proclaimed that “you never win anything with kids”, but successful international sides almost always contain at least a couple of greybeards.

Of the old lags called up yesterday, Ronaldinho Gaúcho is the one who will attract the most attention, after a vintage season for Atlético Mineiro that brought memories of his Barcelona glory days flooding back. It remains to be seen if that form can be recreated against tougher opposition – he looked well off the pace in his last international comeback, against Bosnia in February last year. But Ronaldinho has reinvented himself since moving to Belo Horizonte. The legs are no longer what they were, but in their place a wiser, cannier playmaker has emerged. If he is able to find enough time and space on the ball, his link-up with the nimble Neymar is an enticing prospect.

It might need to be. For other than the Santos wunderkind the squad looks somewhat threadbare in the forward positions. Luís Fabiano romped through Brasileirão defences at will for most of last year, but was dreadfully ineffective against an Argentina side made up only of domestic based players in a friendly in September. Suspicions remain that O Fabuloso may be something of a flat track bully these days, and given that he will be pushing 34 by the time the Mundial comes to town, his call-up seems a little pointless. Fred, inspirational in leading Fluminense to the title last year, probably has a better case for inclusion, though his name is unlikely to strike fear into too many seasoned international defenders. Perennial Tottenham target Leandro Damião, dropped after a run of poor form and injury, and Alexandre Pato, recovering fitness after his recent move to Corinthians, will expect to be part of future squads.

One conspicuously absent veteran is Kaká, who had made an encouraging return to the side under Menezes. While his club career remains in stasis, he will most likely remain on the outside looking in, particularly as Scolari seems determined to ditch his predecessor’s promising “False Nine” formation and return to the use of a traditional reference point up front. It may also be that the manager thinks that to have Ronaldinho and Kaká in the same squad is one reclamation project too many.

There are a few welcome surprises. Lazio’s skilful Hernanes more than merits a second chance in midfield, and Atlético Madrid’s Filipe Luis and Miranda also deserve a look following their excellent club form this season. The name of Bayern Munich zagueiro Dante had many fans and journalists reaching for their Wikipedias, though it shouldn’t have – the player has been a more than solid Bundesliga defender for a few years now, and there was even recent talk of him representing Germany (he said, reaching for his Wikipedia). Although David Luiz and Roma’s Leandro Castan are the likely starters against England in the absence through injury of Thiago Silva, Dante may get a run out as a substitute.

Last but not least of the changes brought about by Felipão, there is a welcome return for Julio César in goal, now seemingly recovered from his Pesadelo In Port Elizabeth. If nothing else, his experience is bound to be a benefit to younger keepers such as Diego Alves.

What the squad clearly shows is that even under the new leadership, the Seleção remains in something of a state of flux, the team’s goals confused by a lack of competitive fixtures and the great mothership of 2014 hovering on the horizon. Is the objective to pick a team to win now, seeking the golden fleece of entrosamento (understanding, or gelling), and adding and subtracting parts up until the World Cup? Or is it to focus on younger players, as Menezes did, building a side that you hope will mature in time for the big event? The lack of experimentation, and the absence of any of the breakout stars of recent Brasileirão campaigns, such as Atlético Mineiro’s Bernard or Fluminense’s Wellington Nem, suggests Felipão has chosen the former path (though there is still time for younger players to make their mark). As the man himself explained, “Most of our key games are in 2013…we’re going to work hard, organize ourselves, and chose the players this year, basically.”

One thing, at least, was achieved with yesterday’s selection – a little of the feel good factor is back. Brazil cherishes its former idols, and affords them almost limitless amounts of forgiveness. When they reciprocate as Ronaldinho did last year, even better. The player was certainly feeling the love yesterday. “It’s wonderful to be back,” he said, “I want to thank everybody that believed in me.”

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