Tim Vickery interview

In case you missed the interview with TIM VICKERY yesterday, you may find the full interview transcript below – all rights reserved: Tim Vickery is the South American football correspondent for the BBC and works amongst others freelance for World Soccer and Sports Illustrated. He is perhaps best known for his contributions to the World Football Phone-In, which aires weekly on Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 Live. Vickery is known as 'Legendinho' or Vikipedia'  for his vast knowledge of Brazilian and South American football. Tim spoke to World Scorpio in London just before kick-off of Brazil's friendly against  Ghana and offered his in depth opinion on the Selecão.

Let us start at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where Brazil totally imploded in that infamous second half against Holland, what was the main reason – simply that Dunga didn’t have a back-up plan?
Maybe, but I think there was a lack of emotional control. I actually thought going into the tournament that the emotional factor was one of Brazil’s main strengths, because in that run of results from 2008 up to 2010 Brazil did wonderfully well, even in the Confederations Cup final when Brazil were 2-0 down against the United States they managed to come back. The emotional strength was supposed to be a plus point for Brazil. But during the course of the World Cup you saw that the pressure is much, much greater.
But emotional control was one their key strengths? Brazil outplayed the Netherlands for an entire 45 minutes, where Dunga’s team could have easily been two or three up.
There was always a vulnerability there with the position of left-back. It was a vulnerability Holland were well set-up to take advantage of with Arjen Robben. Michel Bastos had not played as a full-back for a long time. It was a point that Felipe Melo was looking to cover. One of the key roles of the coach is to set the emotional tone of the team and Dunga lost control gradually during the World Cup. It was very clear in the press conference after the game against Ivory Coast when he looked like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In the second half against Holland when the team needed calming, he was more and more nervous and angry. A nervous and angry coach produces a nervous, angry team. Once they were behind, then your point is correct, the lack of a back-up was then exposed. But then again, they could have been easily 2-0, 3-0 up and then they wouldn’t have needed a plan B. The key, according to me, was the lack of emotional control: if Brazil had been able to control themselves emotionally, they would have done without the need for a back-up.
In a way you are also implying that Dunga wasn’t experienced enough? He simply couldn’t deal with the situation in the second half?
Yes, absolutely. There is a moment when your lack of experience shows and that was the moment when it became apparent that Dunga was not up to the job. It was unfortunate and I found it very sad that Felipe Melo was treated like a criminal when the team returned home. Melo had to be smuggled out of the airport. If you look at Felipe Melo’s internacional record, there is only one game where he was on the losing side and that was against Holland, and yet he is treated like a failure. His name is seen as ridiculous – how was this player ever selected for the national team? Brazil is a very intolerant society.
Isn’t that typical Brazilian? To the rest of the world Brazil fans are a bunch of festive, colorful and vibrant football lovers. But this view is not correct: for the Brazilian fan only one thing matters and that is winning.
Exactly. Everything about Brazil from the outside world is myth. Brazilian football is a myth wrapped up in another myth, which is the big myth of Brazil.
But Brazil is, and I hope that this will change as the economic situation improves, a society with a low self-esteem, where winning is everything and football, and in particular the world cup, is that moment where Brazil appears for the rest of the world as a success.
Why do Brazilians keep on having such a low self-esteem? Brazil is now one of the big booming countries and is trying to host a successful Olympic Games and the World Cup in three years time.
That boom only comes down so far: the vast majority of the population lives on wages, which would be considered below sub-sustenance  level in Europe. I have two stepdaughters and one of them recently took a bus ride from Natal to Rio, which is about 46hrs. The thing that really struck her was the number of people still living in abject poverty. The economic boom is important and there are millions of people joining  a new, bigger middle class, but you are not changing an entire history of 500 years of one of the most unequal countries in the world in the course of a decade. Progress has been made, but very slowly and still a lot of people are left behind. So the aspect of low self-esteem and let us hope this changes in the future, is still very important in the way that Brazilians respond to football. Brazilians will go and watch their team when it is winning. When it is not winning, they switch off and the line is that it is not my team and that it doesn’t represent me. At the press conference Mano Menezes yesterday talked about this issue. He said that playing at home is much more complicated for Brazil, than playing elsewhere, because the crowd is so demanding. One of his key tasks is to prepare a team to cope with that physiological pressure in three years time.
The economic boom will obviously influence the set-up of the domestic game , which now has the big problem of the state championships, but will it also influence the set-up of the national team?
It is such an interesting question. I think in Brazilian football the – what I call – ‘92 moment  is long overdue. It was that time in England where the big clubs broke away from a structure that didn’t attend their interests, and Brazilian football has that multiplied many times over, because of a situation where they are locked into a calendar that is build around the necessities of clubs that have no supporters. Now this is interesting in terms of trying to attract the best players: this summer saw a landmark moment, when Corinthians were able to offer a transfer fee for Carlos Tevez. Obviously the move didn’t go through and one of the reasons is that the money is only on tab next year. Why were they able to attract Carlos Tevez? Not for professional reasons, but for purely personal reasons he wanted to be close to his wife and children, who were then in Buenos Aires. For professional reasons you will not have professional players wanting to play the state championships, so that is those months entirely wasted. No professional, ambitious that is, wants to play the state championships and players will come to Europe, regardless of financial considerations now because the big names in Brazil can earn huge sums of money, they can earn what they can get in Europe, but what they can’t do is prove themselves the best. In order to prove themselves the best you have to shine in Europe’s champions league. That is the reality. If Brazilian football genuinely wants to attract top players in their peak years, it has to do something about the calendar. Now the English clubs were able to take this step in 92 because they are run on club business lines. Brazilian clubs aren’t. You can only hope, if Brazil wants to be a global player that the logic of the situation will see them break away from a calendar that for example ruins the start of the league system. All of us, who have grown up with the league system know that its strength lies in the start. That is the moment, the big kick-off, the big party. The big kick-off in Brazil doesn’t exist. It’s a damp squib. Thus Brazil have adopted the league system but thrown away its biggest virtue.
Will this set-up change any time soon? As long as Ricardo Teixeira remains in charge, it seems unlikely.
At the moment Teixeira is strong, because he controls the 2014 World Cup. Every one wants the golden reign of 2014 to drop on them. There is also the Copa America in 2015. Venues will be used in 2015 which won’t be used during the World Cup.  At the moment this mechanism keeps the clubs in line.  After that, and after Teixeira is gone, there might be a possibility. Brazil can be very frustrating in this respect. It is a country that has often done a bodged compromise rather than a strong stand. But this global reality is beginning to be realised and within 10 years there will be a possibility, when the big clubs break away.
This global reality currently means that Kentaro deals with all Brazil friendlies. What kind of an influence does Kentaro have? They organized the party like pre-2006 world cup training camp in Weggis, Switzerland. Kentaro has also gone to Tanzania and Zimbabwe with Brazil before the 2010 world cup. Financial considerations are most important to Kentaro, but there are limits, no ?
Yes, there are huge limits, because friendlies are all Brazil has. Brazil don’t have to go through the best qualification campaign in the world  – South America.  The last World Cup showed just how well that marathon qualification campaign prepares teams for the World Cup. Now Brazil don’t have that, only friendlies. As is so often the case with Brazil, political considerations then come in. The original line from Mano Menezes was that Brazil were going to take on different schools and top line opponents. Brazil has done that so far, but results haven’t been very good. When results are bad in Brazil, the heat is not only on the coach, but also on the president of the Brazilian FA Ricardo Teixeira. There has been a change now for in November Brazil will play Gabon, whereas they could have been playing Italy or Spain. You wonder whose interests that serves? Brazil don’t need to play an African school. They are playing the top African school now – Ghana. You can’t see of any football necessity to take on a game against Gabon. Perhaps not even a commercial necessity, but maybe it is a political necessity from Ricardo Teixeira to protect himself against criticism if Brazil take on high-standing opponents and lose. Obviously the risk is if Brazil play lesser opponents and lose, the egg in the face is even greater. But there is still a long way to go until 2014 and Mano said yesterday that there will be more friendlies at home and that is important, because preparing the team physiologically for the pressure, the like of which no team has ever experienced, has to be priority. In 1950 there were only 50 million Brazilians to put pressure on, come 2014 there will be 200 million Brazilians. The pressure they will have to cope with in 2014 is immense and you can win your first four, five games 4-0, but if you lose the next game by half a goal to nil you are out and the world cup dream is over. They need to be strongly physiologically prepared and friendlies are all they have to do it with, apart from the Confederations cup in 2013, which is glorified friendlies. 
The pressure will indeed be huge in 2014. The Brazilian public will expect nothing but victory. Mano has now been in charge for just over a year, how do you evaluate his reign so far? He came in at a transitional phase, he has an exciting, young generation to work with, but how can he prepare these youngsters for the massive task that awaits them?
You are in the anti-Mano camp? It is a fascinating time to follow Brazil, because it is a transitional time in two ways: firstly, with the obvious generational change that had to be made after 2010, but also Mano’s analysis, which was I think correct, that the style had to change – away from the dependence on the counterattack of the Dunga team. The Brazil crowd will not get fully behind the team if that is the style of football, which is played in 2014. Secondly Brazil need to learn against opponents who don’t offer them the counterattack. No one will offer them the counterattack in 2014! In the last set of world cup qualifiers under Dunga Brazil won 0-3 away to Chile, which was a great result, but a few days later Brazil drew goalless against Bolivia. That was the only game that Bolivia didn’t lose of all of their away games. It illustrated a problem that Brazil have had in recent years, which is breaking down teams which don’t offer them the counterattack. That is the context in which Mano took charge. Mano wanted Brazil to play more extensively through the midfield and the big change has been the replacement of a Gilberto Silva type-figure by Lucas, who is not a natural in that holding midfielders role, but someone who can generate more football. As Mano said in the press conference yesterday, there has been an imbalance between the objective and the achievements. Brazil try to do things that they haven’t been able to do. Brazil have found it much harder to play their way through the midfield then expected. Many people in Brazil just thought that picking Paulo Henrique Ganso would be in itself enough to resolve this problem. In reality it has proved to be a little harder. The impression I had watching the Germany game last month, was that it the first time that Mano was a bit rattled physiologically. The line that he came out with after the game that he didn’t think it was possible to play Germany at this stage toe to toe, was a little bit worrying. This was Germany in pre-season without some of their best players. The result shouldn’t matter that much. It would have been better for Brazil to play Ganso and give him the expierence of playing the Germans and learn from the expierence, whatever the result was. It was the first time that you wondered is Mano being blown of course? That is the fascinating thing about today’s game. You asked Mano yesterday if he thought this was a must-win game? He batted of the question, but the pressure is beginning to rise. The Brazilian press are speculating that he might not last for much longer. The game tonight is not a meaningless friendly, the stakes are rising for Mano and let us see how he responds to the pressure he is under.
May I say you are pro-Mano?
I am a bit disappointed with him, to be honest. He hasn’t stuck to his own ideas. I was at the Copa America back in July in Argentina and the best 45 minutes that Brazil offered was in the first group game against Paraguay, which ended up being a 2-2 draw. The half time score was 1-0. Jadson scored the goal. Just in a few flashes you could see a glimpse of a nice partnership being build between Jadson and Ganso. It was interesting. But Jadson was removed during that game at halftime, because he was close to a red card. He had picked up a yellow card and just before he scored, he very nearly got send off. Mano decided to take him off, but he hasn’t reappeared since and I have no idea why. It disappoints me for an interesting partnership was about to be forged. Obviously you never know what happens behind the scenes.  There was the story around the Scotland game in March about Marcelo. He didn’t play that game and didn’t appear in the team anymore. It was only afterwards that the media discovered why. Marcelo had send an e-mail back to Real Madrid saying that he had managed to convince Brazil that he shouldn’t play and he was very happy about this. It was an issue about commitment to the national team, but he made a bad mistake by sending that e-mail, not only to Real Madrid, but also to the Brazilian coaching staff. You can never fully know what happens behind the scenes, but you can’t begin to understand the treatment of Jadson. He was given 45 minutes and then dropped. Robinho, who is injured and not playing today, has been given opportunity after opportunity. You worry that there are a kind of double standards? That is a concern. That is disappointing from Menezes, but it is worrying in general that he clearly has his favourites. That might be difficult to administer in the long term if players feel they are not being selected, because Mano is being too loyal to his favourites. In general though, Mano comes across as a very calm, intelligent and rational figure.
After Dunga’s dismissal Mano was appointed as head coach, but he wasn’t first choice to succeed Dunga. Does that in a way undermine his position in the eyes of the Brazilian public?
No, the whole thing about not being first choice, was over and done with very quickly when Brazil played the USA, played well and won. It was forgotten. If Mano is under pressure, it is only because the results haven’t been good enough. It doesn’t have anything to do with not being first choice.
Imagine Mano gets sacked in one of the next games, who would be a good replacement?
There are shadows emerging and one of those shadows is Vanderlei Luxemburgo. He is responsible both in tactical and physiological terms for the fact that Ronaldinho is back in the squad. A year ago it looked like Luxemburgo’s career was going down the toilet. He has managed to haul himself back into contention with Flamengo. There is another one, which is Luiz Felipe Scolari. If you look at what Scolari did at the start of the decade: he didn’t want the Brazil job, he didn’t want the Brazil job. With a year to go before the World Cup, he wanted it. He took it, won the world cup and then left. Right now he must be thinking if the job is vacant a year before the world cup, he’d like it again. Those are the principal shadows at the moment: Luxemburgo looming and Scolari lurking.
Brazil find it difficult to break down opposition that sit back deep and don’t offer them the counterattack, but it is these days still possible to play the truly beautiful game that we all associate with the Brazilian teams of 1958, 1970 and 1982? Interestingly enough, Daniel Alves was asked by the Brazilian press whether or not Brazil could copy the style of FC Barcelona!
A lot of Brazilian coaches would tend to say no: it is not possible. The direction that Brazilian football has taken, puts a lot of emphasis on height and physical strength and on counterattacks. At conferences of Brazilian coaches the statistics are rolled out that if the move has more then seven passes the possibilities of a goal are reduced. But there you go, then Barcelona come along and prove that all of this isn’t true. It is difficult for  the moment to see Brazil do what Barcelona are doing, because Brazil are not producing the players. Who is the Brazilian equivalent of a Xavi or an Iniesta? There is quality available in lots of positions but is there enough quality in central midfield? And again that is disappointing about Mano: Hernanes is an excellent player. He can play in a deeper role for Brazil then he does for Lazio Roma. A player, who strikes the ball so well with both feet, should be looked at. He was badly selected in the friendly against France when he played wide on the left. He doesn’t have the pace to play there and he couldn’t get into the game. He got frustrated, went in with a high foot, got send off and he hasn’t been back since. He is a player that should be involved in this transitional phase. It is back to thing that Mano seems to have favourites and other are not so much favourites. The treatment he has given Jadson and Hernanes has been bad. These are two players who could improve Brazil in the middle of the field.
Let us focus a little on the game with Ghana. Ronaldinho has been recalled to the squad, where does Kaka fit in?
Kaka has to get fit. The long term of his career is worrying. He has two fairly chronic injuries. Kaka is a player, who needs that explosion. He needs to be at top physical condition. If you take that away from him, he is not a world class player. First Kaka has to prove that he can be physically fit, and also that he can be physically fit in three years time. He will be 32 then. Probably Menezes is thinking – if we get anything from Kaka, that’s a bonus.
One of Brazil’s big problems has been the left-back position. Michel Bastos played at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, then André Santos, who had a disappointing Copa America, was tried out and now Marcelo is given another chance.
It is a great chance for Marcelo. To me, André Santos wasn’t that disappointing in the Copa America. He is better going forward than he is defensively, but he doesn’t score the goals that he should considering the positions he gets into. But one of the highlights of what Brazil did at the Copa America came against Ecuador. Brazil played an absolutely terrible first half. The first goal, that came out of nowhere, was a beautiful cross from André Santos. It curled in behind the defensive line and Alexandre Pato got in front of the defender to score. It was the kind of cross that invited, and you didn’t have to be six foot tall to meet it. Santos didn’t provide enough of those moments. He has been punished now for giving away the goal against Germany, which turned out to be the winner. He has a long history with Mano Menezes and it has to be seen whether his omission from the squad now is a one game punishment or more permanent. I think Alexandro, who has just joined FC Porto, is an interesting prospect. He is a very promising left-back and he could be the long term solution. You can be assured that in most positions, and especially fullbacks, if Brazil don’t have a player now, they will have one soon.
On the right-back Mano has always preferred Dani Alves instead of Maicon. Yet the former is more frail in defence and had a terrible Copa America.
Before the first game against Paraguay, the then coach of Paraguay Fernando Martino said that when Dani Alves cuts in, he has the precision of a number 10. He countered by picking Estigebarria – left sided and quick. He set up the two goals for Paraguay and Daniel Alves was dropped. Martino was very happy with his work, because he neutralized what he saw as Brazil’s strong point. Danilo is in the squad now, who can play right back or central midfield. The question mark over Maicon is first of all – can he fight Gareth Bale? Secondly – is he still going to be around in 2014? He will be nearly 33 and that is pushing it for a player, who relies on physical explosion. At Manchester United the rising of Chris Smalling is a disappointment for Rafael. He is not getting the opportunities that he got last year. He was in the Brazil squad last year. He falls back. Overall though, it is a lovely problem to have. Most coaches around the world would love to have Daniel Alves, Maicon, Danilo and Rafael to choose from.
In the centre of the field there is the interesting figure of Paulo Henrique Ganso, who didn’t get a start against Germany.
It would have been a wonderful experience for him – to start a game in Europe against a top European side. Besides he was fitter in August then he was back in July at the Copa America, when he had just returned from a long knee injury. That was a game he could have learned a lot from. It will be interesting to see if he gets a game today – how he gets on against the big, strong and physical Ghanaians. And how about Neymar, how will he deal with such a strong team?
Could we say that Fernandinho of Shakhtar Donetsk is a bit of an oddity in this team?
Ramires has not been included. Fernandinho can play that role, as a midfielder who can force the transition and can bring the ball forward. But playing for Shakhtar, having not played for a big club in one of the big centres of Brazil, makes it very difficult for him to stay in the squad. There simply is no lobby for him back at home. If he is dropped, like Jadson, who is in the same category, no one in Brazil will protest, because he has no lobby in Rio, Sao Paulo or even in Porte Alegre or Belo Horizonte. Under those conditions it is nearly impossible to stay in the squad.
In the final third of the field, there is Neymar – a petulant boy but with huge potential!
Against Germany he failed to get involved, he wasn’t up to the mark. He is still at Santos, despite rumours that he has been sold to FC Barcelona for an estimated 60 million EUR as of 2013. Mano said he has a strong personality. Can Neymar make it in Europe?
It is going to be one of the fascinating narratives over the next few years. How Neymar gets on in Europe? His ability is absolutely phenomenal, astounding. But there are question marks about his lack of physicality, about his tendency to dive all the time  – that he gets away with in Brazil – and question marks about his personality – his petulance. The Germany game was fascinating for a number of reasons. He played badly and was indeed not up to the mark, but he scored a fantastic goal. How many players could have done that? In a low scoring game like football, some one who can play badly and still score a wonderful goal, is useful. Rivaldo used to do this a lot. He would have game where he received the ball hundred times, 98 times he’d give it away and twice he’d score a goal. That is still cost effective. It was astonishing goal that Neymar scored against Germany: given half a metre at the edge of the area – BANG! His precision in front of goal is extraordinary. But can he cope with the weight of expectation? Can he cope with physicality and the fact that he is not going to get a free kick every time? It is going to be an intriguing soap opera to watch.
Neymar has already won the Copa Libertadores, which should be enough prove that he is a real talent, or does the Libertadores get undervalued in Europe?
It probably is. The time difference doesn’t help because the big games kick off at 2 in the morning European time. In general the English media don’t pay enough attention to South American football, be it domestically or the national teams. The English media treated the Copa America more as a backdrop to Carlos Tevez deciding where he was going to play his football than tournament, which is very interesting in itself. That unfortunately is the English mentality, which is all the stronger it seems for the fact that all players from all corners of the world are playing in England. The English seem to not worry about abroad and just think about Carlos Tevez here. Rowing against this tide has proven to be rather difficult.
The English may seem to bother only about the Premier League, but has the Premier League become slightly ridiculous with multimillionaires using it as their back garden to toy around?  
In England a vast majority are thinking that the Germans have got the balance better. Having said that, I spoke with Sandro from Tottenham yesterday about how his first year had gone. He is so happy to be playing here and he says this is where everyone wants to be, because there are so many great players from all over the world, great facilities. Sandro feels he is a much improved player. He has learnt to do things much more quickly and good football is exactly that – precision at pace.
What do you expect about Brazil tonight?
I expect to be intrigued, fascinated and hopefully moved at times. It is such a fascinating time to watch Brazil, specifically because they are trying to find their way and trying to rediscover a footballing identity. It is not easy doing that under pressure.
Is it significant that today’s offensive quartet for Brazil – Damião, Neymar, Ganso and Ronaldinho – all play their football back home in the domestic league?
It is not coincidence. The Brazilian league is paying big money, but if you ask this question in two years time, that Neymar, Ganso and Damião will not be playing their football in Brazil. The terms of trade are changing, but still the best players will play their big years in Europe. That is unavoidable for the foreseeable future.
Is Mano’s mission slowly becoming near mission impossible? The Brazilian public don’t seem to be to please with his experimental approach over the last 13 games, but with the 2012 Olympics coming up, you can expect more of the same, will the CBF and the Brazilian public except that for another year?
It depends on results. Everything does. But it is hard to see Brazil not winning the Olympics. Who will beat Brazil in the Olympics? Who is going to take it more seriously ? It is the same year as the European championships. No one from Europe is going to be full strength. Uruguay are there and will put out a decent team, but they have got only 3.5 million people, Brazil has 200 million. Africa? They will be strong, but Brazil will be stronger. Mano Menezes will see that as his salvation: let us just get through these friendlies, next year we win the Olympics. That will give him some breathing space.
A silly question to conclude: who will win the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
Haha! Always make you predictions after the event! I can tell you with no problem at all that Brazil will win the 1970 World Cup. About 2014, I haven’t got a clue!