S.O.S. Mano Menezes

LONDON, Craven Cottage – SK. The honeymoon period for Mano Menezes has ended for a  while now, but the pressure is steadily building on Brazil’s coach ahead of Monday’s friendly against Ghana at Craven Cottage. The consensus among the players and the media is the same: Brazil is currently going through a transitional period after the 2010 World Cup, the balance between youngsters and the veterans is difficult to strike, but the question is how much longer the biggest football nation on earth will accept the experimental approach of Mano Menezes with results not going Brazil’s way?

After 13 games at the helm of the Selecao Mano’s Brazil have lost 3 games against France, Argentina and Germany, were eliminated from the Copa America by Paraguay and conceded 7 goals. The new whiff, which accompanied Menezes when appointed, is gone. The new coach vowed to do away with Dunga’s counterattacking game and emphasized the need to strengthen the midfield with offensive players. Quality in the axe of the field as a foundation for Brazil’s resurrection.

A poor Ganso struggled and the passing through the midfield was not sufficiently slick at the Copa America. The performance in Argentina pointed to the conclusion that Brazil are very much a work in progress. In August Germany, with Gotze as protagonist, totally dismantled the team of Menezes. Menezes had no other choice but to graciously accept defeat: ‘We are still finding it hard to organize an attacking move. We are depending on individual skills from our strikers. We are not able to put together combinations as mechanically as the Germans are doing.’

The result of a friendly is obviously not the most important aspect, but the lack of belief in his own ideas by Menezes was astounding. His formation was conservative and only when the game was lost, did Ganso appear. Rodrigo Paiva, the flamboyant press officer of Brazil, was quick to inform the gathered media that the CBF would continue putting its faith in the hands of Menezes, but critical voices are growing ever louder. Milton Neves, an outspoken journalist, did not hide his dismay: ‘Mano, you are the pilot of a small plane, but the Selecao is a boeing!'

Menezes had to act and opted to select Ronaldinho for the game against Ghana. The latter has found his 'joie de vivre' at Flamengo, where the shrewd Vanderlei Luxemburgo plays Ronaldinho closer to goal to mask the loss of his burning acceleration. Ronaldinho will be wearing the yellow jersey as he needs to help bridge the gap between the different generations within the team. It is a task he humbly accepts:  'I am happy to return to the team. I have the duty to help the team with all the experience that I have acquired.’

Up front Menezes is ringing another change: Alexandre Pato from AC Milan, who turned 22 last week, has to make way for Leandro Damiao. The former has just scored 6 goals in 17 games and has been given ample time by Menezes to prove his worth. Menezes' patience with Pato has run out and so he turns his attention to Damiao in a bid to give Brazil more physical presence in the box. The tall striker from Internacional can be described as a classic number 9. Damiao made his debut for Brazil in March against Scotland. 

The Brazilian coach has hence made several changes in his team that will face Ghana tonight, but the time to experiment is over. Ronaldinho may offer temporary relief for Menezes, but his selection will not solve Brazil’s structural problems. Mano is a coach under intense pressure. The Olympic Games in London are approaching rapidly and it offers Menezes another chance to further develop his philosophy and build his team. In the squad for the game tonight, Ganso, Neymar, Lucas, Damiao, Danilo and Pato can all be identified as having an Olympic passport. But whether the CBF and the Brazilian public are willing to tolerate Mano’s experimental approach for another year remains to be seen.

Brazil line-up v Ghana: J. Cesar, D. Alves, T. Silva, Lucio, Marcelo; Ganso, Fernandinho, Lucas Leiva; Ronaldinho, Neymar, Damiao