Who will claim the most sacred shirt in world football for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?
The clock is counting down to when Brazil reveal to the world who will wear the most sacred shirt number in international football during their 2014 World Cup campaign.
Normally reserved for the team’s ‘star’ man and initially made famous by a certain Edson Arantes do Nascimiento, subsequent wearers of the shirt have tended to be of fantasista ilk, with luminaries such as Rivelino, Zico, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka all adding to its mystique over the years.
Whilst there’s no doubting Neymar will probably be handed the shirt – as a Seleção’s current big star – (despite Pele’s recent protestations) he does not fit the traditional playmaking profile of the previously mentioned incumbents, despite offering the flair and fantasy.
So who will Brazil fans look to, to fill the void of their spiritual number 10; who’s left that embodies their vintage playmaking traditions and could be included when ‘Big Phil’ Scolari names his final 23-man squad on May 7?
Already confirmed by Scolari, who recently told attendees at a congress on football and psychology at Sao Judas University in Sao Paulo, are the Chelsea duo of Oscar and Willian. Their confirmation should surprise no one.
Oscar’s athleticism, adaptability and tactical flexibility are the main reasons why Jose Mourinho chose him consistently ahead of Juan Mata as Chelsea’s playmaker – leading to the Spaniard’s eventual departure – stating:
Brazil has more talented players in the Number 10 position than any other country in the world, and he [Oscar] plays there for the national team, so I want to build with Oscar as my Number 10.
Discipline is also something which Scolari places high emphasis on – possibly of greater importance than more traditional playmaking abilities – and Oscar is seen to have the perfect blend by both managers. Yet, despite an impressive couple of seasons on the whole, Oscar’s form has dipped of late, which is understandable given the amount of football the 22-year old has played over the last 24 months. Add to this the extra workload Mourinho asks of his midfield players and it’s easy to see why Oscar could need to recharge his batteries before heading into what may be the most intense summer of his career.
Willain is a relative newcomer to the Brazil squad (and the wider Brazilian consciousness) having hardly figured in competitive league football in his homeland. Sixteen appearances was all he made before seeking fame and (mostly) fortune with Shakhtar Donetsk. Although he has been employed as a bona fide number 10, his skillset has been best utilised playing slightly wider – even more so since joining the Premier League.
Another player who more recently beat the well-trodden path from Brazil to Ukraine is Bernard. Having featured in recent squads for his country, the youngster is a strong contender to be Brazil’s other star, after making an impact in his homeland last season by helping Atletico Mineiro winning the Copa Libertadores.
Not many would have had a better tutor for the number 10 role as Bernard did, in Ronaldinho. However, not unlike Willian, the current Shakhtar number 10’s explosive pace and trickery has seen him operate from wider positions during his young career, as do many other modern day playmakers.
Back to the Premier League where Coutinho’s form should have him under strong consideration. Undaunted by the physical nature of the English league, despite his physical stature, the Liverpool FC number 10 has added an extra dimension to his game this season which many may never have thought possible. As with Oscar, his successful adaption to the varying midfield tactics his club has employed this campaign should be seen as a real bonus for Scolari.
It will be hard for the Brazil manager to ignore a player who has been a central figure during the Merseyside club’s remarkable season, particularly if they do manage to land their first league title in 24 years. Coutinho summing up his current situation by recently saying:
It is a very special moment, with Liverpool going for the title and my country staging the World Cup. Don’t forget the saying ‘Brazilians never lose hope’ – I still hope to play for Brazil at the World Cup. This could be a very special two months.
Elsewhere in Europe, Hernanes would be a strong contender for a place in the final 23. Benefiting from his ability to play as a deeper, more combative midfielder – always an attractive trait to Scolari – his domestic season has not ran as smoothly as planned since completing a January transfer to Inter from Lazio. Besides, The Prophet wouldn’t necessarily be the traditionalist’s choice for a number 10 role.
Diego has flattered at times for Atlético, particularly with that goal v Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals, however he’s been far from a regular starter in Spain and has failed to consistently produce his initial promise as a youngster, despite possessing all the tools required to be a polished playmaker.
Meanwhile in Brazil, Jadson has suffered a severe dip in form over the last 12 months. After barely making the Confederations Cup squad last summer, a disappointing domestic campaign with São Paulo followed. His recent transfer to Corinthians might be the fresh start he needs and bring back some confidence, but the restart of the league may have come too late to have any impact on national team selection.
With a huge outsider’s chance, Ganso might also benefit from Jadson’s departure from São Paulo (both were vying for essentially the same role), but again be hampered by the lack of playing enough meaningful domestic football before the World Cup squad is announced, counting against a player who most resembles a throwback to a bye-gone era.
If, during the next few seasons, Ganso manages to fulfill any of the huge promise he showed when originally bursting onto the scene with Santos, World Cup 2018 would be a more realistic opportunity to see the return of the exciting Ganso-Neymar tandem, which many predicted would be carrying Brazil’s current squad to glory.
So who could be a viable traditionalist’s choice for playing, what will surely be, back-up to Oscar? With Ronaldinho discounted almost as soon as the possibility had been floated due to a perceived lack of top-level focus on his part, the only remaining hope number 10 romantics have will be for a surprise Kaka inclusion.
12 months ago the 2007 World Player of the Year had little chance of making the cut. Now?
A return to AC Milan, even in their current flux, was a move he needed and, despite the initial ‘reheated soup‘ jibes, he’s amassed some respectable statistics this season as the club’s second highest scorer and producer of the most key passes per game.
Is there really any room for sentiment and nostalgia in the squad when anything other than success in the Maracanã come July 13 will be considered a failure? Or will form and functionality really suffice for a country that has a unique heritage with the number 10 shirt, and a responsibility to win with style?
Who would you choose to take as Brazil’s spiritual number 10?