(Reuters) – Germany’s astonishing demolition of Brazil was the brutal culmination of a long, slow decline for the five-times world champions whose production line of world-class players seems to have ground to a halt.
Brazil have not had a player in the top three of the world player of the year award since Kaka won the prize in 2007 and their highest-placed player for 2013 was Neymar, who came fifth.
Whereas their 2002 World Cup-winning team included a plethora of world-class performers, including Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, the current side is hugely dependent on Neymar who has only one year’s experience of the demands of European club football.
After reaching three successive World Cup finals between 1994 and 2002, Brazil fell at the quarter-final stage in 2006 and 2010 before crashing to their unprecedented 7-1 defeat by Germany in Tuesday’s semi-final.
Although that was Brazil’s first defeat in 64 competitive home games, there have been plenty of stuttering performances on their own soil in recent years, including goalless draws against Bolivia and Venezuela.
Brazil’s last Copa America outing three years ago ended in a quarter-final defeat by Paraguay on penalties
But Brazilian football’s problems go deeper than results.
Many feel that Brazil is now paying a heavy price for switching its emphasis from a game based on skill and technique to one based more on brute force and speed back in the 1980s and 1990s.
Zico, regarded as one of best players the country has ever produced, once said that he would not have made the grade nowadays.
“I’m sure that I went for a trial at a football club today, I would be rejected for being thin and small,” he said during the Soccerex conference two years ago.
“You don’t see Romario-type forwards in the youth divisions, (the centre forward) is always a big guy,” he said referring to the stocky striker who led their 1994 World Cup attack.
“That’s where the deterioration of Brazilian football begins.”
Even when players are unearthed, their careers often go off the rails and the likes of Robinho and Alexandro Pato have failed to fulfill their early promise following unhappy experiences at clubs in Europe.
Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari said many players disappeared off the radar after moving abroad at a young age.
“Brazil does produce good players but we have to understand that many of them start here and go abroad very early and it’s only through research and observation that we discover that there are good Brazilians out there,” he said on Wednesday.
Scolari himself has often been criticised for employing tactical fouls, although he has pointed out that other Brazilian coaches do it as well.
Fernando Calazans, a veteran columnist in the daily newspaper O Globo, railed against the current generation of coaches in his column on Wednesday.
“It’s easy to blame the directors and it’s politically correct to spare the coaches, the so-called professors, who, with very rare exceptions, are just as out-of-touch, just as poorly informed, just as poorly prepared and just as disinterested in the quality of Brazilian football as the directors,” he wrote.
“They are so many years and years behind that they set up defensive schemes, hold on for 1-0 wins, send long balls upfield, practise tactical fouling and make their players commit fouls, kick, pull, push, that sort of thing.”
The turnaround in Brazilian football began after the 1982 World Cup loss to Italy, when one of the most exuberant teams the competition has ever seen came home empty-handed.
“If we had won that game, football would have been different,” said Zico. “Instead, we started to create football based on getting the result at whatever cost, football based on breaking up the opposition’s move, of fouling.
“That defeat for Brazil was not beneficial for world football.”
There was a brief attempt to change the national team’s style under Mano Menezes following the 2010 World Cup to a Spanish-style possession-based game.
But he was fired after two years and replaced by Scolari, who immediately reverted to his favourite formation, with two defensive midfielders and a target man up front.
The big hope is that Tuesday’s debacle could have as profound an effect on Brazilian football as the 1982 defeat by Italy.
“Who knows, it could lead to great and real changes, on and off the pitch, starting at grass-roots level,” said Tostao, a forward in the 1970 World Cup-winning team.
“There needs to be a change of concepts.”