Brazil are out and the recriminations have begun, but Dorival Junior needs time

Whenever Brazil get knocked out of a tournament — and they do now get knocked out of tournaments rather more than they used to — the natural impulse is to categorise it as a crisis.

This is the weight of past success. You don’t win five men’s World Cups (out of the 12 played from 1958 to 2002) without paying some kind of existential toll; in Brazil’s case, it is that anything even tangentially relating to the national team comes with a side order of psychodrama. Sometimes, in quiet moments of matches Brazil aren’t already winning 8-0, you can almost hear the blood vessels popping.

There is an external element to this. People around the globe expect Brazil to be good, in the same way that people who observe any pattern are inclined to believe it will continue. Past performance is no guide to future returns, the disclaimers tell us, but we don’t really listen.

Mainly, though, the high standards are self-imposed. Their midfielder Andreas Pereira made headlines during the week when he claimed that last night’s opponents Uruguay dream of having the team Brazil do — way to do Marcelo Bielsa’s team talk for him, sir — but it was another line from that press conference that revealed more about the national psyche.

“We respect Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina a lot,” Pereira said, when asked about the potential winners of this summer’s ongoing Copa America. “But we’re the Brazil national team. Brazil will always be the favourites.”

Two days later, Brazil are out, beaten on penalties by Uruguay after a goalless quarter-final they never really looked like winning.

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Brazil’s players confront their elimination last night in Las Vegas (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

It happens. Uruguay are a very good team — a better one than Brazil at this moment in time — and there is no shame in losing to them. In different circumstances, this would just be a time for shrugging and moving on. But the kind of inbuilt superiority complex that came through in Pereira’s comments inevitably lends the whole thing more frisson.

Brazil were the fourth-best of the 16 teams at this tournament, a fact their head coach Dorival Junior appeared to understand. Maybe Pereira would accept it too, deep down. But there is something — pride, perhaps, or a simple impulse to say what the people want to hear — that usually obscures rational evaluation when things do go wrong.

Sometimes, the crisis talk is fully justified. Heaven knows the Brazil team have known some dark times in recent decades. The challenge is separating the genuine ones from the ones that spring only from ego and impatience, from that inner howl of, “We’re Brazil, goddamnit!”

Dorival, who only got the job in January, has been laying the groundwork for this moment for weeks now. He has spoken repeatedly of “following the steps”, coming across like a counsellor in an addiction clinic. In a way, that is precisely what he is: the Brazilian people — or at least a solid proportion of them — are addicted to thinking that things should, by right, be better than they are. And that the fact they are not means someone should be fired.

Case in point: the headline of a column by popular pundit Mauro Cezar Pereira, published on the website of UOL, Brazil’s largest online content company, within hours of the final whistle in Las Vegas last night. “Decadent Selecao need a foreign manager,” it read.

Should the Selecao, as the Brazil team are widely known back home, be better? It’s a big question. A country of over 200 million people and roughly the same size as the continental United States, Brazil produces a staggering number of good footballers. Most members of their Copa America squad play at the very highest level in the European club game. Vinicius Junior is in the conversation for the best player in the world today.

Not one of those facts, though, directly relates to the task of building a successful national team. You need patience, ideas, coherence. You need to do the work. And to do the work, you need time.

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Dorival Junior and Marquinhos depart the Copa America (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Bielsa has been in charge of Uruguay since last May. Colombia appointed Nestor Lorenzo in June 2022. Lionel Scaloni is approaching his six-year anniversary with Argentina. The Uruguay game was the eighth of Dorival’s tenure.

Brazil have not lost any of those matches within 90 minutes. Sure, they huffed and puffed at this tournament, but they are in better shape than when Dorival took over after a year under successive interim appointments. Team spirit is healthier than it has been for some time, and with so many youngsters in the squad, the scope for improvement is there.

“We’re working with love and patience,” Dorival said after the Uruguay defeat. “We all want this team to get back to where it once was. The results weren’t what we wanted — I accept that and take responsibility — but I have no doubt that this team will grow from here.”

Dorival, 62, has been working in Brazilian football, coaching 20 clubs (some of them multiple times) in 22 years, for long enough to know that there will be some knives out for him in the days ahead. There will be questions about his formation, his substitutions, and the fact that Brazil had no discernible attacking patterns. “A bureaucratic team”, is how newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo’s columnist Juca Kfouri described it earlier in the week, and there will be much more cutting digs than that.

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Douglas Luiz is denied by Sergio Rochet in the shootout (Frederic J Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Brazil’s federation chiefs, though, should stick with their man, and not just because it is their fault that this team is at such an early stage in its development. They, after all, wasted half a World Cup cycle since Qatar 2022 waiting around for Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti, looking plaintively in through a steamed-up window as he enjoyed a romantic meal with his long-term partner.

No, they should stick with Dorival because he is a good coach, and because he is exactly the kind of character they need. Calm and measured. More importantly, he is not prone to the delusion — still widespread — that Brazil have some kind of divine right to trample every team in their path, even ones as well-grooved as Colombia and Uruguay.

“The world has grown and understands football more and more,” Dorival said before the 4-1 win against Paraguay in the second of their three group matches here. “We face difficult opponents. All the big teams in the world are going through the same thing. It’s harder to get results than it once was.”


(Top photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

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