Tite has squad headaches ahead of Brazil's friendlies in Singapore
Just three months have passed since Brazil deservedly won the Copa America. It is surprising, then, that coach Tite finds himself under pressure so soon.
True, the September friendlies did not go well. His side needed to come from behind to hold Colombia to a draw and then lost to Peru. But many of the attacks the coach has subsequently suffered have in effect found him guilty of trying to do his job.
The coming friendlies against Senegal and Nigeria are controversial for a number of reasons. The most valid one is surely the location. These matches will take place in Singapore -- a long and inconvenient trip for all concerned. But this is not Tite's fault. Brazil's friendlies are organized by an outsourced company, which strives to build a global brand.
Some have turned up their noses at the opposition. This is a little harsh. The European calendar is so cluttered with competitive matches that it is not easy to set up friendlies with sides from the continent, especially when they are currently not too keen on facing Brazil. And both African sides have merits. In particular, they specialize in quick and powerful transitions -- the very type of attacking weapon that presented Brazil with so many problems in the 2-2 draw against Colombia.
But Tite has mainly come under fire for the composition of his squad -- and the fact that it includes seven home-based players. There is a paradox here, because there is often a popular call for more domestically based stars to get a look in with the national team. But the problem here is the calendar of Brazilian football, which is a constant battle to try to cram three litres into a bottle than can only hold two. The local championship does not pause for FIFA dates. This means that the home based players will miss at least two rounds of a league which is beginning to move into its decisive phase. And included in the squad are two players each from Flamengo and Gremio, who will meet in the second leg of the Libertadores semi final on October 23rd. They will be back well before the big game -- but they may be jaded by the amount of time spent on an aeroplane.
When Tite gave a press conference to announce his squad, the disruption it would cause to the local game was pretty much the only subject of debate. This is clearly not his problem. The clubs have signed off on the calendar, and must therefore accept the consequences. Tite has been hired to do the best he can for the national team -- and the likes of Gremio midfielder Matheus Henrique and Flamengo striker Gabriel Barbosa have proved themselves worthy of an opportunity. It is clearly unfair to burden the coach with the problems of the organization of domestic Brazilian football -- especially as he has enough problems of his own.
It was disappointing that at the press conference no one seemed to be interested in the Brazil side because -- despite the Copa America triumph -- there are so many things to discuss.
The 1-0 defeat to Peru was the third time in seven games that Brazil have failed to score -- each time against outgunned opponents who were happy to defend. How is this to be addressed? Is there a need for a true centre forward? None has been named in the squad. How can the team get the best out of Roberto Firmino? So far the Liverpool man is not nearly as effective for country as he is for club.
And if the Peru match highlighted some attacking problems, the game against Colombia did the same for the defence. The big lesson of last year's World Cup elimination was the need to tighten up against dangerous opponents. Brazil were too open in the quarterfinal against Belgium, especially down the left flank. And, a little more than a year later, this was the very space that Colombia exploited to open up a 2-1 lead.
It is fair to say, then, that there are a number of doubts. For a while in the Tite reign -- during World Cup qualification in the second half of 2016 and all through the following year -- everything fell into place and the structure of the team seemed well designed. The same has not applied since. There are individual questions; is there a reasonable reserve for Dani Alves at right back? Can Eder Militao grow into the long term successor to Thiago Silva at centre back? But there are also questions about the architecture of the side, about the best way to recapture the blend of 2016-17. The key loss is that of the midfield organizer Renato Augusto. Might one way to compensate be to keep Copa America hero Everton on the left wing, and field Neymar -- about to play his 100th international game -- in a more central role?
Such doubts are a natural part of the process. They explain why Brazil need to play these friendlies, and why they must do it at full strength, taking every chance to look at promising candidates - whatever the effects on the domestic game.