There is an advert on Brazilian television at the moment that stars Seleção captain Thiago Silva. He’s sat on a bus, which is passing through a tunnel. He is all alone and begins a monologue to camera, detailing the challenges he has had to overcome to become the player he is today. Then he looks out the window, wistfully. It looks like he is on the verge of bursting into tears.
It would be foolish to read too much into a bit of publicity, of course, but it is hard not to see the clip as a perfect metaphor for Brazil’s World Cup to date. There is plenty of emotion, sure, but it feels laden with negativity, like a weight on the shoulders of players who 12 months ago were joyously running riot at the Confederations Cup.
Much has been made of the tendency of Brazil players to cry during those rousing renditions of the national anthem, but the tears have not been confined to those instances. Thiago Silva broke down ahead of the penalty shootout against Chile and refused to take one of the kicks. Julio César seems to bawl his eyes out at any juncture imaginable; you imagine him at home, sobbing while brushing his teeth or sniffling during dinner.
This is not a question of masculinity. The ability to express one’s feelings is a sign of strength and should be regarded as such. But the charged atmosphere that currently surrounds the Brazil camp simply cannot be beneficial on the field. Last summer, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari remarked of Bernard that he had “joy in his legs”; now, it appears many of his players have the spectre of failure on their minds.
Cafu on the emotional stability (or otherwise) of the #BRA squad: "The players have to stop crying and focus on playing football."
— Jack Lang (@snap_kaka_pop) July 3, 2014
“The immaturity of the side has turned from euphoria to fear at the World Cup,” wrote influential Folha de São Paulo columnist Juca Kfouri this week. “It paralyses, makes your legs feel heavy and quiver, forces you into mistakes on the ball or [makes you] inclined to boot it long.”
Artero Greco of Estadão was even more emphatic. “The players are emotionally unstable,” he wrote. “They’re crybabies. They have too many tears and not enough smiles. It affects them technically and tactically.”
Perhaps it was always destined to be thus; after all, pressure pervades football here like nowhere else. Performances in 2013 were impressive but confidence levels were allowed to surge unchecked. As a few prescient souls pointed out at the time, never before had a Confederations Cup been taken so seriously by so many.
Part of the blame for the spiralling expectations must lie with Brazil’s coaching staff and federation chiefs, whose public comments ahead of the World Cup now appear misguided to say the least.
“There’s no pressure. Brazil will be champions,” claimed Scolari, while technical assistant Carlos Alberto Parreira spoke of having “one hand on the trophy” when the squad got together in late May. Then there was the nefarious head of the CBF, José Maria Marin, who remarked: “Only a catastrophe will prevent us winning.” You wonder how the players felt listening to all that.
At this stage of the competition, Scolari must seek to restore confidence to his squad whilst simultaneously adjusting his wavering tactics. It is no easy task.
To his credit, the hiring of psychologist Regina Brandão to speak with the players individually suggests that he is intent on tackling the issue. The idea must be that in taking the problem seriously, he does away with the seriousness that has taken hold of the squad.
In the interest of the players’ mental well-being, here’s hoping he succeeds.
Jack Lang is in Brazil and covering the World Cup finals for us - you can find him on Twitter @snap_kaka_pop
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- Thiago Silva
- Luiz Felipe Scolari