If Brazil are to conquer the world again, it will be as the dancing kings. If, over the decades, the Selecao became a byword for flair and exuberance with the ball at their feet, their willingness to express themselves when the ball is in the net has drawn criticism so far this World Cup. If Richarlison’s overhead kick against Serbia may be the goal of the tournament, Brazil’s quartet of strikes against South Korea became more notable for the rehearsed routines that followed, certainly amid one of the more needless controversies involving events in Qatar.
World Cups can be a place where footballing cultures collide. Brazil’s has tended to earn acclaim, for its aesthetic appeal and entertainment factor, though not from a particularly irascible Irishman whose comments went global. Roy Keane’s predictable reaction and unsurprisingly scathing verdict were designed for an audience of television viewers in the United Kingdom but it made headlines in Brazil. The message from manager Tite was that his side – and even he – will carry on dancing. Keane and other such killjoys may be misunderstanding the Brazilian psyche. Certainly, the favourites to lift the World Cup do not believe their capacity to enjoy goals deflects from their attempts to win it or shows any disrespect to opponents.
“We dance when a goal is scored because it is Brazilian culture,” Tite said. “It is not being disrespectful, that is how we do things as a culture … we will continue doing things in our manner.”
His own involvement in the celebrations showed a bond with his players. His managerial career, dating back to 1990, extends beyond most of his charges’ lifetimes, with the notable exception of the footballing pensioners Thiago Silva and Dani Alves, but part of Tite’s skill lies in his ability to forge ties with those four decades his junior.
“I think it is a connection I have with a younger generation,” he said. “I am 61 years old and I work with players who are 21 or 22; they could be my grandchildren and I have a connection with them. And if I have to choose between those who know me and those who do not know me, I will of course choose those who know me and if I have to dance to connect with them, I will continue dancing.”
Tite made the valid point that he has different constituencies. The manager of a football-mad country of over 200 million people is automatically encumbered with pressure. But, Tite argued, his domestic audience has the necessary understanding of the country’s footballing DNA.
“I will not make comments to those who do not know Brazilian history and Brazilian culture and the way each and every one of us is, I leave that noise aside. I want my connection to my job, to those I relate to: those are the ones I give my heart and pay attention to.”
Tite spoke with an awareness that is part of something bigger; the footballing heritage of the most successful team in the history of the World Cup extends far beyond any individual. Managers certainly feel the subplots; Brazil teams tend to be defined by players, from Pele to Neymar via Garrincha, Jairzinho, Zico, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and Kaka. Some sides are more pragmatic than their predecessors, some blessed with fewer magical talents and none are as celebrated as the star-studded collective of 1970, but strands run through them all.
“This is not my team, this is the Brazilian team,” Tite said. “The Brazilian football identity is not myself. It started a long time ago with desperate communities training boys so that they could produce good football even with all the risks it entails. We face challenges and criticisms but that is the football we believe in.”
Tite’s team scored a mere three goals in the group stages before running riot with four before the break against South Korea. It coincided with Neymar’s return from injury. Now he could equal Pele’s record of 77 goals for the Selecao as Brazil, who have fallen at the quarter-final stage in three of the last four World Cups, look to overcome Croatia to reach just a second semi-final since their fifth title in 2002. Tite was in charge when they exited at this stage to Belgium four years ago but while he could become the sixth manager to take them to global glory, the players are more feted than the coaches. Rightly so, in his opinion.
“When we paint a painting the entire painting is the athletes. They are the ones who are portrayed in this painting and we [the coaching staff] are just participants but the painting is the players themselves,” he said. But if the final picture is of Brazil dancing with the World Cup, there will be a man in his seventh decade attempting a jig along with his players. And he won’t apologise for that.
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