Armchair Tactician
By Simon Gallagher
Monday 20 Dec 2010 10:33:00
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Widely held as the greatest team ever to grace any turf, the Brazil team that waltzed to glory in 1970 can at least lay claim to the most memorable finals victory to date. Such was the power of that victory, and the manner of the performances that lead to it, that runners-up Italy are barely mentioned when the 1970 victory is discussed. That victory was more than the inevitable result of an incredibly talented team; it was a triumph of preparation, technical adaptation and knowledge of opponents.


Infamously, the Brazil team trained with NASA in the build-up to their tournament win, perhaps because of the number of stars in the team, but more likely down to both organisations’ shared ideologies concerning conquest. Regardless of the team’s star players- and God-like they were- the team collectively developed a mentality of invulnerability thanks to a rigorous and meticulous preparation programme that you wouldn’t traditionally associate with the Samba nation. They were invincible, and had won the tournament even before a ball had been kicked in anger.


On the pitch, it helped that the team played with such finesse and style- Pele, Tostao, Gerson and Rivelino were artisans: star players who could play together in a way that modern Galactico teams could only dream of. The Brazil team that marched to victory in front of the colour cameras and millions of fans worldwide were the picture of natural talent; everything looked effortless, especially when Carlos Alberto powered up the outside of Pele to the most memorable of pile-driver goals in the history of the tournament.


But, the team were also fastidious in their tactical discipline: preparation and planning underpinned what is often called a victory of imagination and flair. That tactical prowess can be traced back to the influence of coach Joao Saldanha who had professed a desire for goals but recognised the physical strength and occasionally legitimised violence of more defensive European teams as a danger and changed the make-up of his team to compensate. He may have lost his job after one too many left-wing outbursts, and the odd blasphemous criticism of Pele, but Saldanha left the foundation for the 1970 victory. He changed the physical presence of the back-four, making them bigger and stronger to match European opponents and in one final inspirational move called up 19 year old Santos midfielder Clodoaldo, who provided the protective defensive cover to Gerson’s deep-lying playmaker role. That move proved to be the final piece in the jigsaw, creating the right mix for the team to become world-beaters.


Brazil combined that much-vaunted flair with positional fluidity- especially in the defence’s discipline to move across to defend the space left behind marauding full-back Carlos Alberto. Even despite the individual abilities- and probably due to their familiarity from club level- the Brazilians worked together like a well-oiled machine, allowing their art to flourish without giving away possession or goals. While Newcastle were once famed for a “if you score three, we’ll score four” mentality, which saw us dubbed the Entertainers, Brazil’s victory was far less kamikaze and far more refined.


So, what can the modern toon team learn? In all honesty, not a great deal on the pitch: that team’s achievement was an achievement of a different age- never again would teams be given that sort of space to devastate- and a very specific climate, with teams unable to press mobile opponents in the heat. It would also be a luxury these days for most teams to have any one player of the calibre of that Brazilian team- which makes Ben Arfa’s capture so invaluable. But as a model for team spirit, positive mentality and intricate preparation, including adapting to opponents, the Brazil ’70 model can underpin a successful modern assault on any league or competition.


If only we could find a young Pele on the back-streets of Newcastle- that might go some way to providing the kind of talisman figure so crucial to the Brazilian success.


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