The brilliant Brazilians still dancing to a different beat

England may yet become a force in next year's World Cup but Ken Jones says Glenn Hoddle's team still have a long way to go to match the technical ability of the world champions
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The Independent Online
When Glenn Hoddle spoke this week about narrowing the gap between English and Brazilian football some of us recalled a remark passed by Alf Ramsey on his return from the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico.

Ramsey's rather clumsy assertion that he had learned little from Brazil's exhilarating triumph was ridiculed in some quarters but in fact he had hit the button. What he had in mind was a different philosophy and the unique rhythm of Brazilian football.

Considering that England's defeat by Brazil in Guadalajara was by the narrowest of margins and that Ramsey could call on such notables as Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, little separated them from the greatest of world champions. However, Ramsey was right to conclude that the exuberance of Brazil's football is beyond emulation.

A marked advancement in collective understanding over recent weeks has raised the possibility that England will be a force if they qualify for the World Cup finals next summer, but matching Brazil's technical brilliance is a different matter.

The late Joao Saldanha, a left wing political activist in his youth, who was replaced by Mario Zagallo as Brazil's manager shortly before the 1970 finals for refusing to co-operate with secret service men assigned to the squad, said: "Our football is like our music. Sudden changes of pace and nuance that you don't get anywhere else in the world. Other countries have produced great players, great teams, but we play to a different beat.''

It springs from history, the arrival of black slaves from West Africa in the 19th century, the subsequent merging of ethnic groups. Jose Werneck, who was widely respected in Brazil as a football pundit before moving to the United States, said, "I don't want to sound racist but the Afro- Brazilian footballers like the Afro-American athletes have a distinct advantage in power. Pele was the best example. He had tremendous power in his thighs that enabled him to explode like a sprinter coming out of the blocks. And, as with poor people in other countries, football provides a means of escaping disenfranchisement. Some of our finest players have been white, Gerson, Tostao, Dunga and now Juninho. But in the main they are black or of mixed origins, the mulattos."

As Werneck points out, Brazilian football differs from that played in other South American countries. "People often make the mistake of putting us together as a group as though there is a common style. It isn't so. For example, Argentina still favour a short passing style that was influenced by immigrants from Europe. Brazil play short and long. Didi and Gerson were marvellous passers through the air and you can see from the present team that Zagallo does not restrict the players in their options. And, as always, speed is a vital element.''

Speaking after England's 1-0 loss to Brazil in Paris, the Aston Villa defender Gareth Southgate said that he had never come up against such quickness. Sol Campbell, who had an outstanding tournament, said: "One moment they are there, the next they have gone. You have to concentrate all the time.''

Under pressure at home to expand on Brazil's victory in the 1994 finals, perhaps mellowing in his later years, Zagallo seems to be promoting a return to the verve that has made Brazil's best football so compelling, what Pele called the beautiful game.

For a variety of reasons, political intrigue, economic crises and a misguided attempt to take European ideas on board (one of their coaches, Claudio Coutinho, an army officer and handball international stated admiration for principles set out in a coaching manual written by a British football writer, Eric Batty, who had never played the game) that heritage was squandered following the 1970 triumph.

The appointment of Juninho's mentor, Tele Santana, almost brought about a return to old glories. But for the absence through injury of a marvellous centre-forward, Reinaldo, the team of Socrates, Zico, Falcao and Junior would have romped home in the 1982 finals.

The speed with which Brazil closed England down in Paris spoke of Zagallo's concern over recent defensive lapses, his fear that virtuosity could be undermined by defensive shortcomings. If it all comes together next summer, look out. It's fine for Hoddle to speak of getting closer to Brazil but a persistent thought is that they are still some way short of realising their full potential.