Monday, June 28, 2010
Dunga takes on the world
The Brazilian national team go into Monday's second round match against Chile in Johannesburg, after a week full of controversy following a surprising outburst from manager Dunga, who gravely insulted a Brazilian journalist during a press conference.
Preview: Chile pay price
• Dunga: Record means little
• Cesar metal padding okay
The tempestuous relationship between Dunga and the Brazilian media goes back a long way, specifically to the 1990 World Cup. At that point, the current Brazilian gaffer was actually one of Brazil's starting holding midfielders, and ended up being singled out by the press as the perfect illustration of the hard-working, but untalented player that epitomised Sebastiao Lazaroni's spell as Brazil's gaffer.
Since then, Dunga decided to treat the media as a necessary evil. His 1994 World Cup victory, now in the role of team captain, seemed like an excellent moment to bury the hatchet and start from scratch with the press, but Dunga, a no-nonsense, down to earth, but undoubtedly stubborn man, decided to keep the distance and go his own way.
During his third World Cup, in 1998, he head-butted teammate Bebeto during a first round match in front of the cameras, which also increased his public image as an over-the-top enforcer. Dunga felt mistreated again by the media, and further restricted his public appearances.
When his managerial career began, surprisingly enough at the helm of the Selešao after the World Cup disaster of 2006, not many thought he would be able to keep the job for too long. A large part of the public opinion demanded a strong figure to put order into the chaos the Brazilian national team had become, and Dunga looked like a good enough candidate to oversee the transition, despite his total lack of experience as a manager. After the team stabilised, the strongest opinions stated he would be replaced for a more seasoned coach to lead them to the 2010 World Cup.
However, Dunga kept winning matches and tournaments, and gained confidence within the Brazilian Football Federation. First, it was the 2007 Copa America, including an impressive win over Argentina in the final. Then it was the 2009 Confederations Cup title, defeating Italy in the group phase and the USA in a dramatic comeback win in the final match. And finally, Dunga lead Brazil to the 2010 World Cup, after a hesitant beginning to the South American qualification group.
As he felt more confident in his surroundings, the now successful gaffer started to regulate the interactions of the media with the players. This sounds like a quite reasonable thing to do for any given top-level club or national team, but in the case of Brazil, the main sponsors and especially the largest media conglomerate in the country, Rede Globo, owner of the broadcasting rights of the national team, were used to privileged access to the players. This included exclusive interviews and cameos in high-rating TV programmes, even during match days.
The attrition between Dunga and this media conglomerate increased especially during the last year and a half, as several of their journalists took advantage of Brazil's poor start in the South American Qualification group to ask for the gaffer's head, and he answered by refusing to give interviews to any TV channel, journal or radio station connected in any way with the conglomerate.
However, some thought a ceasefire was in the making when Dunga gave an exclusive interview to TV Globo just hours after having announced the list of 23 players who would represent their country in the 2010 World Cup. They were wrong. A few days later, new rules to interact with the players were communicated to the media: every interview should be approved by Dunga, only two players would participate in the usual daily press conferences after each training session, and no interviews should be given during players' days off...
But the most important thing about these new rules was the way they were going to be applied: no privileges whatsoever. Soon enough, TV Globo found forward Robinho doing some shopping during his first day off since training started and asked him a few questions. Immediately after, the player had to ask for forgiveness from his teammates, and Dunga withdrew the hand he had apparently offered to Globo. The TV channel immediately increased their criticism and their complaints about the coach, the rules and the behind closed doors training sessions; they also led the mass media in their extremely vocal dissatisfaction after Brazil's lacklustre opening match against North Korea.
A few days later, the manager, exultant after the team convincingly defeated Ivory Coast, thought it was payback time and lost his cool during the after match press conference. Dunga insulted a journalist from TV Globo, as he erroneously thought the reporter was asking him an offensive question. Dunga is well aware of the mistake he made, but still believes he's under attack for no good reason: "What they're doing to me is inhuman", the manager said during a quite emotional interview on Friday. He indeed seems overwhelmed by this chain of events.
If that was not enough, other controversies surround the team and their relations with the press. Last week, ESPN Brazil writer and TV Commentator, Juca Kfouri, published a column in which he stated that his sources believe that playmaker Kaka suffers the same injury that former Brazilian tennis player Gustavo Kuerten, who had his impressive career cut short as a result of it. Kaka, using the same approach as his gaffer, replied during a press conference, declaring that Kfouri criticises him for reasons that have to do with religious prejudices, and not with real facts.
Even if most of the charged atmosphere is real, Dunga appears to be using the situation to build a siege mentality among his players, similar to his own 1994 World Cup victory, and of course, resembling the master of 'the world against us', Diego Armando Maradona.
But now, Chile await. History clearly favours Brazil, as the five-time World Cup champions have won 44 of their 63 matches against the Chileans, and lost only seven, last time being back in 2000. The match seems even more unbalanced since Dunga took over: five games, all Brazilian wins.
However, even if Dunga has utilised an external motivation to keep the group together and motivated, and theoretically faces a well known rival, the Brazilian gaffer would do well to recover the calmness and composure shown during the Ivory Coast match: Chile and Bielsa are worthy rivals and won't make things easy for Brazil.