by Jerrad Peters
Barely five hours after Brazil’s senior football team was dealt a 3-2 loss by Germany in an international friendly, its youth side came out of the tunnel for the second half of an U-20 World Cup Round of 16 encounter with Saudi Arabia.
Having gone into half-time tied 0-0 in Colombia, the Seleçãuzinha stormed out of the break, substitute Willian sending Henrique through to score with his first touch of the match. From there, it was all Brazil. Gabriel Silva doubled the lead in the 69th minute and Dudu, also a substitute, wrapped things up with his second goal of the competition in the 86th.
The differences between the two Brazil sides could not have been more pronounced, and it’s interesting that within the space of a few hours the shortcomings of Mano Menezes’ senior side were laid bare for all to see, more by Ney Franco’s youth squad than by Germany.
The Brazil that will play Spain in a quarterfinal match on Sunday has been not only the best, but also the most watchable side at the 2011 U-20 World Cup. In other words, they are exactly what their fans and media expect them to be, and what the rest of the world anticipates at every competition in every age category.
A lot of that is down to Ney Franco. Appointed in September 2010, the 45-year-old guided Brazil’s U-20 side to a record 11th South American Youth Championship in February in Peru, thus qualifying them for both this U-20 World Cup and next summer’s Olympic Games in London. It was a tournament that ended with an emphatic 6-0 drubbing of runners-up Uruguay and included standout performances from Neymar and Lucas Moura, neither of whom are with the team in Colombia.
Their absences, coupled with those of Diego Mauricio and Ze Eduardo, would have crippled most other sides. But Ney Franco plugged the holes by drafting in the likes of Dudu and Philippe Coutinho, and Brazil picked up right where they left off in Peru. As a matter of fact, they probably got better.
Six months later, Brazil are the team to beat at the U-20 World Cup, although it wasn’t destined to be this way. They opened the tournament with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Egypt and really only got chugging halfway through their second match against Austria. By then, however, Ney Franco had made a crucial change to his squad by removing the ineffective Alan Patrick, first for Negueba and ultimately for Henrique. In subsequent matches he would deploy Henrique from the first whistle and use Danilo as a right-sided midfielder, with Galhardo drafting in to the right-back slot.
The manager’s understanding of his team was on full display against Saudi Arabia. With decisive changes at vital moments, he wrestled away control of the match and wound up with an emphatic win. Ney Franco, quite simply, knows his players, knows each of their strengths and knows exactly when and in which situations to use them.
The same can certainly not be said for Menezes. Where Ney Franco is decisive, the 49-year-old is dithering; where Ney Franco is flexible, he is stubborn. Where Ney Franco’s teams are assembled to ultimately play to their strengths, Menezes’ sides are cobbled together based on the failures of the last group. Ney Franco is assured of his methods; Menezes is a reactionary.
With their loss to Germany, Brazil’s senior team has won just three of nine matches in 2011. It’s a troubling record that includes what was an abysmal showing at last month’s Copa America, and the setup under Menezes just seems to become more and more dysfunctional with each disappointment.
It seems unfair, then, that Menezes will take an U-23 side to the Olympic Games a year from now—a side made up of many of the same players who have experienced success under Ney Franco and who are trusted and understood by him. It would be a shame to see the experience, confidence and, ultimately, ability they’ve gained under one coach be completely undone another.
Which is why it should be Ney Franco and not Mano Menezes pacing the London touchlines in 2012. Theirs are two very different Brazils, only one of which embodies everything that great footballing nation has ever stood for.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer