Brazil's new manager threatened by Argentina – and London

New Brazil coach Mano Menezes has started a revolution, with a young squad designed to be future-proof. Here, Brazilian TV commentator Jon Cotterill explains the dangers lurking ahead...

With three easy friendly wins against USA, Iran and Ukraine, Mano Menezes is enjoying a deserved honeymoon period as Brazil’s coach. In stark contrast to predecessor Dunga, Menezes is a popular figure and makes regular appearances on the country’s biggest chat shows where he gets an enthusiastic reception.

But he now faces his biggest challenge yet, against Argentina in Qatar on November 17. The next run of games – Brazil will face Argentina again in La Plata in December, and visit France next February – are part of the careful preparation for Menezes’ first big test: the Copa America in July 2011.

And while the Brazilian public might forgive failure in that competition, they will not be so tolerant in London in 2012. Winning the Olympic gold remains the Holy Grail. It's the only title that Brazil haven’t won and it has become something of an obsession. Menezes is acutely aware of this, hence his selection of so many young players.

Although the coach has already called up 34 different players, 12 of them have featured in all of his squads. Most of them fall into the 23-to-27 age-bracket that should easily see them through the cycle to the next World Cup - goalkeepers Jefferson (Botafogo) and Victor (Gremio), centre-backs David Luiz (Benfica), Rever (Atletico Mineiro) and Thiago Silva (Milan), wingbacks Daniel Alves (Barcelona) and Andre Santos (Fenerbahce) and defensive midfielders Ramires (Chelsea) and Lucas (Liverpool).

Mano has also made Robinho captain; now 26, the Milan striker is the grand old man of Brazil's forward line. His fellow ever-presents under Menezes are his club-mate Alexandre Pato – just 21 years old, but he has scored in all three of Menezes's games, plus the unofficial kickabout against Barcelona B – and Dynamo Kyiv's Andre Ribeiro, who only left his teens a month ago.

Ganso, Neymar and Pato celebrate US success

This being Brazil, the squad to face Argentina is not short of exciting new talent, including two outstanding 18-year-olds in Santos striker Neymar and Inter Milan midfielder Philippe Coutinho. But perhaps recognising the need for guile, Menezes has also called up Ronaldinho.

The 30-year-old AC Milan legend hasn't appeared for Brazil since April 2009, but Menezes believes the time is right for his return. "He's having a good run in a position we need," says Menezes. "He’ll give the team something in an area that we still need to develop and improve." He'll also bring experience: of the current squad, only he, Robinho and Alves have won more than 20 caps.

There are, however, some notable absences. Hernanes has been playing well for Lazio but fails to feature. Nilmar, Giuliano and Carlos Eduardo have also been dropped. And there’s still no place for the more experienced players such as Julio Cesar, Juan, Lucio and Luis Fabiano.

MANO WHO?Luiz Antonio Venker Menezes, 48, replaced the much-maligned Dunga in July this year after Brazil went out to the Dutch in the World Cup quarter-finals. But Mano wasn't the CBF's first choice of replacement: Muricy Ramalho's club Fluminense refused to release him. It was only then that Menezes was offered the job. Fortunately, Corinthians didn’t stand in his way.

Considering his predecessor lifted the World Cup as captain of the Seleção, Menezes is hardly a big name. His rise to the top job in Brazil has come after just five years’ experience as a coach at two of the country’s big clubs. In his younger days, he studied physical education and business administration. He had a short and undistinguished playing career in the minor leagues before turning to junior team management in 1992.

He got his first crack at a senior side in 1997 with Guarani RS, and success with minnows in the state of Rio Grande do Sul brought him to the attention of giants Gremio. Taking charge in 2005, Menezes got them promoted from the second division at the first time of asking; two years later, Gremio made the finals of the Copa Libertadores, losing to Boca Juniors.

In 2008, he took charge at Brazil’s second-biggest club, Corinthians, who had just been relegated to Serie B (by losing to Mano's Gremio). They earned promotion the same season and the following year the Musketeers won the Sao Paulo state championship and Brazilian Cup. Corinthians were leading the Brazilian league when Menezes was invited to take over the national side.

Corinthian champion: Mano (top left) with president Lula (and Ronaldo)

The appointment of Menezes – and the previous offer to Ramalho – surprised many in Brazil. Dunga had been panned for being overly defensive and not playing the ‘Brazilian way’. The CBF declared that they were looking for a coach who would get Brazil back to their more traditional style of attacking football. While Menezes and Ramalho have good records at club level, both have reputations for being defensive-minded and packing their teams with volantes (defensive midfielders).

In his first game in charge of Brazil, Menezes turned this reputation on its head. A young Brazil team put on a stunning performance against a tough USA side, winning 2-0 thanks to Neymar and Pato. Wins against Iran (3-0) and Ukraine (2-0) followed, although Brazil have struggled to reproduce the mesmeric football they fashioned against the US. 

MANO OF THE PEOPLEMenezes’ achievements on the pitch have been accompanied with a very successful PR campaign off it. From the day he was appointed, Menezes has been very careful to distance himself from his predecessor in every way possible. Right now, the current Brazil coach has the Brazilian public behind him, and after witnessing the way Dunga was vilified, he is doing everything to keep it that way.

Menezes immediately set about giving the fans what they want. The first thing he did was to call up breakthrough Santos youngsters Neymar and Paulo Henrique Lima – something Dunga had stubbornly refused to do. He has now repeated the act with Ronaldinho, cast aside by the last coach.

While Dunga was often irascible in his dealings with the press, Menezes is completely media-friendly. The former Corinthians man is composed, affable and says all the right things. Menezes has avoided any controversy and been careful not to criticise, but even more careful to praise all and sundry.

All smiles: Mano management skills

The coach’s public image is carefully managed by his daughter, Camila. The 26-year-old journalist is her father’s press officer and is behind his slick presentation skills and use of new media. Camila recently completed a Masters degree in International Journalism in England before returning to Brazil to set up a website and a blog for Mano.

She was also instrumental in persuading the coach to become one of the first football professionals in Brazil to embrace Twitter. Father and daughter collaborate on content but it’s Camila that scribbles most of the tweets.

On the coach’s Twitter page you’ll find the following inscription: "Since July 2010, carrying the dream of 190 million yellow and green hearts". Stuff like this has an appeal and Menezes now has 1.7m followers - second only in Brazil to TV star Luciano Huck.

The ‘Mano brand’ is riding high. But it has been suggested in some quarters that the coach is guilty of playing to the gallery somewhat. Menezes is so keen not to offend, that he can come over as a little contrived and too eager to please.

But these are minor quibbles. Menezes was a good choice to lead Brazil. He has the knack of getting the best out of his players and he’s willing to give the youngsters a chance. The initial signs are positive and Brazil appear to be returning to their more traditional style of creative play.

November’s friendly against arch enemies Argentina is important and will provide a useful stick to measure Brazil’s progress. But we’ll only know for certain what Mano Menezes is about when the South Americans take part in a game that leads to silverware.

Brazil squad vs Argentina in full Goalkeepers Victor (Gremio), Jefferson (Botafogo), Neto (Atletico-PR)Wing-backs Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Rafael (Manchester United), Adriano Correa (Barcelona), Andre Santos (Fenerbahce)Centre-backs Thiago Silva (AC Milan), David Luiz (Benfica), Alex Costa (Chelsea), Rever (Atletico MG)Defensive midfielders Lucas (Liverpool), Ramires (Chelsea), Sandro Ranieri (Tottenham), Jucilei (Corinthians)Midfielders Douglas (Gremio), Philippe Coutinho (Inter Milan), Ronaldinho Gaucho (AC Milan), Elias (Corinthians) Forwards Robinho (AC Milan), Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), Andre Ribeiro (Dynamo Kiev), Neymar (Santos)

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