Mauricio Savarese looks at what might have been for Brazil at the World Cup after the fall from grace of six of their star players...
Three days after a World Cup final he could have been playing in at the Maracanã stadium, striker Alexandre Pato, 24, is warming the bench at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. He lost his place in São Paulo FC’s starting line-up to unknown Alan Kardec.
Coach Muricy Ramalho only brings the former AC Milan targetman on in the second half, when victory over tiny Bahia is already secured in the Brazilian championship. No Barbara Berlusconi, no fancy ads, no Seleção for him in the recent past. His Brazil No.9 was Fred’s instead.
At the same time, 4,000kms away, Ronaldinho, 34, is upset. The man who marvelled the world and was expected by many to have his last show at home was substituted at half-time for the first time in his successful spell with Atlético Mineiro.
The Brazilians were playing Lanus in Buenos Aires for the Recopa – South America's version of the Uefa Super Cup. When he left, the score was 0-0. His replacement actually did a better job. In the end, Atlético won 1-0. “I didn’t even expect to be in the list this time,” he recently told FFT. His Brazil 11 was Oscar’s.
Emporer's new lows
On the Thursday morning of a World Cup hangover, Brazil found out that Adriano 'The Emperor', 32, had made a drastic decision: to sell his mansion in Rio de Janeiro and move back in with his mother. After years and years of personal issues triggered by his father’s death, the former Parma and Inter Milan striker insists he wants to keep playing football.
Atlético Paranaense, his last club, didn’t see that coming: he played four matches, two in the starting line-up, scored one goal and enjoyed lots of heavy partying, misses and hung-up phones. His contract was terminated. Earlier this week he was linked with a move to Italian Serie D club Terracina. His Brazil No.7 shirt was Hulk’s.
Later that night, Santos striker Leandro Damião was taking care of yet one more injury. He was out for the derby against Palmeiras. Fans, club officials and the media are all his critics. Some wish he had gone to Tottenham a few years ago.
When a group of investors took him from Internacional for €13 million, Brazilians were in shock: he was far from the top form of 2011 and 2012. If he was still fit and willing, Brazil’s No.21 could have been his. It was Jô’s.
After a series of injuries and a sad ending at AC Milan, midfielder Kaká, 32, has just arrived in Brazil to spend six months with his beloved São Paulo FC. It is just a stopover to pay back to his boyhood club: next year he will be the poster boy for Orlando City in the MLS. Europe is done for him.
“I am going to wear the No.8 upon my return, it is a number that gave me a lot of luck,” he said. He used it for Brazil in 2006. At the World Cup it was Paulinho’s.
Midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso, Neymar’s right-hand man at Santos, played for São Paulo in that match Pato watched from the bench. After two serious knee injuries, the 24-year-old had to overcome a lot of suspicions to be on the pitch again.
Many still recognise the fine touches he can give to a match. But critics, from Roberto Carlos to Kleberson (!), say he still needs to understand teamwork to be accepted in European football and to be a Seleção great.
Rewind four years. Pelé is on Brazilian TV talking about Brazil's Netherlands defeat, and the end of hopes for a sixth star on South African soil.
“In four years time we will play at home and there will be talented youngsters like Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso, Alexandre Pato, Leandro Damião… and we will still have experienced players, such as Kaká, Ronaldinho, Adriano,” the king said. Only Brazil’s No.10 survived.
For some of those, Russia 2018 is not impossible. For others, Brazil 2014 was the last chance. Those six players could have made an impact. After all, home advantage became an even bigger burden for the Seleção without their important talents.
More than the need to regroup and change their coach, they will need a bit more luck next time. Six great players can easily find a remedy for six-minute blackouts.