Brazil's top youngsters 'must toughen up'

BELO HORIZONTE - Young Brazilian footballers need to toughen up mentally and stop thinking about cars and money if they are to fulfil their potential and win future World Cups, Brazil's Under-17 coach Emerson Avila told Reuters in an interview.

He says that while the country is still producing players of undoubted natural ability, too many have the wrong approach and none of the team that finished fourth at the recent Under-17 World Cup in Mexico would be ready to break into the senior team in time for Brazil's 2014 World Cup finals.

And contrary to what many believe, he thinks the best ones should go to Europe as soon as possible, where they have a far better chance of improving.

Avila, 44, tipped as a possible future national team coach, is also a senior coach at Brazilian Championship club Cruzeiro.

He spoke to Reuters at the club's impressive training ground, tucked away in an unremarkable barrio of Belo Horizonte and which will be a base for World Cup contenders in 2014.

"The problem with too many of the youngsters who are at the top level and who can achieve something in the game is that it has been almost too easy for them to become professional footballers," he said.

"Already at the age of 16 and 17, I hear them talking about cars and money. That's wrong.

"What they should be doing every day is coming to their clubs, or the national team squad, thinking about winning every game. Too many of them are just happy to enjoy themselves on the training pitch and in matches.

"Well, I agree with that of course, they must enjoy it, especially at that age, but I think our clubs need to change the way they train the younger players.

"We are in the business of winning, and they should be... thinking about winning absolutely every time they play."


Domestic Brazilian football is currently undergoing something of an upheaval, underpinned by the country's booming economy.

While the national team has disappointed with quarter-final exits at the World Cup finals in South Africa last year and at last month's Copa America, the domestic league is thriving with the likes of Ronaldinho, Elano, Adriano and Luis Fabiano all earning big salaries since returning from Europe.

They may be approaching the later stages of their careers, but as Ronaldinho proved with a hat-trick in Flamengo's titanic 5-4 win over Santos last week, there is plenty of life still left in the older generation.

At the same time, clubs are trying to hold on to their best young players for longer, keeping them in Brazil to the delight of the fans, with help from new, lucrative TV deals that underpin higher salaries.

According to media reports, Santos have turned down a $90 million-plus offer for 19-year-old Neymar, already a full international and tipped to be the next Brazilian great.

Twenty-one year-old Ganso, Neymar's equally talented Santos and Brazil team-mate, has also attracted offers from Europe.

Pele, who famously won the World Cup as a 17-year-old with Brazil in 1958, urged Neymar on Tuesday to remain at Santos, his former club, but Avila is not certain that staying in Brazil is ideal for the elite of the age group he is coaching.

"I have no problem with a player going to Europe when he is young because a move to a good European league toughens the boys up mentally and makes them far more tactically astute.

"Right now, Lucas Piazon, who is only 17, has gone to Chelsea from Sao Paulo. That is OK as his family have gone with him and he is in a good environment and will benefit from playing in England if he gets a chance in the first team.

But is there a danger that by going to Europe so young, the players might lose their unique Brazilian way of playing as many observers fear?

"I don't think they will ever lose their 'Brazilian-ness' said Avila. "What is beginning to happen now is we have learnt how to defend better rather than just attack.

"But the fact is, even at the top of the under-17 level, the best teams like Brazil are coming up against opponents who are far tougher than they used to be.

"Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, Colombia - those boys are tough, and the quicker our boys learn that, the better it will be for Brazil too."